Elvis Presley is one of the most famous names in the history of music. He performed during a time when the Beatles rocked the world, but from an American perspective, Elvis was as popular and relevant as the Beatles. So, why are the Beatles a global phenomenon, whereas Elvis is more of an American icon than anything else? The answer might have to do something with Elvis’ career, as we are going to reveal whether Elvis ever left the country to tour internationally.
Elvis Presley performed outside the United States only once, in 1957, when he held several concerts in Canada, where Colonel Parker did not have to present a passport. Although he wanted to and even planned several international concerts (Europe, Japan, etc.), due to Parker’s machinations, Elvis never actually got the chance to perform for international audiences live in concert.
The rest of this article is going to tell you everything you need to know about Elvis’ concerts from 1967 onwards when his international touring was heavily discussed. You’re going to find out why the international performances never happened and what happened to Elvis’ touring career from 1967 until his death. The story of why Elvis never went outside North America is a sad one and we are going to tell it to you.
Did Elvis ever leave the country & tour internationally?
After his marriage to Priscilla in 1967, Elvis wanted to go abroad like a lot of his colleagues. Colonel Parker was adamantly opposed to Presley’s idea of resorting to large concerts abroad, unlike what other American rockers such as Jerry Lee Lewis had done.
Certainly, in 1957, Elvis had given a concert in Canada (his only appearance abroad), but this was possible because Parker did not need to present an American passport there. In reality, Parker lacked that document because he had never resolved his illegal immigrant status; this caused the manager to fear traveling outside the US and being arrested upon his return, or deported.
Because of this fact, Parker convinced Elvis that a concert abroad would be risky for personal safety reasons, and that outside the US he would not find suitable settings for a star of his fame. Parker accepted that the outing would be a return to big live performances, choosing the old television set for Elvis to film a special. He changed his business strategy and struck a deal with NBC, which paid $1.25 million for a Christmas movie and TV special.
The NBC special, simply titled Elvis, was shot in Burbank at the end of June and broadcast on December 3, 1968. Produced by Steve Binder, it consisted of several segments recorded in the studio in elaborate sets, but also live takes. During this sequence that has become famous as the “Sit down show”, Elvis wears a black leather suit reminiscent of his debut.
The show is a success for NBC: it is the most watched of the season for the channel, with 42% market share. Encouraged by the success of his special, which marked his return to rock and relaunched his musical career, Presley entered the American Sound Studio in Memphis to prepare a new album. It was released in June 1969, two months after the single “In the Ghetto”.
At that point, the singer also wanted to give concerts again on a regular basis. Offers poured in from all over the world, but Colonel Parker struck a deal with the International Hotel in Las Vegas for 57 dates. He was nervous, but his first evening at the International, on July 31, was a triumph: the 2,200 spectators, including many celebrities, gave him three standing ovations. The next day, Parker negotiates a new contract with the hotel: Presley will perform there in February and August for five years for an annual salary of one million dollars.
Presley’s first monthly engagement at the International Hotel in February 1970 resulted in the live album On Stage, released that June. At the end of the month, the singer gave six concerts at the Houston Astrodome in front of a record number of spectators. Returning to the International in August, Presley was filmed by MGM for the documentary Elvis: That’s the Way It Is. He then performed wearing a jumpsuit, a garment characteristic of his stage performances from then on.
Presley embarked on a week-long tour of the Southern United States in September, his first since 1958, followed by another week of concerts on the West Coast in November. Four concerts at Madison Square Garden in New York followed in June 1972; the tickets were sold out in no time. Colleagues such as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, George Harrison and David Bowie are also said to have attended the concerts. The Elvis Presley Show never toured outside the United States – a world tour seemed hardly viable at the beginning of the 1970s, given the 80-strong stage troupe, the necessary safety precautions and the entertainer’s reluctance to perform in open-air stadiums, which did not guarantee him the best possible sound.
In order to have Presley perform worldwide, the TV special Aloha from Hawaii was conceived, which was broadcast on January 14, 1973, in the International Convention Center Arena in Honolulu as the first concert by a solo entertainer via satellite almost around the world. Proceeds from the show were donated to the Kui Lee Cancer Fund in Honolulu. It was not until April 4, 1973 that the special was shown in the USA; there it achieved an audience rating of over 50 percent. In total, over a billion people in over 40 countries are said to have followed Aloha from Hawaii.
In the years that followed, in addition to his engagements in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe, Presley continued to tour the USA almost constantly, with increasingly poor health. Highlights of those years included a series of concerts in his hometown of Memphis in March 1974. Elvis Presley gave his last concert on June 26, 1977 in the Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. On the day of his death, August 16, 1977, he was about to leave for another tour, which should have started in Portland, Maine. In addition, several concerts in Europe, including London, are said to have been planned for 1978, but were never held.