Elvis Presley lived a remarkable life. The King of Rock ’n’ Roll did it all: riches, affairs, A-list lifestyle. But he was also prone to some very eccentric, and in some cases very unnerving, behavior. These 40 strange moments might make you wonder what was really going on behind those famous bright blue eyes.
40. He handed out scarves to his audience
Elvis used to throw out scarves to the audience members when he performed on stage – apparently, this was the idea of his manager Colonel Tom Parker. Weirder, though, was the fact that he would kiss the scarves first, or use them to wipe his face so they would be covered in his sweat. Gross – but fans loved it.
39. He insulted an ex on stage
Fans got more than they bargained for when they attended an Ohio Elvis concert in July 1975. Elvis had been dating a back-up singer called Kathy Westmoreland, and she broke up with him. So that night Elvis reportedly introduced her by saying, “She will take affection from anybody, any place, any time. In fact, she gets it from the whole band.” Apparently he continued the sexual insults for the next two concerts as well.
38. He had to do demeaning comedy bits
Elvis and comedy icon Andy Griffith once were on a TV show together – but it wasn’t actually all that good. Both men popped up on The Steve Allen Show in 1956 alongside Steve Allen himself, but Allen wasn’t a fan of the King’s country and western music. So he stuck Elvis in a cowboy hat and had him tell bad jokes as “Tumbleweed Presley.”
37. He dyed his hair its trademark color
Yep, although he was famous for it, Elvis wasn’t actually born with black hair. It was all a dye job. Allegedly, he turned his hair black using shoe polish before he got famous enough to be able to buy proper products. If you look at pictures of Elvis as a child you’ll see his natural hair color: blond.
36. His wedding was strange in many ways
Elvis married Priscilla Beaulieu – a woman he’d met when she was only 14 years old – in Las Vegas in 1967. It was supposed to be a quiet wedding, but that didn’t stop Colonel Parker whacking a photographer over the head at one point. In 2017 Priscilla flat-out told Closer magazine, “My wedding was very unusual.”
35. He once swallowed his tooth cap
When filming the movie Jailhouse Rock in 1957, Elvis accidentally swallowed his tooth cap while doing a dance sequence. Worse, it ended up stuck in his lung. The star needed to undergo surgery to get it out, but although the surgeons had to touch his vocal cords, luckily Elvis’s singing voice wasn’t affected.
34. His pelvic thrusts were the first ones ever broadcast
In June 1956 Elvis performed on the Milton Berle show. Before that appearance, he had always made sure to restrict his outrageous dance moves by holding his guitar close. But this time Berle told him he could do them – and Elvis’s pelvis was shown to millions of appalled parents.
33. His million-dollar concert was rejected in America
In 1972 Elvis announced that he would be broadcasting a concert to the entire world via satellite. And most of the world had never seen an Elvis concert at all – he never toured internationally. The concert cost millions, yet bizarrely America didn’t even broadcast it live. Why? It clashed with the Super Bowl.
32. He did a spate of bad movies
Elvis’s filmography features a few misses, to say the least. In the punningly named but otherwise uninteresting 1969 flick Change of Habit, he played a doctor who falls in love with a beautiful nun, and in 1965’s bizarre Harum Scarum, he played a movie star forced to assassinate a Middle Eastern king using karate. Even Colonel Parker disliked that one.
31. He had some weird pets
Long before Michael Jackson had Bubbles, Elvis had a pet chimp of his own. This was a 40-pound animal called Scatter, and he was every bit as difficult as you’d expect. Scatter wasn’t even the only odd pet Elvis had, though. He also had at various intervals a spider monkey, a horse called “Rising Sun,” a peacock, and a collection of donkeys who lived in the empty Graceland pool.
30. His marriage to Priscilla only lasted six years
Elvis and Priscilla divorced in 1973, having been married only since 1967. Many years later, in 2016 Priscilla spoke on the British chat show Loose Women about what made her divorce him, saying that she hadn’t experienced life “as a normal girl,” and she “needed to find out what the world was like.”
29. He took guns to his concerts
Apparently Elvis had a major paranoid streak. After receiving a death threat in 1970, he carried guns around for years afterwards, including at his concerts. During one performance in 1977, his .22 caliber pistol fell out of its place right in front of the audience. Luckily, it didn’t go off.
28. His jumpsuit was very heavy
Despite Elvis being famously unhealthy towards the end of his life, he’d often move around in very weighty clothes on stage. His famous “American Eagle” jumpsuit, embroidered all over with jewels, reportedly weighed around 75 pounds. There was a version of it with a cape that was apparently too heavy to actually wear.
