Elvis Presley, is arguably the most famous and recognizable entertainer in history. From music, movies and memorabilia his lifetime earnings were $4.3 billion–worth $19 billion today. His earnings since his death on August 16, 1977 far exceed that.
Many of today’s celebrities could learn a thing or two from Elvis, especially when it comes to earning money, keeping fans, and staying out of politics.
One of the most familiar video clips of an Elvis news conference was on
June 9, 1972. Elvis was sitting with his father Vernon Presley to talk about his upcoming Madison Square Garden concerts in New York.
He was asked a question concerning the Vietnam War.
Question: “You were in the Army and were drafted. What is your opinion of war protesters? And would you today refuse to be drafted?”
Elvis: “Honey, I’d just soon to keep my own personal views about that to myself. Cause I’m just an entertainer and I’d rather not say.”
Privately, especially as he matured and read more, he became more focused on politics and current events. (He was way too busy and on the road constantly trying to build a career in the first years. Plus, for those of us who know about what McCarthyism did to Hollywood and entertainment careers, you understand why he said little publically).
Elvis Earns More Today Than Most Entertainers Do In Their Lifetimes
Of course, not all performers make the big dollars, but how do top entertainers compare to the “King?”
The latest accurate and comparable earnings figures are from 2019. The pandemic will obviously skew any numbers for 2020, which is not over yet.
Elvis, now deceased over 43 years, earned over $39 million in pre-tax earnings between Oct. 1, 2018, and Oct. 1, 2019.
During the same time period, he outpaced the earnings of living entertainers such as Lady Gaga, Dave Matthews, Zac Brown Band, Celine Dion, Shawn Mendes, and U2.
Artists like Toby Keith ($21 million), Dierks Bentley ($20 million), and even George Strait, Dolly Parton, Carrie Underwood and Faith Hill all earned between $15 million and $20 million, according to Forbes.
Elvis also beat out such movie stars as Leonardo DiCaprio ($10 million), Emily Blunt ($12.6 million), Tom Cruise ($14 million), and Ben Affleck ($11 million).
For reference, Prince and George Harrison earned $12 million and $9 million respectively.
Elvis knew that engaging publicly by expressing your political views was not wise. That goes for both sides of the aisle.
Smart celebrities know if they are interested in a career dealing with the Hollywood elite, it’s best to endorse liberals. But the price to pay is real loss of followers on media and fans at the box office.
Smart Celebrities Stay Mum
Singer Billy Joel, when asked, had a wise answer, “I am a private citizen and I have a right to believe in my own political point of view, but I try not to get up on a soapbox and tell people how to think.”
Joel explained that in his mind, performers are more like “court jesters than court philosophers.”
KISS frontman Gene Simmons said, “I think celebrities should basically shut their pie holes and do what they do best — act, sing, tap dance, juggle balls, and all that kind of stuff.”
Reba McEntire offered, “I take it this way: they have paid their hard-earned money to come in there and fill a seat — parking, getting something at the concession stand, go and eat before the concert — I am there to entertain them, to take their worries away from them, so when they walk out, they can kind of have a little lift in their step and go, ‘Aw, that was such a great break from all the problems I have to deal with during daily life.’ So I’m not going to give them my political views.”
“You don’t know what you’re going to say to offend people,” said comedian/actor Tim Allen. “It is really like dancing on the thinnest ice. I’ve been in the comedy world for 30 years as a comic and there’s nothing more dangerous right now for all of the comics I know, what we can and cannot say. I don’t like being told what I can and cannot say and who’s telling me what I can’t do.”
Comedian and actor Kevin Hart may be outspoken on stage, but he stays away from politics.
“When you jump into that political realm you’re alienating some of your audience … The world today, it’s really not a laughing matter. It’s serious. I don’t want to draw attention to things I don’t have nice things to say about.”
“Everybody’s not going to see things the way I want to see them. And they shouldn’t … That’s what makes us individuals. In that particular realm, I keep my opinions to myself.”
Actor Mark Wahlberg got a lot of attention in November 2016 when he said he felt strongly that celebrities should not express their political opinion.
“A lot of celebrities did, do, and shouldn’t [publicly endorse candidates] … a lot of Hollywood is living in a bubble. They’re pretty out of touch with the common person, the everyday guy out there providing for their family. Me, I’m very aware of the real world. I come from the real world and I exist in the real world.”
What is critical to understand is that Elvis’ parents, Vernon and Gladys Presley started out as conservative Southern Democrats. They supported Stevenson over Eisenhower and Kennedy over Nixon.
Elvis went into the Army in 1958 and had two years to read, grow and formulate his own opinions. He loved President John F. Kennedy and was devastated about his assassination.
Like many, he supported Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson was the first president he met. He was along the lines of many Southern Democrats at the time. But things evolved.
Ronald Reagan and so many others, including my own parents through time, noticed the Democratic party changing. They switched and so did
Memphis Mafia’s Marty Lacker told me Elvis was “usually supportive of whoever was president at the time. He was loyal and patriotic to America. It was an America First attitude with Elvis, like most of us.”
“Hey, we owned guns,” he continued. “Everyone knows Elvis loved his guns. And his badges. He loved his guns and badges and was always respectful with police. He had police friends everywhere.”
Lacker passed away a few years ago, but he told the same story as others. Elvis was a strong believer in the Second Amendment and gun rights. He respected and supported police and law enforcement.
“Elvis was very private about his political views, but was passionate about them in private with those of us and friends he could trust,” Sonny West said.
It’s interesting that West and Elvis’ most liberal Memphis Mafia member Jerry Schiling went with their friend and boss to visit Richard Nixon in the White House Oval Office on December 21, 1971.
“Elvis didn’t write many letters himself, but one of his most famous is the one he wrote on airline stationary to the President when we were on our way to see him (Nixon). He liked Nixon and was loyal, but after Watergate, he felt letdown.”
Early in that letter, Elvis wrote “I talked to Vice-President Agnew in Palm Springs 3 weeks ago and expressed my concern for our country. The drug culture, the hippie elements, the SDS, Black Panthers, etc. … ”
“He liked President Carter too,” West said. “He was some kind of distant cousin to him and he even met him and Roslyn once. But he didn’t vote for him. He was a Reagan man by then. War and college protests and the way our soldiers were treated when they came home from Vietnam angered him.”
Schilling and Lacker both leaned liberal but by all accounts, even their own, Elvis was definitely conservative in the 1970s.
Elvis met future president George H. W. Bush at an awards ceremony in the early 1970’s.
According to many who were close and even Rex Humbard, Elvis was a Born Again Christian. He accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior before he died.