Skip to main content

By Ken Sharp

“The King” is back in the forefront of popular culture with the new Baz Luhrmann bio pic Elvis starring Austin Butler as the hip-swiveling Memphis fireball of a singing sensation and Tom Hanks as notorious manager Colonel Tom Parker. 

On the heels of the film’s release comes a new re-pressing of the must-have book The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley. Featuring a new afterword, the book, penned by bestselling author Alanna Nash, offers the definitive account of The Colonel’s life. 


Fascinating, riveting and highly readable, for this writer it’s perhaps one of the best music books ever written. The Colonel is a marvel, rigorously researched and beautifully written, it’s filled with historic discoveries of key information and insight about the man who helped make Elvis “The King.” Join us for a candid conversation with Alanna Nash who voices revelatory insight into the machinations of a legendary character in popular culture.


GOLDMINE: Alanna, writing a book about the Colonel was a real passion project for you. You put in hundreds of thousands of dollars of your own money to make this happen. What drove you to tell his story?

Alanna Nash: I think it's twofold. One is that I can still remember being six years old and sitting on the floor and watching that big, chunky television the night that Elvis Presley made his debut on The Ed Sullivan Show and my life changed in that instant. I was completely obsessed with him. I bought a little guitar and scratched his name on the top with a safety pin and my sister said, "You're going to get in trouble for that." I adored Elvis Presley, and when he died, I was working for the Louisville Courier-Journal as their pop music reviewer. He died on my birthday, August 16, and the paper sent me out to interview his step-grandmother who lived here. Jesse Presley had abandoned Minnie Mae and moved up here. And the next day, they put me on the company plane with their star columnist, John Filiatreau, to cover the funeral. And then they sent me back for a period of weeks to write a series. During that time, I got to know a number of people in Elvis world, and one of them was [Memphis Mafia member] Alan Fortas, who I liked very much, and he wanted to do a little book. That book [Elvis: From Memphis to Hollywood] took us a few years to do, and unfortunately, he was ill with bladder cancer and died two or three weeks after it came out. But when we were working on that book together, Colonel Parker would call him every Sunday to check on him. Colonel Parker had fascinated me since I was a child, when I saw a picture of him handing out Elvis photos to little girls who looked exactly like me. And so when I was at Alan's and the Colonel would call, I asked Alan to get him to sign a photo for me, which he did. And then, of course, Alan died and he was supposed to be part of this Memphis Mafia book that I ended up doing with Billy (Smith), Marty (Lacker), and Lamar (Fike), [Elvis Aaron Presley: Revelations from the Memphis Mafia, later retitled Elvis and the Memphis Mafia]. And I thought it would be great to have Colonel Parker answer some of these criticisms that these guys leveled against him, so I got on a plane. 

I'd never been to Las Vegas, and I didn't know how to find him. I called Susan Nadler, the manager of country star Lorrie Morgan, who was appearing in the Hilton showroom, and asked if I could go see Lorrie's show. She said, "What are you doing here in town?" And I said, "Well, I know this sounds kind of crazy, but I'm looking for Colonel Parker." And she said, "Well, he's going to be in the Hilton coffee shop with Lorrie and her mother in 20 minutes." So I zoomed over there, got a table, and waited until they left. And then I went over and introduced myself as Alan's friend and told the Colonel I had written his book. He and his wife. Loanne, had me sit down, and I was there for three hours. You couldn't really ask him questions. He would just hold court and you were allowed to absorb it. But I remember looking at him, looking at those beautiful blue eyes he had and thinking, "Who are you? Who are you really?" And that was the first of three visits that I had with him over the next two years. They were not easy visits, and he played some cat and mouse games with me in between through letters and phone calls. And he never did contribute anything to the Mafia book. But when he died, I was really sad, because I had quite a bit of affection for him, even though he scared me to death, and because I thought, “We'll never know his story now.” And my agent said, "You've got to write his biography." And I said, "Oh, my God, it just seems an ungettable story." Because he was an illegal alien from Holland. And then I thought, “Well, I have to try. I can't think about anything else. I have to try.” And so the book is the product of my efforts to answer my own question — “Who are you really”— as well as to cover the trajectory of his extraordinary life.


