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"Colonel" Thomas Andrew "Tom" Parker (June 26, 1909 - January 21, 1997), born Andreas Cornelis ("Dries") van Kuijk, was a Dutch-born entertainment impresario known best as the manager of Elvis Presley. His management of Presley re-wrote the role of talent manager and was seen as central to the astonishing success of Presley's career. He displayed a ruthless devotion to his client's interests, took far more than the traditional 10 percent of his earnings (reaching up to 50 percent by the end of Presley's life), and piloted him to global superstardom. Presley said of Parker: "I don't think I would have been very big with another man. Because he's a very smart man."

For many years Parker claimed to have been U.S.-born, but it eventually emerged that he was born in Bredamarker, Netherlandsmarker.

Finding Elvis

Parker's involvement in the music industry began as a music promoter in the late 1940s, working with such country music stars as Minnie Pearl, Hank Snow, and Eddy Arnold. During this time he received the colonel in the Louisiana State Militia in 1948 from Jimmie Davis, the governor of Louisianamarker, in return for work he did on Davis's election campaign.

On August 18, 1955, Parker became Presley's manager officially, and in November he persuaded RCA Records to buy Presley out from Sun Records for $40,000 (which included $5,000 going directly to Elvis as a bonus), a considerable sum for that time. With his first RCA single, "Heartbreak Hotel", one of whose authors-composers, Mae Boren Axton, had been one of Parker's associates for years, Presley graduated from rumor to bona-fide recording star.

It is debatable both whether Presley would have become the superstar he became without Parker and to what extent Parker's management of the King of Rock and Roll was Svengali-like. Parker held the reins of Presley's singing and acting career for the rest of Presley's life and was said to be instrumental in virtually every business decision that Presley made—including his decision to cut back on recording and stop touring after returning from his stint in the United States Army in 1960 in favor of a film career (from 1960 to 1967-68) that was lucrative in terms of his bank account but, to many critics and fans, bankrupting in terms of Presley's music quality.

It took the energetic 1968 television special Elvis Presley's '68 Comeback Special, which the Singer Sewing Machine Company sponsored, and a subsequent series of acclaimed recording sessions in Memphis, Tennesseemarker, to restore Elvis Presley's musical reputation. However, the "Singer Special" TV show was not intended to turn out the way it did. Parker was adamant that Presley would wear a Santa suit and sing Christmas songs, as the show was to be broadcast in December 1968. It was the producer of the show, Steve Binder, who put forward the idea of Elvis singing his old hits and even the staged section with his old band, Scotty Moore and DJ Fontana. Presley was never one to stand up against Parker, but he knew that this TV show was his one chance at a true comeback, and with Binder backing him, Presley told Parker he was doing it "Binder's way."

After the special, Parker managed Elvis's return to live performance, including a set of brief U.S. tours and many engagements in Las Vegasmarker. Following the success of Elvis's Las Vegas return, Parker signed a contract with the International Hotelmarker to guarantee Elvis would play a month-long engagement for $125,000 a week, an unheard of sum at the time. During this part of Elvis's career, Parker and Presley agreed to a 50/50 "partnership," which, with Parker controlling merchandising and other non-music related items, resulted in Parker earning more than his client.

According to Presley biographer Peter Guralnick, Elvis and Parker "were really like, in a sense, a married couple, who started out with great love, loyalty, respect which lasted for a considerable period of time, and went through a number of stages until, towards the end of Elvis's life, they should have walked away. None of the rules of the relationship were operative any longer, yet neither had the courage to walk away, for a variety of reasons." Indeed, Elvis did reportedly on at least one occasion try to fire Parker; he gave an associate orders to "tell Parker he's fired," which the associate did. However, Parker replied that he would go only if Elvis gave him the order to do so in person. Parker may thus have taken advantage of Elvis's well-documented fear of direct confrontation; in any case, he remained Elvis's manager without break until Presley's death.

Surviving Elvis

After Presley's death in 1977, Parker became embroiled in legal disputes with the singer's estate and ex-wife over claims that he had brought about Elvis's death by frequently haranguing him during his most pill-addled days. Parker eventually agreed in 1983 to sell his masters of some of Presley's major recordings to RCA for $2 million and to drop any claims he had to Presley's estate. Parker moved to Las Vegas in 1980 and worked as an "entertainment adviser" for Hilton Hotels; the disputes with the Presley estate did not terminate his association with his most high-profile client. Parker appeared at posthumous events honoring Presley, such as the ceremonies marking the tenth anniversary of the singer's death and the 1993 issuing of the United States Postal Service stamp honoring the King of Rock and Roll.

