Almost the only indisputable fact about Colonel Tom Parker is that
he was the manager of the greatest performer in popular music:
Elvis Presley. His real name wasn't Tom Parker - indeed, he wasn't
an American at all, but a Dutch immigrant called Andreas van Kujik.
And he certainly wasn't a proper military colonel: he purchased his
title from a man in Louisiana. But while the Colonel has long been
acknowledged as something of a charlatan, this book is the first to
reveal the extraordinary extent of the secrets he concealed, and
the consequences for the career, and ultimately the life, of the
star he managed. As Alanna Nash' prodigious research has
discovered, the Colonel left Holland most probably because, at the
age of twenty, he bludgeoned a woman to death. Entering the US
illegally, he then enlisted in the army as 'Tom Parker'. But, with
supreme irony for someone later styling himself as Colonel,
Parker's military career ended in desertion, and discharge after a
psychiatrist had certified him as a psychopath. He then became a
fairground barker, working sideshows with a zeal for small-scale
huckstering and the casual scam that never left him. And by the
height of Elvis's success, Parker had become a pathological gambler
who, at the same time as he was taking, amazingly, a full 50% of
Presley's earnings, frittered away all his wealth in the casinos of
Las Vegas. As Nash shows, therefore, the often baffling trajectory
of Elvis Presley's career makes perfect sense once the secret
imperatives of the Colonel's life are known. Parker never booked
Presley for a tour of Europe because of the dark secret that
ensured he himself could never return there. Even at his most
famous, Elvis was still being booked to play out-of-the-way towns
in North Carolina - because the former fairground barker (who
shamelessly negotiated as such even with top record company and
film executives) knew them from his days on the circus circuit. And
Elvis was trapped playing years of arduous seasons in Las Vegas -
two shows nightly, seven days a week, until boredom and despair
brought on the excessive drug use that killed him - because for
Parker he was "an open chit" whose huge earnings prevented his
manager's losses at the gambling tables being called in. Alanna
Nash knew Parker towards the end of his life, and has now uncovered
the whole story, improbable, shocking, and never less than
compelling, of how this larger-than-life man made, and then unmade,
popular music's first and greatest superstar.
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