Did Elvis Really Fire Colonel Parker On Stage? Movie Vs Reality

""When things go wrong, don't go with them.” - Elvis

by Abhirup Sengupta
Image: Art Zelin/Getty Images, Warner Bros. Pictures, MGM

Following Elvis (2022) star Austin Butler’s Golden Globe win and the tragic death of the King’s daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, the singer’s biopic has once again trended amongst fans. While Baz Luhrmann’s take on the life of Elvis Presley was accurate in some instances, certain events were stylized or altered to fit the format of the movie.

One such moment from the 2022 film that intrigued viewers was the scene where Austin Butler’s Elvis fired Tom Hanks’ Colonel Parker on the stage. This happened during the singer’s residency at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. In the scene, Elvis accused his manager Parker, of scheming against the singer.

Elvis Presley’s Onstage Accusation Of Col. Parker – Did That Really Happen?

In the movie, Elvis ironically mocked Parker, born Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk. Presley said: “I hear rumors that (the) Colonel is an alien.” Later, he further cryptically jokes about being abducted by his manager, who has locked the singer in a “golden cage.”

Meanwhile, as the audience realized that Elvis was not really mocking Parker, the singer broke out into his hit song, “Suspicious Minds.” This was deliberate as the song’s lyrics showcased a parallel to Presley’s dilemma with Parker, where the King was forced to associate himself with his manager. Moments later, Presley announced that this would be his last show in Vegas before directly addressing Parker on stage, where the latter had gone to stop the singer.

The singer finally revealed that he knew about Colonel Parker’s citizenship status and that he did not have a passport. According to the film, this is why Parker was against Presley going on a worldwide tour.

However, in reality, Elvis Presley was likely not aware of Colonel Parker’s origin as the records were not made public till 1981 when Elvis Presley Enterprises sued the manager for mismanagement of the singer’s song royalties. However, the legendary singer may have learned about Parker’s illegal citizenship status prior to the former’s unfortunate demise in 1977.

According to music journalist and biographer of Col. Parker, Alanna Nash, the events portrayed regarding the onstage firing of Elvis’ manager were inaccurate. In her interview with Variety, Nash stated: “He never fired him on stage, but there was an incident in Vegas in 1974 where Elvis criticized Barron Hilton from the stage for firing one of Elvis’s favorite employees.”

Per Nash’s claims, Elvis and Parker had a heated argument in regard to the onstage criticism of Hilton. This is when the King possibly threatened to fire Parker when the latter presented his percentage of revenue and bills owed to him by Presley Enterprises. Similar to the film, when Presley and his family realized they could not foot the bill to cut Parker loose, the borderline-forced collaboration continued until the singer’s demise.

Interestingly, as hinted in the film, Parker apparently suggested Presley’s father, Vernon, serve as the singer’s business manager. In her interview with Variety, Nash claimed that this was because “Parker saw how malleable he (Vernon) was.”

Representation of Colonel’s Gambling Problems

As portrayed in the film, Parker had incurred a serious gambling debt during his stay at the Hilton Hotels. Similar to what was portrayed in the movie, Parker struck a deal with the hotel to keep Elvis’ residency at the venue.

Following Presley’s death in 1977, Parker was associated with the Hilton Hotels as a “consultant,” as claimed by Nash in her book, “The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley.” However, by the mid-1980s, Parker’s gambling addiction went overboard, resulting in him being evicted from the hotel.

Colonel Parker Vs. Elvis’ Estate

According to The Elvis Encyclopedia by Adam Victor, in 1980, a Memphis judge ordered an attorney to investigate Parker’s management of Presley and his ventures. Following the probe, it was claimed that Parker had cheated Presley out of millions. The investigation also found that RCA Records had bought Presley’s master recordings for $5 million, which included the singer’s uber-hit songs till around 1977. This caused the judge to advise Presley’s estate to sue Parker.

Following the lawsuit, Parker countersued Presley’s estate and received around $2 million in a settlement. Shockingly, the sleazy manager was still close to the Presley family for years after the lawsuit. Till his demise in 1997, Parker reportedly maintained the findings of the investigation in 1980 to be ‘unjust.’

- This article was updated on February 1st, 2023