27. He released an album with no songs on it
Elvis – a man who was of course noted for his singing skills – released an album without any songs back in 1974. It was called Having Fun with Elvis on Stage and was simply snippets of Elvis talking. To this day, it’s considered one of the worst albums in history, but why did it happen in the first place? Blame Colonel Tom Parker. He wanted an album that Elvis’s recording label wouldn’t own the rights to.
26. He was in a donut commercial
Throughout his whole life, Elvis did only one commercial. In 1954 he promoted his favorite snack Southern Maid Donuts with a cheerful but informative tune that went, “Southern Maid Donuts hits the spot, you can get them piping hot after 4 p.m.” Reportedly he was paid a box of donuts in return. The actual footage of the ad was never shown on TV.
25. His girlfriend left because he was so self-destructive
In 1972 Elvis began seeing a beauty queen called Linda Thompson, but they broke up the year before he died. And in 2019, speaking at the Las Vegas Elvis Festival, Thompson revealed why she left him. She said that watching him “slowly self-destruct and not being able to do anything about it” eventually became too much for her. And she also remembered, “There was this one morning that he wasn’t breathing properly, and I had to call an ambulance.”
24. He had to defend his dancing before a judge
Before performing in Jacksonville in 1956, Elvis was ordered to go before one Judge Marion Gooding and defend his sexual on-stage dance moves. Elvis told reporters at the courthouse, “I don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I know my mother approves of what I’m doing.” Indeed, his mother would allegedly later warn him never to return to the prudish Jacksonville.
23. He sung a controversial song
In Elvis’s 1967 movie Clambake, he sings a song called “Confidence” to encourage some kids to brave the playground equipment. Unfortunately the song contains lyrics singing the praises of Christopher Columbus, including a reference to “finding” America, so it would seem positively wince-worthy in the modern day.
22. His dance moves started off as nervous shakes
There’s no doubt that Elvis was a great dancer, but some of his famous moves actually sprung from pure stage fright. He was so nervous during his first concert that his legs shook – but the fans loved it. Elvis incorporated the leg movements into his act and soon was shaking his body on purpose instead.
21. He only ever did one live talk show
In 1956 Elvis agreed to appear on the show Hy Gardner Calling. Revolutionary for its time, the show featured Gardner calling celebrities on the phone and speaking to them while audiences saw both participants in split-screen. But it didn’t go too well. Elvis had to field ridiculous questions, including one about whether he had shot his mother, and he quite clearly hated it.
20. He insulted the Sweet Inspirations
Elvis was clearly in a terrible mood when he performed on July 18, 1975. Not only did he insult his ex-girlfriend, but he also turned around to his backup gospel band, the Sweet Inspirations, and made a weird crack about them eating catfish. People thought it was a racial jibe of some kind. The band themselves didn’t think it was necessarily that, but they knew it was something unpleasant.
19. He appeared with his musical rival
At the height of his fame Elvis had a rival in Frank Sinatra. Sinatra loathed rock ’n’ roll, and Elvis was worried his career would flag due to serving in the army. So Colonel Parker – who else? – arranged for Elvis to appear on The Frank Sinatra Show and sing a duet with him. Maybe there was a tiny hint of tension, but it all went okay.
18. He did a very awkward sketch with Milton Berle
When he appeared on The Milton Berle Show in 1956, Elvis did a comedy bit with Berle himself. In it, Berle played Elvis’s “twin brother” Melvin. Why was this so awkward? Because Elvis really did have a twin brother, Jesse, who had been stillborn. Elvis was reportedly always obsessed with the fact that he’d never known his twin.
17. He gave his limo driver a limo
The King once did a very nice thing for a man who’d been driving him around. In 1970 he got a ride from his helicopter to the Miami Beach Convention Center in a limo, and he asked the driver whether he actually owned the car. When the man said no, it belonged to a company, Elvis reportedly said simply, “You own it now.”
16. He didn’t dare go to restaurants
In 2016 Priscilla Presley gave an interview to the show Loose Women in which she recollected the more difficult aspects of her life with Elvis. According to her, “He didn’t really go out; he didn’t like eating in restaurants because people would take pictures of him.” She added, “We literally lived in a bubble.”
15. He played to a half-empty house
Back when he was an almost total unknown, Elvis appeared on the television program Stage Show, hosted by Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. It wasn’t anything to write home about from Elvis’s point of view: it was freezing and only half the audience was there. But his performance got people talking immediately. The show received complaints… but ratings went up.
14. He got into a fight with a Marine
In 1957 Elvis got into an altercation with an 18-year-old Marine called Hershel Nixon. The musician allegedly threatened Nixon with a false but very real-looking gun and allegedly told him, “I’ll blow your damn brains out, you punk.” The incident ended without any harm or any charges being filed. Elvis was later photographed holding the toy gun and looking rather pleased about how things turned out.
