Monday, July 16, 2007
Parker's involvement in the music industry began as a music promoter in the late 1940s, working with country music stars Minnie Pearl, Hank Snow, and Eddy Arnold, as well as film star Tom Mix. He received the honorary title of "Colonel" in 1948 from Governor Jimmie Davis of Louisiana in return for work he did on Davis' election campaign.
In August 1955, Parker became the manager of Elvis Presley. In November, he convinced RCA Records to buy Presley out from Sun Records for $35,000, a sizable sum in those days. With his first RCA single, "Heartbreak Hotel," Presley became a star.
After Presley's death in 1977, Parker became embroiled in legal disputes with the singer's estate and with his ex-wife, Priscilla Presley. The continuing interest in Presley's enduring legend provoked Parker to remark in 1993, "I don't think I exploited Elvis as much as he's being exploited today."
As Presley's fame grew, people became interested in Parker as well. For a time, he claimed to have been born in West Virginia, and to have run away at an early age to join the circus. The truth about his early years was revealed when his family in the Netherlands recognized him in photographs of Parker standing next to Elvis. In a lawsuit in 1982, Parker admitted that he was a Dutch citizen.
The truth is that Parker left the Netherlands at about the age of 18, joined the United States Army, changed his name to Tom Parker, and later became part of the circus world. In the 1940s, he also worked as a dogcatcher and a pet cemetery proprietor in Tampa, Florida in the 1940s.
Some have speculated that the reason that Presley never performed abroad was that Parker was worried that, as a noncitizen, he would not have been able to acquire a U.S. passport and risked deportation if he filed a naturalization petition.
Parker died on January 21, 1997 of a stroke, in Las Vegas, Nevada, at the age of 87.