He had the voice, the looks and the moves. Elvis Aaron Presley lived just forty-two years, but his contribution to music, particularly rock, country and gospel, was immense. Born on 8 January 1935 in Tupelo, Mississippi, Elvis was the only surviving child of a working-class family; his twin brother was stillborn. Young Elvis attended church with his parents, where gospel music lifted his spirits. He received his first guitar as a gift for his 11th birthday, and he took it everywhere with him.


Elvis’s confidence as a singer grew when he won a talent contest at school. He began to experiment with his clothes and hair, which he styled and made glisten with hair tonic and vaseline. After graduating in 1953, he impressed record label owner Sam Phillips with his first demo, recorded at what later became known as Sun Studio. That’s All Right was his first single, released in 1954.


Young people were thrilled by Elvis’s unusual sound, good looks and dance moves, although many older adults found the latter shocking. While the inspiration of African-American performers was always evident and acknowledged, Elvis’s famous shaking legs and gyrating hips may well have come from his nerves, though he made it appear as if he were overcome by the spirit of rock ’n’ roll! He signed with RCA Records, a deal worked out by his new manager, Tom Parker, a persuasive older man with a shady background.


Presley did not write his own songs, although his label insisted on him receiving at least 50 per cent credit for them. His first No. 1 hit, Heartbreak Hotel was allegedly based on a newspaper report about a man who had jumped from a hotel window after a love affair ended, and Elvis’ first album hit No. 1 in 1956. That same year, encouraged by Parker, he signed a movie contract with Paramount Pictures and his first film, Love Me Tender, was a box office hit. A newspaper article called the young star a “fledgling king of rock ‘n’ roll.”


Elvis bought the mansion Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee in 1957, envisaging it as a home for his family. That year, however, his mother died and he received his draft notice to serve in post-war Germany. In that period he met his future wife, Priscilla Beaulieu, who he married in 1967. Elvis needed trusted people around him. He was sensitive to criticism and did not like to read reviews of his performances. He relied on a tightknit group of friends who were nicknamed ‘The Memphis Mafia’ by the press.


On Elvis’s return from military service in Germany he made numerous mediocre Hollywood movies, from Blue Hawaii (1961) to Viva Las Vegas (1964). By the late 1960s, Elvis had begun to lose box office appeal. Then he recorded his first TV special referred to as the ’68 Comeback. It was a huge success, showcasing his talents as a singer and a guitarist. However, Parker interfered again, and quickly tied him into an exhausting Las Vegas contract of three shows per day, five days per week.


By the 1970s, Elvis was not in good shape. He stayed up all night and slept all day. His love of fried foods, hot dogs and sugar-loaded sodas, plus desserts, particularly coconut cake, increased his weight. He took amphetamines to keep him awake and barbiturates to help him sleep. He took opiates, which caused chronic constipation, and laxatives to try to counteract this effect.


Elvis divorced in 1973, and Priscilla got custody of their daughter, Lisa Marie. His health deteriorated to the point where he had to be hospitalised. His last concert was on June 26, 1977 in Indianapolis, Indiana. After it, he returned home to Graceland. His girlfriend, Ginger Alden, found him collapsed in the master suite bathroom. He’d died of a massive heart attack brought on by his weight, diabetes and drug consumption.


Today, Elvis remains one of the top-earningdeceased celebrities, and one with a phenomenal influence on popular culture. Black US musicians such as Little Richard, BB King and Sister Rosetta Thorpe, first became accepted among mass audiences of white Americans thanks to Elvis’s vocal support. His impact on global music stretches across the world to China and India, where he still inspires Bollywood stars. His kindness as well as his charisma remains legendary. John Lennon summed up his outstanding contribution to music when he said: “Before Elvis, there was nothing”.