‘Elvis’ Ending, Explained: Was Tom Parker Responsible For The Death Of Elvis Presley?


The film “Elvis,” directed by Baz Luhrmann, is about a king and a kingmaker. It’s a story about power, about control, about greed, and most of all, about freedom, for which our protagonist longed till his last breath. Yes, the courts of law made their decision and decided who was the villain of the story, but the villain always had a counterargument and, from the looks of it, never accepted the fact that he ruined the life of the protagonist. The courts merely termed it “financial abuse,” but who would account for all those lost years? Who would account for that mental and physical fatigue? He did trust his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, blindly, and as a matter of fact, the shrewd schemer did break his trust. No matter what Colonel Parker says, his actions did qualify as a betrayal. But could he also be blamed for his extramarital affairs, his reckless spending, his careless attitude, his addictions, and the debauchery he engaged in, that took him farther away from himself and made him alienate the very people who loved him unconditionally? The life of Elvis Presley exactly fits the stereotype of an artist. The dichotomy of fame was such that he obsessively craved the applause, the validation, but also felt isolated even when he was around thousands of people. Hidden behind those shiny clothes, those lewd gyrations and jerky movements, was a kid who wanted to make his family financially secure and, most of all, his mother happy.

Spoilers Ahead

Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?

Colonel Parker lay on the hospital bed, overlooking the International Hotel of Las Vegas, and all over the media, there was news that he was responsible for the death of Elvis Presley. He allegedly took a 50% commission on his earnings and exploited him to support his gambling and betting addiction. But Colonel Parker didn’t agree with what the people had to say. He had created a different narrative for himself, and he takes us back in time when he heard about the King of Rock and Roll for the first time in his life.

In 1955, Colonel Parker, after working at a carnival, moved his focus to the country music business. He partnered with Hank Snow, one of the greatest singers in the United States at that time. But he was still having trouble getting young people to watch his shows. At that point in time, a fresh voice had emerged out of nowhere in the market. Sun Records, a label owned by Sam Philips, had signed this brooding musician. There was something unusual about the kind of music he created. They assumed that there was a black man behind that voice because it sounded like R&B flavors had been sprinkled over country music. But it was not so. Colonel Tom Parker was astonished to hear that Elvis Presley was a white man. Elvis was given a spot in the Louisiana Hayride, a radio show, and Colonel Parker knew that this young lad could prove to be a dark horse. Tom Parker caught a glimpse of the singer backstage. His mother was giving him a pep talk to calm his nerves. He came on stage, and it felt like he would faint because of anxiety and stage fright. But then something extraordinary happened. Colonel Parker had never witnessed such an electrifying presence of any artist in his life till then. He saw the greasy-haired lad, clad in a pink suit, transform into a superhero. Elvis wiggled and shook his whole body like somebody had plugged his high-voltage wire into a socket. The girls started howling and shouting, as if they couldn’t control their excitement. Tom used to work in the carnival, and he knew that there were certain tricks that left the audience baffled. They didn’t know whether to be happy or not after witnessing those tricks. That night at the Louisiana Hayride, he saw each and every member of the audience soaked in that kind of dilemma. Everybody wanted a piece of Elvis Presley, and Tom Parker knew that this dopey-eyed singer would help him earn a fortune.

Elvis hung out in Beale Street and was heavily inspired by Mahalia Jackson, the gospel legend. He idolized B.B. King, his music, and his style. He dreamt of donning the same suit that B.B King wore, one day. When Tom made an offer to partner with Elvis, the first thought that came to the singer’s mind was that it could be the end of all his struggles. But what he didn’t know was that he was about to enter a swamp, and there was no way out of it. His mother, Gladys Presley, had a premonition of sorts. She knew that something bad would happen with this association, but Elvis had made up his mind. Tom Parker left Hank Snow and started managing Elvis full time. Tom knew that Elvis was the golden goose and Hank was a story of the past.

‘Elvis’ Ending Explained: Was Tom Parker Responsible For The Death Of Elvis Presley?

Tom Parker was a man who always had a trick up his sleeve and never did anything without a purpose. The RCA record label signed Elvis and Sam Philips was duly compensation for letting the artist go. Elvis Presley Enterprises was created, and Vernon Presley was made the business manager. Even Tom knew that he was doing so only to win their trust, and that, in fact, the business manager would be nothing but a puppet whose strings would be controlled by Tom himself. Elvis finally brought the pink Cadillac and a huge mansion in Memphis, Tennessee. He became a sensation, and his music and performances reverberated across the country. Some people, though, didn’t appreciate his wiggly gyrations and considered them obscene and against public morality. There was a petition to bar Elvis Presley from doing television shows. The politicians were in support of the segregation laws, and they didn’t want even a driblet of black culture to cast a shadow upon their fragile system. More than his popularity, politicians were terrified of his inspirations, preferences, and role models. How could an idol of the masses consider Mahalia Jackson and B.B King as his inspiration? It was no less than blasphemy.

