America, and the world, watched as Elvis Presley grew up, became a movie star, joined the Army, and fought to get his fame back. We watched as he struggled with weight and with pills, and finally, as he died on August 16, 1977. He was 42 years old.
Known as the "King of Rock and Roll" or simply by his first name, Elvis was one of the originators of the fusion of rhythm & blues and country music, a genre known as "rockabilly," which eventually morphed into the first generation of "rock & roll."
Elvis was born a twin in Tupelo, Mississippi. His twin brother, Jessie, was stillborn, leaving Elvis to grow up an only child, and one who mourned the loss of his twin brother his entire life.
His family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, when he was thirteen. The gospel music of his family's church, and the black rhythm & blues which was predominant on Beale Street, shaped his musical creativity.
His first record, "Heartbreak Hotel," was released by RCA in 1956 and quickly reached number one on the charts, he wowed audiences in his first movie, "Love Me Tender," and the first of three appearances on "The Ed Sullivan Show."
He appeared on the Tonight Show, the Milton Berle Show, American Bandstand, The Frank Sinatra Show, and numerous specials. He has sold more records than anyone in history, with a total of more than one billion sales. He has won three Grammy Awards as well as the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
He struggled most of his life with both food and drug addictions, eschewing street drugs for "legal" prescription medications, including painkillers, sleeping pills, and diet pills such as Dexedrine. His first pills were said to have come from his mother's medicine cabinet in the early 1960s, and they had become a regular part of his life by the early 1970s.
His musical career was stellar, but the business end was in disarray. In 1973, his agent, Colonel Parker, got a deal with RCA to sell the rights to much of his music for a lump sum of more than $5 million. Parker got 50% commission, and continued to get 50% thereafter. Signing that deal meant that Elvis got no royalties for his pre-1973 music, meaning that the proceeds from millions of record sales went directly to RCA.
He opposed tax shelters on principle and gave away huge gifts of cash and expensive presents, including automobiles, to virtual strangers.
In 1968, his only child, Lisa Marie, was born. Lisa Marie herself would become a singer and songwriter and is sometimes called the "Princess of Rock 'n' Roll. She has been married to Michael Jackson and to Nicholas Cage, and divorced both. She is married now, the mother of twins, and lives in England.
At least 80,000 people lined the route where his body was driven to his original burial place in Memphis and there were several attempts to steal his remains, prompting the family to move the body to the private property behind Graceland.
August was also a big month for a 19th century inventor named Thomas Edison, often called the Genius of Menlo Park. Edison was busy inventing things. Most school children know him as the developer of electricity and the inventor of the lightbulb.
He was born in Milan, Ohio, in 1847, and his family moved to Port Huron, Michigan when he was seven years old. He attended only a few months of school, and his mother taught him reading, writing, and arithmetic, and he said she cultivated in him a curiosity about everything, which led to his inventions.
But what, you might ask, does Elvis Presley have to do with Thomas Edison? And you would be right to ask that very question. Here is the answer:
On August 12, 1877, Tom completed the model for the first phonograph. He thought that it was well-suited for letter writing, dictation, and music boxes.
On August 31, 1897, he got a patent for his kinetoscope, which recorded and reproduced things in motion. On August 24, 1893, he got a patent for the next generation, the motion picture camera. Although it worked very well, and later evolved into the camera which allowed Elvis to star in his movies, it was not until 1893 that Eastman Kodak came up with a film that would work with the camera.
Little did Edison know that without him and his inventions, Elvis would have been a local luminary instead of the star he would become in the next century.