Elvis Week 2020: Elvis Presley should have been a billionaire, but why was he worth only $5M at his death?

The answer lies in a combination of unscrupulous partnerships that robbed Presley of his wealth and a pesky addiction that would go on to contribute to the singer's death


                             Elvis Week 2020: Elvis Presley should have been a billionaire, but why was he worth only $5M at his death?
Elvis Presley (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Elvis Presley was and will probably always remain one of the most iconic personalities to have ever existed. Everything from his voice and persona to his outfits and the gyrating dance moves that got him censored made Presley an enigmatic presence, quite in a league of his own, even among his contemporaries. And both in life and in death, he has continued to leave audiences awestruck by both his musical and acting talents as well as his controversial lifestyle and choices, which included courting a fourteen-year-old Priscilla at a party in Germany. But one question that will always be asked as far as Presley is concerned, is exactly how much was the King of Rock and Roll worth? The answer to that question is even harder to narrow down than even Presley's extensive list of underaged girlfriends. The main reason for this difficulty is that much of Presley's wealth was allegedly stolen by his label and manager and the rest he squandered himself.

During his prime, Presley sold millions of records and over 20 of his albums and 35 of his singles hit number one on the Billboard charts. When it came to performances, the singer was pulling in over $1,000,000 for each one. And if that weren't enough, he also starred in several hugely successful movies, including the 1960 film 'G.I. Blues', which earned $4 million during its theater run, and the 1964 comedy musical 'Viva Las Vegas', which earned over $5 million at the box office. Suffice it to say, Presley was pulling in a healthy annual income and securing an appearance from the King was hardly cheap. But despite that, when Presley died in 1977 at the age of 42, he was estimated to be worth only about $5 million. This is largely attributed to the singer's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, taking a fifty percent cut of Presley's earnings, with Paramount Pictures and RCA Records taking huge chunks of his earnings for themselves as well.

Colonel Tom Parker, Manager of musician Elvis Presley, pictured smoking a cigar, circa 1955. (Photo by Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

But another reason Presley's worth was so much lower than what he was earning was his own lavish lifestyle. From real estate to drugs to a massive entourage he nicknamed the 'Memphis Mafia', Presley was not shy when it came to spending money on what his heart desired. His Graceland property cost him $102,000 back in 1957, a massive sum at the time and he went on to spend nearly half a million dollars on the house and land adjacent to it in the years that followed. Presley's father, Vernon, and his stepmother would eventually move into a house near Graceland, with the singer paying for many of the expensive renovations they made to their new home. 

Presley's spending also extended to him buying his many lady loves expensive gifts, including commissioning a "round, pink bed" for his 'Viva Las Vegas' co-star Ann-Margret, with whom he allegedly had an affair not long after his future wife Priscilla Beaulieu Presley moved in with him. He also indulged his daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, with the most expensive gifts, including ponies, private access to parks and hiring a private jet to fly her to Idaho for twenty minutes so she could see snow for the first time. Despite an initially happy marriage, Presley's growing addictions and his inability to maintain a relationship with Priscilla led to their separation. The eventual divorce from Priscilla in 1973 would also prove to come at a massive cost for the singer, both financially and emotionally.

Priscilla Presley listens to Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton address a group of Elvis fans on the front lawn of Graceland March 27, 2006 in Memphis, Tennessee. Graceland, the former home of the king of rock 'n' roll, Elvis Presley, was designated a National Historic Landmark. Fewer than 2,500 historic places carry the title.

In his final years, Presley was heavily addicted to prescription medications and spent plenty of his hard-earned dollars on doctors who were willing to prescribe them. His health deteriorated rapidly and his performances suffered and by the end of 1973, Presley had to be hospitalized after he was found in a semi-comatose condition and found to be dealing with a variety of ailments including glaucoma on top of his drug-related issues. His body finally gave way in 1977 and the singer died following a massive heart attack.

Following his death, Presley's will appointed his father as executor and trustee. Vernon, Presley's grandmother Minnie Mae Presley and daughter Lisa Marie Presley were all listed as beneficiaries. Following Vernon's death in 1979, Priscilla took over as Lisa Marie's guardian, co-managing 'The Elvis Presley Trust' along with the National Bank of Commerce in Memphis, the bank Presley and Vernon did business with and Joseph Hanks, Presley and Vernon's accountant. Following Minnie Mae's passing in 1980, Lisa Marie became the sole beneficiary of Presley's estate and on her 25th birthday in 1993, she inherited her father's estate. One year later, the daughter of the King of Rock and Roll would marry the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. While the two didn't have any children together, Lisa Marie has four children from her other marriages: Benjamin Keough, Riley Keough, Finley Aaron Love Lockwood, Harper Vivienne Ann Lockwood. Benjamin, sadly, passed away earlier this year.

Australian artist Brett Livingston Strong (R) poses with his son Stason, pop star Michael Jackson, and Jackson's wife Lisa Marie Presley (L) in August 1994.

In the time since his untimely passing Presley's value has, naturally, climbed substantially. Current estimates indicate Presley is worth $20 million and Forbes revealed the singer's gross income between 2000 and 2005 was $45 million, which while still not a lot when weighed against his legacy still indicates that the singer is, rather depressingly, worth more dead than he was while still alive. Elvis Presley Enterprises, the corporate entity created by the trust to conduct business relating to Presley and manage his assets, including Graceland, is estimated to be worth anything between $200 and 400 million.

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