The continuing interest in Presley's enduring legend, interest that is sometimes notable for its obsessiveness, provoked Parker to remark in 1993, "I don't think I exploited Elvis as much as he's being exploited today."

Personal life

As Presley's fame grew, people became interested in Parker as well. For a time he lied about his childhood, claiming to have been born in Huntington, West Virginiamarker, and to have run away at an early age to join a circus run by an uncle. The truth about his early years was revealed when his family in the Netherlandsmarker recognized him in photographs of him standing next to Elvis. Parker's brother Ad van Kuijk visited Parker in Los Angeles in 1961. Parker acknowledged his brother and introduced him to Elvis. Parker also was informed that his mother died in 1958, never knowing what happened with her son after he left in 1929. The claim of Parker's Dutch heritage was confirmed when Parker tried to avert a lawsuit in 1982 by asserting that he was a Dutch citizen. In 1986 his first wife Marie (Mott) passed away. In 1990 he got married with Loanne Miller, his secretary at the time. From then on he continued living in Las Vegas, mostly avoiding contact with the press. In 1993 Dutch TV director Jorrit van der Kooi talked to him in Dutch about the Netherlands. Parker was not aware that his sister Adriana had died a few years before. Van der Kooi also filmed the Colonel in Las Vegas. This footage can be seen in the Dutch documentary Looking for Colonel Parker.

Birthplace

Parker's real place of birth was in Bredamarker, Netherlandsmarker. Still carrying his baptismal name, Andreas Cornelis ("Dries") van Kuijk left his native land at about the age of 20 and joined the United States Army, despite the fact that he was not a U.S. citizen. Van Kuijk was stationed in Hawaiimarker, at a base commanded by a Captain Tom Parker. After leaving the service, van Kuijk adopted the name Tom Parker as his own. He became part of the circus world some time later. He also worked as a dogcatcher and a pet cemetery proprietor in Temple Terracemarker, Florida, in the 1940s.

Elvis fans have speculated that the reason Presley never performed abroad, which would probably have been a highly lucrative proposition, may have been that Parker was worried that he would not have been able to acquire a U.S. passport and might even have been deported upon filing his application. In addition, applying for the citizenship required for a U.S. passport would probably have exposed his carefully concealed foreign birth, even though as a U.S. Army veteran and spouse of an American citizen he would have been entitled to U.S. citizenship. Presley did tour Canadamarker in 1957 with concerts in Torontomarker, Ottawamarker, and Vancouvermarker; however, at the time of these concerts, crossing the U.S.-Canada border did not require a passport. (Red Robinson, Vancouver radio icon and MC of the Elvis concert in that city, said Parker did not accompany Presley to that show, but instead stayed in Washington State.)

Death

Parker died of a stroke on January 21, 1997, in Las Vegas, Nevadamarker, at the age of 87.

Portrayals

He has been portrayed by Randy Quaid in the 2005 CBS miniseries Elvis, alongside Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Elvis Presley. Quaid was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Emmy Award for best supporting actor in the miniseries. Beau Bridges portrayed Parker in Elvis And The Colonel: The Untold Story, alongside Rob Youngblood, and Pat Hingle in Elvis, the original 1979 made-for-television movie, which was produced by Dick Clark and directed by John Carpenter, and which starred Kurt Russell.

Notes

  1. Guralnick, Last Train to Memphis: The Rise Of Elvis Presley, p.168
  2. Fiftiesweb.com
  3. Sapsted, David. Tom Parker, the man who made Elvis, dies aged 87. The Daily Telegraph, 1997. Accessed 2008-06-08. "He had firm control over his star's career, taking a cut of 25 to 50 per cent of the Presley income. He defended his profiteering in a 1993 interview, when he said: 'I don't think I exploited Elvis as much as he's being exploited today.'"
  4. Tom Parker Biography imdb.com Retrieved 11 June, 2008


References

  • Goldman, Albert. (1981) Elvis. London, Allen Lane (Penguin). ISBN 0713914742
  • Nash, Alanna (2003). The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley. Simon and Schuster
  • Vellenga, Dirk with Farren, Mick (1988). Elvis and the Colonel. Dell Publishing, New York ISBN 0440203929


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