Elvis didn’t stop performing the way he wanted to, and eventually, the right-wing had enough. They gave him a choice. Either he went to Germany and served in the army, or he would have to serve a sentence in prison. Elvis went to Germany, and the punishment came as a blessing in disguise. He met Priscilla, the love of his life, the daughter of a United States Air Force officer. During that period, Elvis’ mother passed away, and there were other political developments that shook him to his core. Martin Luther King had been shot dead in his hometown, Memphis, Tennessee. Robert Kennedy, too, met his fateful end in 1968. The country was hurting, but Elvis could neither do anything about it nor express his views through his music. Tom Parker had made him an entity that only swore allegiance to the market. He had become a salesman, who sold anything and everything. During that period, he met Steve Binder and Bones Howe, the television producers. They were planning a show which Tom Parker hoped would be a proper Christmas special, where he would do product placements and earn money while blatantly ignoring the socio-political environment outside. But neither Elvis nor Steve Binder saw it like that. They wanted to make a statement, and the 1968 “Comeback Special” etched the singer-songwriter’s name in history, though it left Tom Parker infuriated.

Jerry Schilling, one of the managers in Presley’s Memphis Mafia, didn’t understand why Tom Parker was not letting him perform abroad. There was money to be made, and Elvis wanted to travel abroad too.

There were questions as to the citizenship of Tom Parker. It was said that his real name was Andreas Van Kuijk. The man had immigrated illegally to the United States of America, and that is why he didn’t want to travel abroad, as it would expose his real identity. Moreover, he wanted to clear his own debts and open a stream of unlimited revenue for himself. He was ready to sacrifice his own prodigy for the sake of it. He told Elvis to perform at the International Hotel Las Vegas, and during the show, without telling him, entered into negotiations with Meyer Kohn (though, in reality, it was Alex Shoofey, the president of the hotel, who did the negotiations with Tom Parker). Tom told Elvis that for International tours, a lot of investment would have to be made from his pocket, whereas for performing in the International hotel, he wouldn’t have to spend a single penny. Tom Parker entered into a 5-year contract and, for the subsequent years, kept Elvis under the impression that his safety would be compromised in a foreign country. Nobody knew if the death threats were real or not. Elvis had reached the state of exhaustion. Parker was still adamant about churning out every ounce of energy the man had. He organized a satellite concert, the credit for which he proudly took, as it was watched by more than 1.5 billion people. Priscilla left Elvis in 1973, as she felt that the only time he was alive was when he was performing on stage. He didn’t have time for his family, and the problem of drug abuse was ruining his life.

Nobody cared about what Elvis wanted. His father, Vernon, was an incompetent business manager, which allowed Tom Parker to play his tricks. When Elvis wanted to break the association, Parker sent him a notice, in which he stated that the singer owed approximately eight million dollars to him. Elvis was infuriated, but he realized that he didn’t have an out. He couldn’t break the association he had with Parker, but eventually, his body couldn’t take the physical exhaustion and the mental fatigue. Elvis died at the age of 42, in the year 1977. The doctors termed it a heart attack, but was it really just that? There is a scene in the film where Elvis faints just before going on stage. Nobody felt like taking him to the hospital; nobody cared if the golden goose lived or died, until it kept creating gold for them. He is injected with a medicine, given a temporary solution, made to stand, and almost forced to perform on stage. Even his father somehow felt coerced by a snarling Tom Parker and said nothing. Parker always stood by his arguments in which he said that he did what was best for the singer. But it was not so. Tom used him to fend for his own gambling addiction and other needs and desires. He was a true blue personification of a capitalistic setup. His beliefs were unwavering, and he was loyal only to financial gains. Colonel Parker’s financial abuse came to light, and it ended his ties with the Presley Estate. He made a mockery out of the life of the best-selling solo recording artist of all time. It can never be proved that Colonel Parker had direct involvement in the death of the artist, but it is an inevitable fact that he created situations that led to it eventually.

Elvis was tired. He was tired of life. He was tired of the shiny lights, of the big stage, and most of all, of playing the host to all those parasites who had made him hollow from the inside. On July 26th, 1977, the King of rock and roll performed for the last time before finally resting on peace.

Final Words

Baz Luhrmann’s film takes you to that golden era when the alleys of Hollywood were hit by a sandstorm from Memphis, Tennessee. Austin Butler as Elvis and Tom Hanks as Colonel Tom Parker do the bulk of the heavy lifting. The narrative does not have anything new to offer and follows the same pattern that biopics generally tend to follow. The magic, though, lies in the moments where Austin Butler kickstarts those shaky gyrations and transforms into Elvis Presley. The film is an ode to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. It’s a must-watch for every Presley fan, and even if you are not, give it a watch to witness the insane stardom that the man enjoyed in that era and the effect he had on the socio-political environment of the country.

“Elvis” is a 2022 Biopic Musical film directed by Baz Luhrmann.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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