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.
Nash, a feature writer for Entertainment Weekly and author of such books as Golden Girl: The Story of Jessica Savitch, offers an unusual portrait of Col. Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's infamous manager. Her narrative of Parker's bizarre life, from his childhood in Holland and illegal entry into the U.S. to his rise from carny to household name, reads more like fiction. In fact, with a main character who changes his identity to hide his mysterious (and possibly murderous) past and who cultivates relationships with both shady mob characters and America's elite (e.g., Lyndon Johnson) in an attempt to capture the money, power and respect he never had as a youngster, Nash's biography seems only comparable to the fictional life of Jay Gatsby. And Nash's book, thanks to Presley's untimely death, does not have a happy ending. Despite how easy it would be to shred Parker for Presley's demise, Nash, who interviewed Parker as well as his friends and enemies, is careful to portray both the tyrannical and philanthropic sides of Parker's eccentric personality. Nash uses her careful and extensive research to fill in the blanks in Parker's past and presents viable reasons for his unexplainable behavior, including his refusal to allow Presley to tour outside the U.S. and his laissez-faire attitude toward Presley's drug addiction. Using the cunning of a detective and the straightforward prose of a journalist, Nash, to the delight of Elvis lovers everywhere, answers some lingering questions while posing a few new ones about the man who made the King and then stole his crown.