It is important to know that during Elvis’ lifetime, between his Fathers beliefs seeing firsthand the abuses of the IRS and that of Colonel Parker who was an illegal alien always fearful that his illegal status would/could be caught and thereby ruin his managing career as well as face criminal prosecution, that Elvis Presley (1) was in the HIGHEST tax bracket each year including when the highest tax bracket was 95% (yes, ninety five percent) (2) was afraid of the powers/possible abuses of the IRS (3) did not “deduct/apply for a credit/claim a tax write off(s)” for most of his charitable givings and (4) routinely sent his return into the IRS with a note saying “tell me what, if anything, I owe you”.
This fundamental point has been either omitted, or minimized, by far too many “biographers” writing about Elvis Presley but it is a point worth understanding for it goes to the INTENT of Elvis’ charitable endeavors and that was simply…the purity of his heart and his desire to help his fellow man.
Having grown up poor, and seeing the importance of growing food and/or having access to individuals who grew their own food even if it was a “truck patch” (as made memorable in the song “Polk Salad Annie”), and being surrounded by family/friends/fellow church goers equally as poor Elvis learned early on what it meant to receive food/clothes/etc, from others as well as the grace/honor in freely helping out others in need both publicly and privately.
Elvis Presley (from his first days of performing in 1954 through his untimely death in 1977) was a pioneer as an Entertainer, in fashion, in his incorporation of Gospel Music into his Concert appearances, hairstyles, producing/arranging his musical recordings, and as a person how gave strangers, those close to him, and worthwhile charities his time…and his money.
Some of Elvis’ charitable contributions are engrained in Elvis Presley Fans memories but some, as an example his 1957 donation to his High School Ala mater Humes High School in the amount of $ 1,050.00 so that all of the students could attend the (annual) E. H. Crump Memorial football game for the Blind in Memphis, Tennessee, have been overlooked and/or not fully acknowledged.
In 1956 and in 1957 Elvis opted to perform live concerts at the Tupelo Fairgrounds in order to raise money for the “Elvis Presley Youth Foundation” Earlier, on July 4, 1956 Elvis performed at Russwood Park in Memphis selling 14,000 tickets. The proceeds going to the “Cynthia Milk Fund” and to the “Variety Club’s home for Convalescent Children”.
During these two years (i.e. 1956 and 1957), Elvis posed on numerous occasions for national ad campaigns to prevent Polio and in fact appeared live on NATIONAL television on the afternoon of October 28, 1956, and was innoculated with the third version of Jonas Salk's anti-polio vaccine, According to NEXUS, in an article recently published on their online website and entited " US healthcare Needs another Elvis", this advocacy and the fact it was carried live on all three networks was responsible for the exponential increase in the immunization level of all Americans, from 0.6 to 80% in a six month period. By April of 1957, the Salk InStitute declared polio all but erradicated from US soil.
On January 6, 1957, during his third appearance at the Ed Sullivan Show, Elvis requested his host to publicly ask those watching, on his behalf to send their urgent financial contributions to help relieve the plight of some 250,000 Hungarians affected by the Soviet Invasion of their country, which had taken place on 24 and 31st October of the previous year. In less than 11 months, some US$6 million (the equivalant the of 26 million Swiss Francs, roughly US$49.5 million in 2015 dollars, after adjustments to inflation), were duly received by the International Red Cross headquartered in Geneva, the funds used in the purchase of both perishable and non perishable items delivered to the recipients, who settled for life in both Vienna and London. It should be noted that in 2011, as agesture of appreciation, the Mayor of Budapest named a Park in his honour, one facing the city's oldest and most beautiful bridge, the Margret Bridge, as well as made him, posthumously, a citizen of that city.
On 28 June, 1957, Danny Thomas requested Elvis to appear as a special guest in his "Shower of Stars" , a charity event he had organized every year, since 1954, at Russwood Park Stadium in Memphis his aim being to raise enough funds to built what is today the most important medical and research center for children with cancer, St Jude's hospital. His goal of attracting donors from the two adjacent states, MS and AK, had not been entirely succesful, but when Elvis was announced to be a part of the Gala, albeit without singing a single song, some 14,000 donors attended, from the three states. The evening was a huge success and work on the construction of the hospital's first building commenced in December of 1957.
At the same time, until he was drafted by the US Army he routinely sought out to visit and to give a hug to children faced with “life threatening illnesses”. Elvis personally visited Hospitals with the intent to simply show the children that…he cared. In spite of the smiles Elvis mustered, for the cherished photographs that fans took of Elvis with these children, these interactions affected Elvis deeply and many times Elvis was moved to tears and attempting to compose himself while waving goodbye to the groups gathered in an attempt to get a glimpse of the King of Rock and Roll.
Elvis often donated the stuffed animals that he had received from fans Worldwide, which numbered in the hundreds, to children at local Hospitals in addition to allowing his own clothes, personal possessions, to be auctioned off for charity. Throughout his life Elvis would visit with the “Graceland Secretary s”, who among other tasks went through Elvis’ mail, and if a photograph, a request, or a story touched Elvis he would immediately take steps to help the people involved.
