By Rachel Puryear
Iconic rock n roll singer Elvis Presley died two years before I was born, but I’ve always been a fan of his music. I wish I could have seen him perform live.
His amazing voice and range of rock n roll music are still awesome to listen to, decades later. With his famously flashy outfits and striking handsomeness, he looked so cool!
So of course, I saw the new Elvis movie, a biopic about the singer’s life. It’s amazing, with Oscar-worthy performances. Notably, Priscilla Presley and Lisa-Marie Presley (Elvis’ surviving ex-wife and daughter, respectively) also loved the film.
This film also happens to be, sadly enough, a spot-on depiction of financial abuse – and how the manipulative and predatory behaviors on the part of Elvis’ manager, Col. Tom Parker, were factors in the singer’s eventual downfall and untimely death at age 42. Parker’s antics may have even held back Elvis’ career.
Note: Facts around aspects of Elvis’ life and death are publicly debated (even before getting into various conspiracy theories). Therefore, the following analysis is based upon the movie.
Warning: The following might contain spoilers from the movie, although most of the events portrayed are likely common knowledge about the star.
When you think of Elvis, you probably don’t see him as someone whose career might have been held back. You instead see one of the most successful, beloved, and widely-recognized performing artists that the world has ever known.
So how could he have possibly been taken advantage of?
The behaviors of Elvis’ manager, Parker, as depicted in the film; met the criteria for all three types of financial abuse, as I have detailed previously (being overly controlling about finances, draining others financially, and sabotaging others financially).
Parker’s financial abuse of Elvis occurred in a business relationship rather than a strictly personal one, but it was nonetheless abusive just the same.
Parker Limited Elvis’ Career to Hide How Badly He Was Ripping the Singer Off
Despite Elvis’ global level of fame, he never once toured internationally.
That was not for a lack of interest on his part in touring other countries, either – Elvis was very excited about the prospect of seeing more of the world, and he repeatedly urged Parker to arrange international tours for him.
Yet, Parker never approved, and always found an excuse not to tour abroad. Why might that have been?
Parker typically gave the excuse of security, claiming that traveling around the world would be too dangerous for the rock singer. At one point, Parker cited the murder of Shannon Tate in 1969 as an indication that celebrities were targets (though Tate’s and the other Manson murders all occurred in the U.S.).
Elvis, though frustrated, wrote off Parker’s reluctance to travel abroad as being overprotective. But it would turn out that Parker had a more selfish motive for his stubborn refusal to tour beyond U.S. borders.
Parker had been born in Holland, and entered the United States illegally during his youth. (His accent in the movie seems to substantiate that, too). Therefore, he could not get a passport and leave the U.S. – making it impossible to travel abroad along with Elvis.
Parker was charging Elvis at least half of Elvis’ earnings as promotion fees. This percentage was well above the norm for the industry, and strongly suggests that Parker took advantage of the singer.
Parker was known to others as “the snowman,” a nickname he earned due to his skill at persuading people to fork over money to him – while overlooking his greed and one-sidedness.
For Elvis to travel abroad, Parker would have needed to procure assistance from someone else able to travel with the singer – and this would likely have shed light on just how bad of a deal Elvis had with Parker.
So Parker put his own interests above his client’s – thereby violating the first rule of being an agent. In doing so, he sabotaged Elvis’ career by holding back great opportunities to tour around the world.
Elvis Lacked Financial Sophistication, Which Made Him Vulnerable to Abuse
Elvis came from an impoverished childhood, grew up in an underprivileged community, and apparently didn’t have much in the way of financial education. The latter was evident in his tendency to spend money lavishly; without paying much attention to the state of his finances, including not questioning many of Parker’s management tactics.
This emphasizes the critical importance of financial education for young people, as well as the need for people achieving newfound financial success to obtain reliable legal and financial advice.
Addiction Plays an Underrecognized Role in Abusive Relationships
At one point during the film, we see Elvis collapsed on a hospital floor, due to exhaustion and overwork.
Despite a nurse urging Elvis’ father and Parker – those tasked with Elvis’ medical directives – that if Elvis were her son, she would have him hospitalized; Elvis’ father nebbishly turns to Parker for direction at this point. Parker urges the medical team to do whatever it took to ensure that Elvis got on stage that night.
Over time, Elvis became addicted to the prescribed drugs he took to keep him going, suppress his exhaustion, and maintain a grueling schedule.
Parker probably did not get Elvis addicted. Nonetheless, he seemed to enable his addiction quite a bit, and didn’t seem concerned with getting the star some much-needed addiction help.
When Priscilla Presley, Elvis’ ex-wife (they remained close), arranged a stay at a treatment center for Elvis, and urged him to go, Parker talked him out of it.
For Parker, Elvis’ worsening addiction made the rock singer easier for Parker to control and manipulate.
As the star’s addiction tightened its soul-sucking grip on him, Elvis’ will to push back against Parker anymore weakened significantly. As Elvis’ health and condition deteriorated further, he increasingly went along with whatever Parker wanted – no matter how one-sided.
Sadly, Elvis passed away at age 42, from natural causes arising out of abusing painkillers.
Parker seemed more concerned with people looking at him for his role in the tragedy, than with the untimely loss of one of the world’s greatest stars.
Addiction can play a large – and underestimated – role in abusive relationships of all kinds.
We tend to think of the role of addiction in abuse as fueling violence and other illicit behavior of the abuser. And certainly, this can be the case – addiction does terrible things to people, and can bring out the worst in them.
However, very commonly, addiction of a victim of abuse can make it much easier for the abuser to control the victim.
Besides, it’s much harder for a victim to come forward when they’re addicted. Even if people believe them, they might think the person deserves abuse anyway, sadly.
Might Elvis have lived longer, and sang more songs if he had gotten away from Parker’s grips much sooner in his life and career? We’ll never know.
Nonetheless, this tragic story goes to show that even a super-talented, bright star like Elvis can be held back by the greed and selfishness of a bloodsucker he kept close to him – out of an undue sense of loyalty, and a lack of financial sophistication.
Rather eerily, Elvis’ also-superstar son-in-law, Michael Jackson; would also later die an untimely death at age 50, from excessive use of prescription drugs – and under public suspicion that those closest to him had taken advantage of him, and that this was a big factor in his death.
See also: Britney Spears’ now-dissolved conservatorship was also about financially abusing her. There were reports that she had unwillingly taken prescription drugs during the conservatorship, and that these were used to help control her. Fortunately, she eventually escaped it and survived.
Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith also died at the age of 39 from an overdose of prescription painkillers, just days after her 20-year-old son also died a similar death. There were suspicions of foul play in those deaths, but they were ultimately found to be accidental.
Thank you, dear readers, for reading, following, and sharing. Here’s to Elvis, his musical legacy, and also to learning hard lessons arising out of his tragic, early death.
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