13. His haircut became a big media event
Elvis was drafted into the United States army in 1957. Such was his fame, he probably could have gotten out of it, but he opted to serve. And when he went to get his GI haircut, the cameras went too. Elvis was photographed in the barber’s chair, a normal thing for everyone else having turned into a big deal for him. Some people claim they gathered a lock of Elvis’s hair that day and kept it.
12. He wasn’t always reveling in his lifestyle
When Elvis went on tour in the spring of 1972, documentary cameras followed him everywhere. One scene was very memorable. Elvis had just gotten into his car after a concert, but rather than do anything else, he stared out of the window with an expression very hard to read. Little did he know he wouldn’t live to see the end of the decade.
11. He sometimes had to be filmed from the waist up
Elvis’s moves were simply too hot for America to handle. At first Ed Sullivan refused to book him on his show, thinking he wasn’t appropriate for children. When he finally did make appearances, there was such a massive outcry – reportedly people even burned effigies of him – that eventually the cameraman had to film him from the waist up only.
10. He once got Alice Cooper to hold a gun to his head
In 2011 Alice Cooper told U.K. newspaper The Daily Mirror about an encounter he’d allegedly had with Elvis. He said that after meeting the King in a hotel, “Elvis took me into the kitchen, opened a drawer, and pulled out a loaded pistol, telling me to put it to his head.” Cooper added, “A little voice in my left ear was telling me, ‘Go on, this is history; kill him; you’ll always be the guy who killed Elvis.’”
9. He was rude to his audience
During a 1974 concert in Maryland Elvis’s behavior to his audience got rude and rather strange. First he complained about a bad review from the night before, then he explained that any weight that he was carrying was actually from a bulletproof vest, and finally he told his fans, “If you don’t leave me alone, I’m going to walk offstage and go back to my dressing room and play with my foot.”
8. He sang a weird version of “Old MacDonald.”
In the movie Double Trouble – not one of his most well-remembered ones – Elvis sings a weird, rather threatening version of the nursery rhyme “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” where he imagines what it would be like if the farmer just ate the animals. Today, Elvis fans view the clip with mirth and more than a little pity.
7. He did a scene too risqué for television
In 1968 Elvis did a comeback special on television. It was a success, but it was also a curious mixture. The writer were determined to present Elvis as someone with a social conscience – one of the songs was a tribute to Martin Luther King – but there was also sex involved. One scene called the “bordello routine” shocked the show’s sponsor, and it had to be removed. A woman Elvis was reportedly romantically involved with, Susan Henning, happened to be in that scene.
6. He had an argument with the Hilton Hotel
Elvis had a residency at the Las Vegas Hilton in 1973. But he fell out with them over a waiter called Mario: the Hilton bosses planned to fire him, and Elvis was furious about it. For his last show of the season there, Elvis asked the Hilton to keep Mario but also sang, “To hell with the Hilton Hotel and screw the showroom, too.”
5. He sang “Hound Dog” to an actual hound
When Elvis appeared on The Steve Allen Show in July 1956, Allen was determined that Elvis’ performance of “Hound Dog” should be family-friendly and not lead to any letters of complaint. So he had Elvis sing the song to an actual dog: a basset hound. It was just plain awkward, and the King was apparently livid about it.
4. He had an affair with Ann-Margret
On the set of Viva Las Vegas Elvis struck up an affair with his co-star, the beautiful Ann-Margret. Priscilla feared terribly that the actress would steal Elvis away from her before she had a chance to marry him. And things between them were indeed serious: Ann-Margret even attended his funeral, indicating that she had really loved him.
3. He slurred his way through his last concert
Elvis’s last ever concert took place on June 26, 1977, and it was at the Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. But Elvis seemed to be weak, ill, or maybe even high at the time. He slurred his words and giggled to himself. No footage from that last Elvis experience has ever been released officially, which perhaps isn’t surprising.
2. He turned up at Nixon’s White House because he wanted a badge
Elvis collected police badges, and he wanted one from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. So he decided to simply write a letter to President Nixon and wait for a meeting. Nixon agreed to meet, and one of the strangest meetings between two public figures took place. Elvis brought a mounted pistol as a gift for Nixon, but it was confiscated. The two discussed drugs, Nixon agreed Elvis could have a badge, and then they hugged.
1. He took Priscilla to a morgue to see corpses
In 1985 Priscilla spoke about her experiences with Elvis to People magazine. One incident was particularly shocking. She claimed Elvis took her to a morgue, prayed over the body of an infant there, and finally told her, “This is good for you, you have to see things like this sometimes. This is the hard, cold fact – reality. When you look at a body, you realize how temporary it all is, how it could end in a matter of minutes.”