How did Colonel Parker manage to get hold of half of Elvis Presley’s money?

For a long time, the image of Tom Parker, the only manager Elvis Presley had throughout his career, it represented a rather enigmatic and mythological figure, associated with equal force both with the rise and the fall of the life of the King of Rock. These days, his name has returned to the fore thanks to the premiere of the Elvis biopic directed by BazLuhrman, which gives special prominence to Parker’s role in the construction of one of the greatest icons of popular music.

In the film, the relationship between the Colonel Parker (honorary distinction that was granted to him by the governor of Louisiana Jimmie Davis as a way of thanking him for helping him in his electoral campaign) and the King of Rock, is the common thread that runs through the entire argument. However, Parker’s image is not only used for narrative purposes, since Luhrmann’s film does not intend to hide that the character embodied by Tom Hanks he is the undisputed antagonist of the plot through situations such as tying Elvis to the Las Vegas circuit, to settle his debts with the casinos, and his refusal to go on international tours to prevent his legal problems from coming to light.

In that context, One of the most controversial aspects cited by the film has to do with the contractual relationship that Parker established with his client, which even came to mean a 50/50 split around the royalties received from Presley’s work towards the end of his career.

Elvis and Tom Parker

The Colonel’s real name was Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk, an immigrant from the Netherlands who settled in the United States at the age of 20. His first trip to the North American continent was made at 17, however, he ended up returning to his hometown. It was the situation of poverty that surrounded his family and his involvement with a local crime (it is not clear if he was summoned by the police to testify as a witness or a suspect) that motivated him to return to the United States., where he spent a season enlisted in the army. Finally, he ended up fleeing from the militia and justifying his desertion with a medical certificate that confirmed a “constitutional psychopathic state” and “emotional instability.”

It was on that second trip that he decided to wipe the slate clean. Without any document to back it up, Andreas decided one fine day that his name would henceforth be Tom Parker.. Since childhood he was attracted to the world of fairs and circuses (it is said that he used to refer to Elvis as an “attraction”), so he dedicated the first part of his career to traveling shows.

The beginnings of his relationship with Elvis date back to 1955, when the rock idol took his first steps as an artist in the Memphis music scene. After seeing one of her live performances, Parker was struck by the way the audience, especially the women, reacted to her unique energy and movements on stage. By then, the future representative of the King had already worked as a promoter of local artists, such as Minnie Pearl, Eddy Arnold and Hank Snow. The latter was the one that earned him the nickname “snowman”.

Convinced that the young man was a true diamond in the rough, Colonel Parker sent a telegram to Sam Phillips, producer and label owner Sun Records, asking him how much money he charged him to give him the contract he had with Elvis. The economic situation of the label was going through a period of crisis, so Phillips agreed to cede his contractual relationship with the musician for $35,000.

From that moment on, Tom Parker became Presley’s manager. His work with the artist did not take long to bear fruit for both of them: in a matter of months the duo won a contract with RCA Víctor and by 1956, fame came along with the single Hearbrake hotel. The rest is history.

Thanks to Parker’s management, Elvis got television appearances, recitals and a series of movies that, although most of them were not well received by critics, helped to keep the name of his client always in the forefront. During the more than twenty years that Presley’s career lasted, Parker devoted all his energies to the company they built together, granting the musician the exclusivity of his services.

It is difficult to confirm with certainty when the proposal to distribute the profits in practically equal parts arises. According to Billy Smith, one of the musician’s cousins, it would have been in 1967, when Elvis was recording one of his films in Bel-Air. As part of a home accident, Presley hit his head in the shower, giving him a head concussion serious enough to put production on hold for a couple of days.

On the third day of rest, while Elvis rested in his room accompanied by Smith, the Colonel burst into his room claiming that he had to discuss business with his client. Although he couldn’t hear the talk from the other side of the wall, Smith did notice that the pitch had risen. After a few minutes and notoriously affected by the discussion, his cousin confessed that he was forced to make some cuts in personnel to cover expenses. From then on, his personal relationship with Parker became more distant. For Smith, that was the time the Colonel negotiated his fat royalty.

Elvis Presley and Colonel Parker
Elvis Presley and Colonel Parker

Nevertheless, there are other versions that affirm that, in reality, the Dutch received only a quarter of the income. Todd SlaughterBritish who leads the largest Elvis fan club in the world (and recognized for appearing on the singer’s last record before his death) stated in an interview with the English medium Express News that Parker received half of the money that came in from merchandising and licensing, but generally speaking, those resources translated to 25 percent of overall profits. A figure that was not too far from what the representatives used to earn.

In 1968 there were already rumors about the high turnover that the Colonel received thanks to his only client. That year, and when asked by the press, Parker replied: “That is not true at all. He takes 50 percent of everything I earn”. For his part, Elvis was always honest in confessing that, without the help of his manager, he might not have gotten this far.

It should be noted that, as shown in the film, the manager was a pioneer of merchandising. He transformed the image of Elvis into a true commercial brand that produced articles of all kinds, such as badges, stuffed animals, clothing and anything else that could have the musician’s name printed on it.

It is no secret to anyone that the last years of Elvis’ life were complex. Overweight, multiple associated heart health problems, chronic constipation, a diet that far exceeded the recommended daily calories for an adult, and an addiction to painkillers, The King of Rock passed away at just 44 years of a heart attack.

Although they were estranged by the end, Parker and Presley harbored a fondness for each other. In general, the family close to the musician remembers the manager with affection, despite the responsibility that is coined in the end that the American idol had. None of that, however, stopped the Colonel from finding a way to continue collecting his share of the pie immediately after Elvis’s death.

Parker came to the funeral dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and with one of his usual thick cigarettes in the corner of his mouth as if it were any other day, but before arriving at the burial site, he stopped in New York for a meeting with RCA Victor executives to plan a veritable worldwide rush of Elvis merchandising. Definitely, the Colonel would not let this opportunity pass to make the most of it.

After the funeral ceremony, he even tried to take control of the singer’s entire legacy, a machine that, according to him, had been built almost exclusively for his work. An empire that he was not willing to share with anyone. Apparently, he didn’t wait long to start dealing with him: During Elvis’s funeral, Parker had already made efforts to convince the artist’s father to cede all power to him.

The situation began to regularize in 1980, when the Presley family, especially Priscilla, his ex-wife, took charge of the matter to protect the royalties that by law corresponded to Lisa Marie, the only daughter of the interpreter and, therefore, the exclusive heiress of the fruit of her father’s work.

A) Yes, the family began legal proceedings that brought Parker to court. Joseph Evans was the judge in charge of the case, who entrusted attorney Blanchard E. Tual with reviewing the file. That was when all the irregularities began to come to light: According to the lawyer’s investigation, the legal relationship between the Colonel and Elvis was based on abusive contracts, starting with the 50 and 50 clause. The courts proved that the bad management led by Parker brought disastrous consequences for the musician’s estate, them, a debt of about 15 million dollars in taxes that were not paid.

Finally, The case was resolved out of court when Parker agreed to transfer the recordings and rights that remained in his possession in exchange for a compensation of 2 million dollars.. Beaten in the pride of him, sick from the consequences of diabetes and with gambling addiction still throbbing, Tom Parker died on January 21, 1997 due to a stroke.