Alanna Nash

Alanna Nash

GM: Elvis and the Colonel were obviously completely different types of people. They came from completely different backgrounds. What was the common bond that drew them together and kept them together?

Nash: Oh, that's such a big question and I don't know that I can answer it succinctly. I think for Elvis it was a combination of a strong father figure and someone who knew how to make him a big star, maybe somebody as big as Eddy Arnold, who Parker had built into a household name. Elvis certainly had a weak father in Vernon, who was always on the take (the Colonel privately called Elvis’s family “shit,” and rubbed his thumb and forefinger together), and colluded with the Colonel against Elvis’s best interests in years to come. Vernon said to Elvis, "Don't screw this up. Us Presleys have always been poor" when Elvis would get frustrated with him. Elvis was a trusting soul, and an artist who initially thought, “I'll take care of the art and the Colonel will take care of the business. As long as Elvis had the money to do what he wanted to do, he didn't care how much the Colonel took because the Colonel convinced him that no one else could make him that much money. And Vernon got paid under the table. And for the Colonel, well, Elvis was his only chip and a kind of human shield against some kind of big problem that goes back to his illegal immigration, which he couldn't fix and no lawyer could fix for him. He had many opportunities to fix that immigration problem and many contacts who could have fixed it for him, including LBJ. But he never did. He was here in 1940 when the Smith Act was passed, the Alien Registration Act, which offered amnesty for people who were here legally and a path to citizenship. But he ignored it, even though to not register was a big violation. When he joined the U.S. Army, we took foreign nationals, but they had to pledge to become a U.S. citizen. One of the great revelations of my research was that he had gone AWOL while serving at Fort Barrancas, near Pensacola, Florida. I couldn't find his army records through FOIA. The bulk of them probably burned up in a big historic fire in St. Louis years ago. So I bought this book called How to Locate Anyone Who Is or Has Been in the Military,by Lieutenant Colonel Richard S. Johnson. I did everything that the Lieutenant Colonel said to do and I still couldn't document anything about Parker in the army, though there were photographs of him that suggested he had been in it. So I called Lieutenant Colonel Johnson and I said, "Now what do I do?" and he said, "Well, if I were you, I would hire Dick Bielen, a crackerjack army records researcher.” Then I called Dick Bielen and asked him what he charged. By that time, I was totally broke from this research, and I was terrified of what he was going to charge me. But then I told him who it was, and he said, "I'd do that free," and he found the morning reports and the rosters. I kept saying to Dick, "Where are his discharge papers?" I said, “I went to Holland and I met with the family and they still have the bank stubs from the allotments he made for his mother when he was in the U.S. Army. I saw them spread out on the dining room table. So where would his discharge papers be?” And he said, "I don't know. Let me dig around a little more." Remember, this is the late '90s. He finally called me and said, "You got your fax machine on?" And I said, "Yes" and he said, "Get ready." And I said, "He mustered out with a foot injury, right?" Because the Colonel had told me he had a foot injury in the army, and I went with him to Dr. Elias Ghanem’s clinic to get his foot looked at. And Dick kind of chuckled, and he said, "No, he had a foot injury, but that's not what got him out." I can still remember standing right where I'm sitting now, watching that page come through the fax machine. The bottom comes out first, of course, and the first thing I read was Psychosis, Constitutional Psychopathic State, and Emotional Instability, and I just went, “Holy God. Oh, my Jesus, God.” It was a moment like no other.

GM: There's the secret you explore in the book surmising that the Colonel may have accidentally murdered a woman, and that's what he was running from. Gathering your perspective now, almost 20 years after the book came out, are you even more steadfast in your belief that something of that nature occurred?

