How Being in the Army Changed Elvis

Despite going to that great stadium in the sky at the fairly young age of 42 in 1977, Elvis Presley continues to command a loyal following around the world and serve as an inspiration to countless musicians. There are many events that shaped “The King’s” life, with one of the most significant moments being his time spent in the United States Army. It was during this time that the young rock star met his future wife, lost his mother, and developed an addiction to uppers that would ultimately lead to his untimely demise less than 20 years after being discharged.

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Ditching a Plan for a Cushy Army Stint

In 1956, Elvis turned twenty-one and was eligible to be drafted. Initially, Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker, promised him he could get him out of it by signing him up for Special Services. Doing so would have allowed Elvis to participate in a short six-week training course before being released. The only condition was that he would have to perform on behalf of the armed forces. Colonel Parker wasn’t about to allow Elvis to perform for free for anyone, even Uncle Sam, so he purposely didn’t sign him up for Special Services. On December 20, 1957, he was drafted. Ultimately, Elvis opted for general enlistment.

Mixing Business with Service

Presley was supposed to be inducted into the army on January 20, 1958, but he was granted a delay since he was in the middle of filming “King Creole” at the time. Even after his induction on March 24th of that year, Elvis would use his military leaves to record songs. It was during his army years that Elvis recorded some of his biggest hits, including “Don’t Be Cruel” and “All Shook Up.”

Grieving for His Mother

By August of 1958, Elvis’ mother, Gladys, was sick with hepatitis. Her condition was so bad he was granted a compassionate leave. She died soon after he arrived back home to be at her bedside. It’s said her death had a profound effect on Elvis for the rest of his life. About a month after her funeral he was back in the army. Some claiming to be authorities on Elvis say he was changed forever because he wasn’t given a proper amount of time to grieve.

Developing a Stimulate Habit

Elvis was originally stationed in Fort Hood, TX, at Fort Chaffee where he received his training. He was then assigned to the Third Division in West Germany in the fall of 1958. Presley had difficulty staying awake during maneuvers, so his commanding sergeant suggested he take amphetamines to stay awake and alert. It’s a move that would lead to a lifelong addiction to pills.

Meeting Priscilla

On September 13, 1959, Elvis met a then 14-year-old girl named Priscilla Beaulieu at a party at his home in Bad Nauheim, Germany. The two reportedly hit it off right away; although Elvis had to win over her parents after he brought her home late from their first date. It didn’t take long for the press to catch wind of the budding romance. This led some Elvis fans to send her mail, some of which Priscilla said included “not so nice” comments from Elvis’ female admirers.

Elvis left his post in Germany on March 2, 1960. He arrived at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey the next morning. Colonel Parker made sure the press was well-aware of Presley’s arrival, which resulted in a crowd of pumped up fans and a swarm of cameras. Elvis was officially discharged on March 5th. He would go on to star in a string of successful movies, do a highly-rated comeback special in 1968, hold the world’s first satellite-broadcasted concert from Hawaii in 1973, and marry and divorce Priscilla.

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