Harry Mount

Long lives the King

Last year alone he had more number-one hits than any other male solo artist — thanks to ruthless marketing and his devoted fruitcake following

Elvis only ever appeared in one commercial in his life — for Southern Maid, his favourite jam doughnut shop. That commercial appeared on the Louisiana Hayride radio show in 1955.

But since his death in 1977, Elvis has appeared in adverts all over the world: ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ has been borrowed to flog bathroom fragrances; a Greek dairy company used ‘Always on My Mind’; and Coca-Cola, BMW and Nike have all been promoted with ‘A Little Less Conversation’. Ted Harrison’s central thesis — that Elvis has been much more heavily and successfully commercialised in death than in life — is convincing.

This is an odd, rambling, repetitive book, too clumsily written, even for Elvis maniacs like myself, to be worth buying. But, for all that, it is original. And its most compelling line is that the reason Elvis has been so brilliantly marketed after his death is because he was so badly handled in his lifetime.

Had Elvis’s family inherited a fortune when he died, they might not have felt the need to market him so intensely. In fact, he left only one million dollars in the bank. The man who’d largely depleted his fortune was his manager, Colonel Tom Parker — the circus huckster who said after Presley’s death: ‘I owned 50 per cent of Elvis when he was alive, and I own 50 per cent of him now he’s dead.’

For two years after Elvis died, the Colonel remained in charge, with Presley’s naive father Vernon incapable of running the show. It was only on Vernon’s death in 1979 that Elvis’s former wife, Priscilla, realised what a mess the estate was in. To many Elvis fans, she is the villain of the piece — both for the enviable pleasure of marrying him, and then for the outrage of divorcing him.

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