Nash: Yes. It is only a theory of mine that this is what happened, but it's built upon initial reporting done by Dirk Vellenga, who was a Dutch newspaperman, and wrote the first Colonel book, Elvis and the Colonel. But it's not in his book because the Colonel was still living then and the lawyers advised him not to publish that part. But when the Colonel died, Dirk wrote a long piece for his paper in Breda, Holland, the Colonel's hometown. The Colonel's niece gave me this article and she was very upset about it. It was in Dutch. I had to get somebody to translate it. When Elvis died in 1977, Dirk got a tip that the Colonel was from Holland and from his very town. He began investigating this and found it was true and he wrote a series of articles for his paper about this, talking with Parker’s family there. In the last installment, he invited anybody who knew more about the Colonel’s mysterious disappearance in 1929 and why he cut off contact with his family to write to him. He got an anonymous letter, and he later gave me a copy of it. And it says my mother-in-law told me 19 years ago, if anything should come to light about this Parker tell them that his name is van Kuijk, and he murdered the wife of the green grocer. Whether it's true or not, you could tell the letter writer believes wholeheartedly it is true. But at first, I thought things in Elvis world are just so damn crazy, and I dismissed it. But as I began looking and piecing together his life, I thought something had to have happened over there. Something. He never got a passport. He never applied to be a U.S. citizen. It took me a year to get a letter from the State Department saying he never applied. He never went over to Germany to see Elvis when he was in the army. The only time I can see that he left the country at all, he went for a couple of dates in Canada with Elvis in 1957, and he was very nervous about being outside the country, one of his colleagues told me. So I just thought something happened in Holland, something that he could not fix. And he could fix almost anything. But it was something that scared him. He always lived way beneath his income. He didn't acquire things. He lived like a man who could pick up and move at any moment. He always sat where he could canvass the room. It's the little things about how he lived his life, as well as this mystery about his immigration, that make you think something happened, you know? 

He had a spy in Holland, someone who could report back to him about his family, but he wouldn't risk contact with them until he was kind of forced to in 1961. And in that way he's kind of a sympathetic character, because I know he loved his mother very deeply. So I can't say that he killed this woman. I can say there's circumstantial evidence that he may have been involved with that, and I can say he was capable of that by that army discharge paper, the Constitutional Psychopathic State, which in today's modern language would be anti-social personality disorder, and that's where most murderers fall. I don't know what happened in Holland, but it was grave.


GM: How do you think the Colonel's background in the carny world impacted on the way he steered Elvis career and the decisions he made for him?

Nash: Well, it certainly left him with no shame about how he merchandised his clients. I mean, I'm thinking of him walking around the lobby of the International Hotel in Vegas on opening night with a change apron on hawking Elvis albums from under his arm. He was crude. He was crass. He lived by two mottos. One was, "You either con or you get conned" and the other was, "Always have something better than a contract." So he saw the world as transactional. He saw it as a pretty nasty place and he lived by his wits, which served him awfully well. He trusted no one. No one. And that also had to figure in his managerial style and the deals that he cut.


GM: Where do you think Colonel reaped the most personal enjoyment? Was it the making of the money? Was it that control and power and that sense where he could get one over on you or was it just his flim flam nature?

Nash: It was the audacious art of the deal. A young guy who worked for him says in the book that Parker wasn't interested in women and sex. The real high for him was dropping the shuck on somebody. He was the ultimate power junkie. He always had to have power over anybody that he was dealing with. I'm thinking of a story that Jim Forsher, Trude Forsher's son, told me. Trude was the Colonel’s secretary in the early movie years in California. When Jim was a young guy, he went to see the Colonel and he said "Jimmy, I can't talk to you right now, I'm expecting a call from Jerry Weintraub," who of course handled Elvis's concerts in the '70s. Parker said, "He's late." Colonel was very punctual. He in fact, he was always early. So Jerry was late and Colonel saw that as Jerry had the power over this phone call. So the call finally came, Colonel was sitting right next to the phone and he let it ring and ring and finally answered it. He says, "Jerry, hold on, I'm busy, I got something to do, hold on." Puts the phone down, he's got his cigar going, and he puffs and he puffs and he puffs for a full minute and then he picks up phone and then he talks. That way he had taken back the power on that call.


GM: What do you think were the shrewdest business moves facilitated by the Colonel?

