Colonel Tom Parker (Parker's Death Dark Shadow)

By: Dave Marsh
May 18, 2002

Elvis Presley never did, which is reason enough to despise 'Colonel' Tom Parker, whose rank was as phony and deceitful as everything else about him. I could give a fuck whether Parker was an 'illegal immigrant' or not; America shouldn't have immigration laws in the first place. (It didn't for the first 130 years.) Parker's corruption didn't come from that. It came from his life-long practice of selling short the talent he represented, from his constant habit of doing what was good for Tom Parker at the expense of the artists -- Elvis, Eddy Arnold, Hank Snow -- to whom he owed a legal and ethical duty.

Peter Guralnick called Parker 'a genius' which is genuinely nauseating. If Parker was a genius, what would that make Elvis, exactly? I remember once, many years ago, someone saying that Mike Appel (Bruce Springsteen's first manager) deserved credit for at least hearing Bruce Springsteen and knowing how talented he was. Miami Steve Van Zandt, who was also present, jumped all over that one: 'You don't get points for recognizing talent like that. If you can't recognize talent at that level, you shouldn't even be in the business. The question is what you do with the talent'.

Compared to Parker, Mike Appel, who merely took advantage of an untutored young man with unfair contracts, was the truly honest man Diogenes sought. The story might have looked different before Elvis died. Parker might have seemed a cunning genius who had kept Elvis in the public spotlight far longer than was 'normal'. But the minute that the probate courts got hold of the Presley estate, that illusion vanished. Parker, it turned out, had not even made great deals for Tom Parker. He not only took an outrageous 50 percent commission on all of Elvis' earnings but when it came to, for example, tour merchandising, he arranged the corporate structure so that Elvis came away with about 20 percent to Parker's 80 percent.

Far from 'genius', he was stupid about everything involving Elvis' future, from the shortsighted decision to tie him to a contract hacking out movies for Hal Wallis at the very moment every other star with Elvis' stature was being unshackled from the studio system to the pittance -- $5 million -- he received toward the end when he sold all of Elvis' future royalties. Nothing could more perfectly express the degree to which Tom Parker never, for one minute, grasped what Elvis and his music meant to people. To stand that close to the center of such a phenomenon and miss altogether its most important, long-lasting qualities requires a genius that is truly rare: I'd have to go out and turn over every rock in my driveway to find its like.

Even then, who knows if I'd succeed? Snakes hibernate.

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Articles about Elvis Presley Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's Manager, Dead at 87

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