The King's captor

30th January 2004 at 00:00
There was once a King. Like all kings, he had an adviser. And, as is often the case, their relationship was not altogether healthy. It cost the monarch a fortune and, possibly, his happiness.

In this story, the King was Elvis Presley and the power behind his rock-star throne was the Colonel. Born Andreas Cornelis Van Kujik, the Colonel arrived in America in 1929 at the age of 20. Some said he may have fled his native Holland after committing a murder, but this is just a theory to explain his secretive nature. He renamed himself Tom Parker. The title of Colonel was acquired later - and not from the army.

As an illegal immigrant, Parker found work in carnivals with a dancing chicken act. He moved on to promoting singers and in 1955 he met the King.

Presley had just achieved his first hit in the country charts. A year later he was a star, courtesy of "Heartbreak Hotel" and his new manager. The price was steep.

Elvis is thought to have signed blank contracts with Parker, who filled in the details later. He gave away a huge cut of his earnings, possibly as much as 50 per cent. None of which stopped the cigar-chomping Colonel helping himself to more to feed his gambling habit.

Financial matters were clearly not the King's strong point, any more than choice of manager. He consistently paid too much tax and, towards the end of his life, allowed Parker to sell all his future royalties for a mere $5 million.

But Elvis fans mourn more than the money. Parker made all the decisions regarding Presley's career, even down to his outfits. They wonder what might have been had the King not been signed up for so many mediocre movies, been frustrated in his desires to tour Europe or been forced to spend the 1970s playing the Las Vegas Hilton - 837 performances by a sick and dissatisfied star.

Had he not been allowed to become a parody of a rock legend. But then, they say, the Colonel never really appreciated Presley's genius. For the former carnival worker the King was always only an "attraction".

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