Nash: Well, he got the first million dollar contract for a movie star. He got the most money in Vegas for any star; certainly that 1973 satellite show (Aloha From Hawaii) was genius, although Todd Slaughter, who has his own Elvis book out now [Colonel Parker: Hero or Heel], and headed up the Elvis Fan Club in Great Britain for many years, began talking to Colonel about using satellites as early as 1962. But for a guy who had some kind of problem about a passport and couldn't risk letting somebody else take Elvis to Europe or Asia, that was a brilliant move to be able to beam Elvis over to these markets without ever having to leave the United States.


GM: Thinking of the famous managers that followed in his footsteps, Brian Epstein with the Beatles, Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp with The Who. Albert Grossman with Bob Dylan, Andrew Loog Oldham with the Stones and Peter Grant with Led Zeppelin, the specter of what the Colonel achieved as a high powered manager, good and bad, paved the way. Could you talk a bit about how he may have impacted the vision of those trailblazers in a managerial sense as well of what to do and maybe what not to do?

Nash: Oh my, that's a good question. I might have to think about that for a bit. But all those people admired him, that's for sure. I was always kind of surprised, even when it may have looked as if Colonel had made some blunders in guiding Elvis career, particularly with the movies, that these big managers wanted his approval and his advice. I can't think of many of those managers who did not approach him or seek his friendship at least. But specifically how he would have influenced them, I don't know that I can speak to that. But I can add that Parker respected Peter Grant, and talked to him late in the game about promoting a European tour for Elvis.

GM: When do you think the relationship between Elvis and the Colonel were closest and when were they most distant?

Nash: They were closest at the beginning when Elvis sent him a telegram that said, “Dear Colonel, Words can never tell you how my folks and I appreciate what you did for me. I’ve always known and now my folks are assured that you are the best, most wonderful person I could ever hope to work with. Believe me when I say I will stick with you through thick and thin and do everything I can to uphold your faith in me. Again, I say thanks, and I love you like a father. Elvis Presley.” He needed somebody strong who really took control and knew what he was doing. Elvis was dissatisfied during the movie years, but it really fell apart in Vegas when the Colonel asked superhuman things of him. I mean, seven days a week, two shows a night.


GM: Sometimes he did the 3AM show, too.

Nash: Yeah, nobody had ever done that before. That was his undoing with the Colonel and his undoing with himself, really, in a lot of ways. When he wasn't playing Vegas, he was out on the road doing those one-nighters, mostly in the same towns that he had performed in forever. Other than Madison Square Garden, I can't think of really a prominent venue in this country that would have challenged him to go beyond what he was doing every night elsewhere. So there were not a lot of challenges for Elvis and there were a lot of creative disappointments. And that turned out to be fatal.

Colonel Parker and author Alanna Nash

Colonel Parker and author Alanna Nash


GM: Some of the members of the Memphis Mafia book felt Elvis died of boredom. He was someone who was best rising to the challenge, which would lift his spirit and embolden his soul. Do you view that as a critical error on the Colonel's part? That he never understood the needs of Elvis soul?

Nash: Yes, I do, and The Colonel would stand by the stage in the early years and just shake his head because he couldn't believe people reacted the way they did to that music, which he did not understand in the slightest. He didn't like it and he didn't understand it; he just saw a marketing opportunity. So he had no reference point for what it meant for a deep and true artist of Elvis Presley's caliber to be presented with challenges and to grow from them. Here’s what’s astonishing to me: Today’s stars have a whole team behind them--levels of management, and choreographers, and voice coaches and personal wardrobe and makeup people who contribute to their persona and support them and influence them and help them plan their next move. But Elvis didn't have any of that. It's so interesting how the '50s Elvis, the '60s Elvis and the '70s Elvis fall so neatly into these decades and it's all organic. It all bubbled up from the psyche and the heart of Elvis Presley, not through anybody else. He really had no guidance whatsoever for his artistry.


