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Last Updated: Monday, 13 August 2007, 07:51 GMT 08:51 UK
The enduring enigma of Elvis
Early publicity photo of Elvis
Presley has sold more than one billion records, according to RCA
It may be 30 years since Elvis Presley died, but the King still lives on through his music, films, countless impersonators - and even a set of commemorative Russian dolls.

He inspires such devotion that every year 600,000 people make the pilgrimage to his former home Graceland.

Half of them are too young to remember the day he died.

Presley is sometimes portrayed as a figure of fun from his latter years - gluttonous and drugged in a rhinestone jumpsuit.

But the truth is that he changed popular music forever.

"Before Elvis there was nothing," John Lennon famously said.

The Beatle may have been bending the truth a little - Presley drew on a vast well of what was then called "race music".

But for many he was the first singer to bring rock and roll into the living room.

"It was like he came along and whispered some dream in everybody's ear," recalled Bruce Springsteen.


Songs like Hound Dog, All Shook Up and Jailhouse Rock defined not only an era, but a new musical movement aimed squarely at the teenager - and not everyone was impressed.

Elvis performs in 1957
Early concerts saw the star chased by fans who tore at his clothes

"His kind of music is deplorable," raged Frank Sinatra. "A rancid smelling aphrodisiac."

"It fosters almost totally negative and destructive reactions in young people."

Indeed, Presley was repeatedly branded vulgar by moral guardians in the US, particularly after his hip-swivelling appearances on the Ed Sullivan TV show.

Critics also sniped that Presley was neither a musician nor a songwriter.

But the star provided something much more important - his voice.

Elvis relaxes on set
Presley released more than 60 albums before he died
Raised on gospel music and blues, his vocals were always impassioned and committed, even on shmaltzy ballads like Are You Lonesome Tonight?

With meatier material such as In The Ghetto, Presley's delivery could reduce an audience to tears.

Of course, that song had particular resonance for the star.

He was born into poverty in a two-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi. His older twin brother, Garon, was stillborn, and his mother worked as a cotton-picker.

Chart success

Presley received his first guitar aged 12 and, six years later, he paid $3.98 to cut a demo at the Memphis Recording Studios.

His second recording, from 1954, found its way into the hands of Sun Records founder Sam Phillips, who quickly realised this "white man with the negro sound and the negro feel" would make him a fortune.

He guided Presley through the early stages of his career, propelling him to number one in the country music charts and sending him out on the live circuit.

Elvis in Viva Las Vegas
Presley's films include Blue Hawaii and Viva Las Vegas (pictured)
When the singer got too big for Sun Records, Phillips sold his protege's contract to RCA for the then-unprecedented sum of $35,000.

His first record for the label, 1956's Heartbreak Hotel, was also his first number one.

In the same year, Presley starred in the first of his 31 films, Love Me Tender.

The run of chart hits kept coming even after he was drafted into the army in 1958, thanks to his manager, Colonel Tom Parker.

Formerly the mastermind behind a dancing chicken circus act, Parker exerted an uncanny level of control over Presley's career.

More concerned with money than quality, he ruthlessly exploited Presley's popularity, particularly during the mid-60s "Hollywood period" which saw the star appear in an increasingly banal series of B-movies.

TV comeback

These reached their nadir with 1965's Harum Scarum - in which the King of Rock'n'Roll dons a turban and prances around the desert singing while trying to escape a gang of assassins.

Elvis, Priscilla and Lisa-Marie Presley
Elvis and Priscilla's daughter Lisa-Marie was born in 1968

Significantly, Presley defied Parker when he set about recording a spectacular 1968 TV show, later dubbed his Comeback Special.

The Colonel had envisioned a Christmas show, but Presley sided with director Steve Binder, who wanted something more dynamic.

The singer duly obliged, performing hits old and new with a raw energy he rarely displayed on celluloid.

Despite a rave response from the studio audience, Presley was wracked with nerves when the show was broadcast, according to his then wife, Priscilla.

"Elvis was quiet and tense through the whole programme," she wrote in her 1985 autobiography, Elvis and Me, "but as soon as the calls started we all knew he had a triumph."

Riding the crest of his comeback, Presley scored a string of hit singles - including In The Ghetto and Suspicious Minds - and embarked on a four-week, million-dollar stint at the International Hotel in Las Vegas.

Elvis onstage in 1973
The star's white rhinestone jumpsuit became iconic

Behind the scenes, however, the star was troubled. His marriage fell apart in 1972, and he filed for divorce on his birthday in 1973.

He was plagued by self-doubt, and a gruelling schedule of touring and recording only exacerbated his increasing dependency on drugs.

Presley claimed he needed pills to boost his energy while performing, followed by a different set of drugs to wind down after the show.

Footage from his final concerts shows him going through the motions, even parodying his once-masterful voice.

But if Presley was disillusioned and broken by global fame, it may be because he was the first to discover exactly what it entailed.

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