Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis biopic is currently in cinemas, rocking and rolling the box office with great success. The movie is pretty accurate to what really happened in Elvis Presley’s life, but there are several things that were dramatically changed for the purpose of the film. We see Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) as the bad guy of the film, but did Elvis really fire him?
Elvis didn’t really fire Colonel Parker on stage in Vegas. However, they had a dispute over an incident Presley had done on stage, and Parker was about to get fired. But, after he gave a detailed invoice to Elvis, the star realized he couldn’t pay Parker, so they continued collaborating.
Colonel Parker was a very complicated person, and his relationship with Elvis was rocky. Sure, he made some great decisions for Presley’s career, but overall, he was all about the money and milked as much as he could out of Elvis. Here’s the true story about Colonel Parker and the “firing” situation we saw in the movie.
Who Was Colonel Tom Parker?
To understand the backstory of Colonel Parker, one should know who he actually was and how he came to be Elvis Presley’s manager. His real name isn’t Thomas Andrew Parker – it’s Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk. He’s a Dutch immigrant, born in 1909, that fled to the United States on a ship and traveled with a tent show.
There are many stories about Parker’s status as an illegal immigrant and why he avoided coming back to Europe even when Elvis was at his peak of worldwide popularity. Some rumors even suggest that he was a murder suspect in Breda, but I won’t get into that.
Anyways, in 1929, he enlisted in the US Army and then took the name of the officer who interviewed him, Thomas Parker. He served a couple of years before being charged as a deserter, after which he was in solitary confinement and then in a mental institution.
The rank Coloner is actually just an honorary title – a nickname, if you will – he got from a country singer, Jimmie Davis, in exchange for some political campaign work. Parker never made it higher up from the Private rank. When he was discharged, the papers stated that he was a psychopath.
Later, Colonel Parker became popular in the circus business, doing stuff that is, in essence, animal cruelty. For instance, he’d have “dancing chickens,” which were actually “dancing” because they were standing on a hot metal plate covered in sawdust.
After a while, he transferred to managerial business, taking several performers in before eventually committing to Elvis. Even that contract signing wasn’t really all-clear, as the contract left out some crucial parts and made Parker Presley’s sole manager, but that’s a topic for another day.
The point is, Colonel Tom Parker wasn’t a colonel at all, nor was he really Tom Parker. And from everything we know about him now, it’s safe to say he wasn’t really a good guy, neither – he was all about the money. Now, did Elvis really fire Colonel Parker on stage?
Did Elvis Really Fire Colonel Parker On Stage?
So, in the Elvis movie, there’s a scene where Elvis fires Colonel Parker on stage in Las Vegas. However, that never really happened. In fact, Alanna Nash, an expert author who wrote several books about Elvis Presley, said to USA Today that Elvis “never would have done that” and that he actually never knew about the colonel’s immigration history, and his real identity, for that matter.
As Nash says: “He fully believed the colonel’s story that Parker hailed from Huntington, West Virginia; Elvis died not knowing the truth. That didn’t come out in this country until 1981.”
In another interview for Variety, Nash said that Elvis “would never have been so crass as to have fired Colonel from the stage.”
However, there is a link between Elvis, Colonel Parker, Las Vegas, Presley’s rant on-stage, and talks about firing the colonel. It just wasn’t as depicted in the movie. Here’s what really happened.
The True Story Behind ‘The Firing’ Of Colonel Parker
Before we begin, I’d like to point out that the main reason why Elvis Presley even resided and performed in Las Vegas in the first place was Colonel Parker making a deal to have Elvis there in order to pay off his big gambling debts. That’s a story for another day, though. Now, we know Elvis didn’t really fire Colonel Parker on stage. So, what really happened?
Well, according to Nash, there was a Vegas incident that almost led to the two parting ways. A few years before he passed away, in 1974, Elvis had a stage rage rant aimed at Barron Hilton, the owner of the luxurious Hilton hotels.
Presley visited one of their employees that he grew fond of because his wife was dying of cancer, so he wanted to make the situation at least a bit better for you – she met her idol. However, Hilton fired the employee because the hotel had strict rules about contact between the hotel employees and residents.
That enraged Presley badly, so when he went up on the stage, he blasted Barron Hilton on all cylinders, saying “he wasn’t worth a damn,” among other things. Of course, Colonel Parker saw Elvis’ actions as completely inappropriate, and the two had a massive fight over it backstage.
When they returned to Presley’s suite, the star fired Colonel Parker, to which Parker responded that he quits. Much like the movie suggests, Colonel Parker then drew up a detailed invoice bill and gave it to Presley that stated the movie star owes Parker several million dollars for their collaboration.
If you ask me, that’s ridiculous, given the fact that Colonel Parker made more money from some of Elvis’ TV appearances and merchandise than Presley himself. However, that was the contract that Elvis signed, and there wasn’t a way out of it. Once Elvis realized he couldn’t afford to pay Colonel Parker out, they agreed to take things back as they were before the fight.
So, essentially, Elvis did have a stage rant, just not directed towards Colonel Parker. He also actually wanted to fire the colonel (just not on stage) but couldn’t afford to do so.