GM: And it's such a shame when you see how Elvis rose to the challenge with the '68 Comeback Special, which led to his reentry back into live concerts. The Colonel was a very smart cookie and you'd think he'd latch onto that. But it just fell to the wayside that now we have a new game, we grinded him down with the movies until he barely had any clout left in that world so now let's grind him out with live performances and that was the last move.

Nash: Yeah, I think people who are very strongly pro-Colonel — and I try to be somewhere in the middle — would say that he always knew how to keep his star on top. Even though he wasn't normally a man of vision, he did see that, I guess taking some direction from Frank Sinatra's career, that when the early bloom was off the rose from records and concerts there would be the movies, and then when the movies petered out, there would be Vegas. And when he was tired of Vegas, he would go back on the road. Then there would always be these occasional events like the satellite special or what fell into the Colonel's lap with Steve Binder and the comeback special. But the comeback special really scared Parker because he saw somebody finally had some influence over Elvis, and he couldn't have that. He had to cut Steve Binder out of his life immediately, even though Elvis very much wanted Steve to stay active in his career.


GM: There was a complete breakdown of Elvis and the Colonel's relationship in the early '70s where at some point Elvis threatened to fire the Colonel. Had Elvis lived, do you think he would have ever been able to break free from the Colonel?

Nash: If he could have broken free of his father, but that would have required a little more self-confidence and emotional backbone than he had. His father went to prison for altering a check when Elvis was a small child and he and his mother were stigmatized to some degree in Tupelo. His mother told him not to make waves, to try to fit in as best possible. And then there's Vernon later saying, "Don't screw this up with the Colonel.” And with Elvis being such a polite person that he always addressed his elders as “ma'am” and “sir,” well…

Rosemary Clooney was somebody I knew quite well because she was from Kentucky, as I am, and she liked to try to foster friendships and help people from her native state. I remember having lunch with her one time and then sharing the ladies room stalls with her. There we were, separated by the wall, and she's telling me about Elvis Presley and how he continued to call her “ma'am” even when she asked him not to. He just couldn't stop himself. It was just so ingrained in him to do so when he was already, of course, quite a big star. So he was tamped down. He didn't know how to be assertive when he needed to be with his father and Parker, and so he turned that anger inward. The thread of addiction and self-destruction that runs through that family is astonishing. 

So first of all, Elvis would have had to have the will to stop abusing his body. And as we know, when he was called upon to get in shape and stop drugging, he could do it, like with the satellite special. But then he’d go right back to it because there was no other challenge. He had done it. So it would have taken breaking free of his dad, a serious attempt to detox, and a commitment to live a clean life to get to that point. And who was going to guide him to that in the days before the Betty Ford Center? There was a team of addictionologists who went to Graceland to talk to him about such things, but he was having none of it.


GM: For decades, the Colonel cut off any contact with his family after he left. His family tried to find him and there was never any contact. And then there was that small little window in '61 where there was contact with the family and he flew his brother Ad van Kuijk, Sr. over from Holland to Hollywood and then brought him to meet Elvis, which is unimaginable. This open communication with a family member goes against anything we know about the Colonel. Can you explain that behavior?

Nash: There's a part in the book and I got this from his Dutch family. I interviewed his sister in a nursing home in Amsterdam, I interviewed his niece in her home in Breda and I had correspondence with his nephew, Ad Jr., who is important to the story. When Elvis came back from the army in March 1960, one of Parker’s sisters was sitting under the hairdryer, leafing through a magazine and she saw this guy standing behind Elvis Presley getting off a train. She stared at that picture and she stared at that picture and then she went, "My God, that's our brother!" And of course, the family got all excited and they began to write to him. Parker had written home for a while when he first came over to America, and then he signed his letters, Andre/Tom Parker and enclosed a little miniature American flag before he stopped communicating at all. So they start writing, especially his nephew, Ad Jr., and Colonel finally sent him this very bizarre letter, some of which is in the book. You can tell that he's scared. He asks Ad Jr., to stop sending these letters as they're getting mixed in with the fan club stuff and people in his office are seeing these. This letter does a very bizarre switch from third person, as if he is acting on behalf of the Colonel, to first person, and he signs it “Andre.” He says he wants this boy to know that he's thinking of his family all the time, but because of “mistakes someone may have made without meaning to do so,” he's not able to be in touch with them. He wants him to stop writing these letters, and to not show anyone this reply. But in time, perhaps they can work things out. That's the gist of the letter. “Mistakes someone may have made.” He eventually brings this boy's father over to Los Angeles and though he wouldn’t be photographed with his brother, he does introduce him to Elvis. I remember Lamar Fike thought Elvis either didn't quite grasp what he was being told or precisely who this fellow was. Lamar said, “If Elvis had known, he would have said it. He couldn’t keep a secret.” But yeah, that was the Colonel’s brother, for sure.