Whether it was paying off people’s debts, helping a family whose Father had died in the line of duty, paying off someones mortgage, buying them a home, buying them a car, or giving a disabled person a new wheelchair if Elvis knew about it…he helped. I have always believed that the greatest gift one can give…is of themselves and this is true of Elvis Presley. Interestingly, more times than not Elvis asked one thing for the money he routinely gave to others and that was for his giving to remain solely between him and those who were tasked to making sure the people received the money.
Some of the more publicized charities Elvis gave to were;
- On March 24, 1961 Elvis performed in Hawaii for a benefit concert, held at the Bloch Arena, to raise money for a memorial for the USS Arizona which had sank during the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 historically known as “a day that will live in infamy”. Elvis raised $ 65,000.00 and a plaque was prominently placed, at the memorial site, acknowledging Elvis’ efforts in raising the money. Sadly, the plaque was removed due to the acts of a few powerful “non-Elvis fans” and the return of this plaque remains an emphasis of mine and should be to Elvis Presley Fans Worldwide.
- In 1963 Elvis Donated a 1955 red Ford Thunderbird to the March of Dimes and was then sold in auction in late 1963... in 1964 Elvis bought the FDR Presidential Yacht named the Potomac and donated it to the St. Judes Children s Research Hospital, who ultimately sold it for an amount of $55,000.00, spearheaded at the time by entertainer Danny Thomas (Father of Marlo Thomas aka: “That Girl” TV Star and wife of Phil Donahue the talk show host). One bit of humor involving this event was that Colonel Parker, upon inspecting the yacht the morning that Elvis would personally present the yacht to Danny Thomas with many members of the press being present, saw that the yacht was in dire need of maintenance including paint. As only the Colonel would he authorized ONLY the side of the yacht that would be photographed to be freshly painted leaving the rest of the yacht discolored with peeling paint evident.
- In 1968 Elvis allowed one of his Rolls Royce to be auctioned off for a charity that assisted mentally retarded children.
- In 1973 Elvis performed the first “live concert/broadcast via Worldwide satellite”, which was seen by a record audience of over ONE BILLION people, known as “Aloha from Hawaii”. This concert was actually a benefit concert for the Kuiokalani Lee Cancer Fund. The goal was to raise $ 25,000.00 but this amount was greatly exceeded and actually raised $ 75,000.00.
- In 1975 Elvis gave a concert in Jackson Mississippi that raised in excess of $ 100,000.00 for victims of a tornado. This concert was deeply personal to Elvis because when Elvis was a child a tornado tore through his hometown in Tupelo, Mississippi and killed many people. Also, in 1975 during the month of July Elvis bought and then gave away 13 Cadillac s including to (bank teller) Mennie Person who was admiring Elvis’ limo that was parked outside of the dealership. Elvis also gave her a check to buy new clothes and in return Elvis received a hug and a kiss and a memory that was…priceless.
For every charitable act mentioned in this article there are many more that Elvis performed during his lifetime (such as annually presenting checks to approximately 50 Charities/Organizations each year in Memphis and each check was for a minimum of $1,000.00, giving over $10,000.00 to the Memphis Jewish Community Center Building Fund, etc.,).
As a DIEHARD Elvis Presley Fan, Collector, Advocate, Historian, and Expert the lesson that Elvis left was (among others) that we are all equal in Gods’ eyes and helping those in need is honorable and therefore seeking unnecessary publicity in giving is…unnecessary.
No publicity, no tax write off, etc. is what Elvis did and what he believed and when one compares his efforts to those in the “entertainment industry” today there is clearly a vast distinction in intent. While all giving, to those in need, is honorable when one gives SOLELY for the purpose of giving, and derives on monetary benefit (i.e. tax write off), it is deserving of our respect and acknowledgment hence the reason for this specific article.
In recognition of Elvis’ charitable contributions Memphis Mayor William Ingram, along with the Governor of Tennessee Buford Ellington, officially declared October 29, 1967, “Elvis Presley Day” in the city of Memphis and in the State of Tennessee.
Some of the Charities that Elvis donated to, supported, etc. were (in alphabetical order) as follows:
Following in her Fathers’ footsteps Lisa Marie (with kudos to Priscilla Presley, EPE, and Jack Soden as well) has given her time, name, and money to worthwhile Charities publicly and privately. These Charities include, but are not limited to, the following: Presley Place, The Elvis Presley Memorial Trauma Center, and the Red Cross.
In closing, Elvis Aron Presley (yes I use the name given his at birth and not “Aaron”) was a pioneer in his charitable endeavors and his deeds are worth aspiring to. None of us are “perfect”, and Elvis certainly was not, but to give unto others is one of the ways that we honor God and I hope that Elvis Presley Fans Worldwide will continue to give to others in need as they have for over five decades now.
May God bless you. Thank you for reading this article and take care.
Your “friend in Elvis”,