GM: With this weird accent.

Nash: Yes, with this weird accent. And then the interesting thing to me is that the brother goes home and the family is like, "Tell us all about it!" and he basically doesn't tell them anything except show them his travelogue pictures and say he had a good time and relay some carnival stories. So I don't know what happened there. Actually, there is a little book about it that Ad., Jr., did a few years back. It's in Dutch, but the pictures are fascinating. And you can translate it on Google, if you are patient.


GM: You had a few encounters with the Colonel and spent some time with him. What did you take away from how were you able to reconcile the man you met and encountered with the project you were working on? Did it provide some additional extra insight for you?

Nash: That's a great question. Well, first of all, just to be in his presence was an honor, just to watch the wheels in his mind turn. He was very kind to me. We always hear how cheap he was. He offered me tickets to the other show at the Hilton, the Starlight Express, as I recall, though that wouldn’t have cost him anything. But he bought my meals. I had three visits of about three hours apiece, and he wouldn't tell me anything. He would use humor to control the conversation and deflect anything you might try to ask him. He had an absolutely gargantuan personality. Everybody walked around on eggshells around him, even the servers at the Hilton. I could see he was a man of secrets. I mean, this is the person who lived his whole life as a lie and as a sham, and he was only going to let you see precisely what he wanted you to see. Always. But again, it was a surreal experience to even sit with him and converse about nothing of importance.


GM: Did the Colonel love Elvis from your perspective?

Nash: I think that the Colonel was afraid to love too deeply because of his immigration problems. Again, he trusted no one. And so, of course, when you get close to someone, when you love them, you let down your guard and he couldn't afford to do that. His first wife, Marie, didn't know he was from Holland, according to her daughter-in-law. He was not a father to his stepson, who also didn't know the Colonel was from Holland. Whatever was in his background, other than just being here illegally, was too great a risk for him to be able to love fully, though I know he was capable of it because of his relationship with his mother. When I interviewed Baz Luhrmann recently he said to me that he thought the real love story was between Colonel and Elvis, apart from the romance between Elvis and Priscilla. I think that's too simplistic. But I agree that it was a marriage of sorts.

GM: So you think he had admiration for Elvis, but maybe he just didn't have the ability to express any real love?

Nash: I think he had admiration for him, but he also didn't quite understand him, either his artistry or his soul. By the way, here’s a little insight from my book. The Colonel staged a fan festival, Always Elvis, at the Las Vegas Hilton In September 1978: 

Robert Hilburn, rock critic for the Los Angeles Times, happened upon the Colonel that day and drew the old man out. “We made a hell of a team,” Parker said once the crowd cleared. “I thought we’d go on forever, but . . .” He stared out into the huge room, leaning on the pearl-handled cane that had become his favorite, and paused as if trying to think of something more to say. “Sure,” he finally added, answering a question that Hilburn never asked. “Sure, I loved him.” “I sat with him there for a week, signing autographs,” says Jackie Kahane, who emceed the event. “And in the course of talking, he referred to Elvis as being like a son. But I don’t think Colonel was capable of demonstrating love. That was always the problem.”


GM: Maybe the better question is, did Elvis love the Colonel?

Nash: I think Elvis did love the Colonel, certainly more so earlier in his career when he had high hopes. But for the reasons that you and I discussed, that love turned to something a little different as the years went on. The Colonel cannot be painted with a totally black brush, that's for sure. You can honestly call him the father of American popular culture as we know it today, because he drew a straight line from the ballyhoo stage of the carnival to the makeshift performance platforms of rock and roll through the merchandising and promotion of his client. You can make a pretty strong argument that he's one of the architects of the youth movement. Certainly James Dean preceded Elvis, but with the merchandising of Elvis in 1956 on the national stage, teenagers had their own music, their own dress, their own look, their own film stars, and embraced them as a way to separate themselves from their parents. And Colonel Parker was a huge part of that. I find it so fascinating to think that the Europeans understand the whole Elvis saga, and certainly Colonel, better than we do, starting with perhaps Elaine Dundy, who wrote Elvis and Gladys, which is a phenomenal book that tends to get overshadowed by others. But back to your question, Alan Fortas and also the William Morris guys who worked for the Colonel adored him. He wasn't a warm and fuzzy guy and they were terrified of him and walked on eggshells around him all the time, because they were scared of his moods. But they learned more about management watching him do Elvis than all the other training they got. Some of those guys named their kids after him. Years after working with him, they remained completely devoted to him and are still very passionate about him. They particularly loved how he got the drop on some of these studio heads and made them look foolish, and those stories are hilarious. He could be mean-spirited, he could be predatory, he could be sometimes very harsh and dismissive, but his sense of humor seemed to carry the day with those young guys. And in the end, as I mentioned, he had a stepson to which he wasn't much of a father, but he could be a mentor and I think that's the way he showed love. On one of my visits with him, he and Loanne took me on a ride to the desert, (laughs), and it was an odd thing to do in a way, although it was offered in the guise of sightseeing. But I also got the sense that he was telling me when people don't toe the line, they end up in bad places. (Laughs) We were driving through the desert and of course, he's in the passenger seat, she's driving and I'm in the back seat. He couldn't turn his head because he'd had that shoulder injury with the elevator in the RCA building, and so he just stared straight ahead while talking to me, which is peculiar feeling. So on this drive, I finally worked up the courage to ask him about these crappy songs in these dreadful movies, and he got furious. He was so angry with me, and he stomped his cane in the floorboard of his car and he said, very sternly, "I got the most money for Elvis in Vegas! I got the biggest movie contract for him!" And of course, you just kind of hold your breath and hope that he's not going to use that cane on you. But I started thinking about it later once I went to Holland and I saw where he lived, which had been above the stables of this package delivery company that his father drove the horse for and delivered these packages. I realized how poor they were and how his mother wanted nice things and her husband couldn't provide them, and that being able to say you got the most money for somebody was certainly an enormous act of love.


GM: You weren't able to unlock all the mysteries of the Colonel with your book, what are some of the mysteries still left to uncover?

Nash: Well, I was very happy that my friend, Tony Stuchbury, gave me the document that appears in the afterword, which is about one of his trips to America. That was quite a find. It proves even deeper to me that there was something more than his immigration problem that kept him from applying for citizenship. So that, of course, is the ultimate mystery for me. Why didn't he? That I don't think we'll ever know. And that decision, of course, colored every decision that he made with Elvis and kept him from being able to take him overseas where he was always more popular than in America.


GM: If the Colonel was willing to sit down with you for a short interview on the record, what are the primary things that you would have liked to have asked him?

Nash: Well, if you kill the art, you kill the artist. Now, after Elvis died, the Colonel was asked about Elvis' drug use, and he said he didn't know anything about it. That cannot be true. He had spies within the camp. He saw that the performances were faltering. Again, there was no Betty Ford Center at the time, but there were other facilities within other hospital confines for treatment. Again, stauncher defenders of Parker would say he was trying to protect Elvis’s reputation by making sure he got out on the stage and performed and fulfilled his commitments and didn’t disappoint his fans. 

Albert Grossman said about Janis Joplin that it wasn't his job to see if she got clean. I don't understand that thinking. I would ask Parker about that. He would have an answer for it, I'm sure, but maybe he just didn't know what to do. And he may have thought that the best thing he could do was to get the estate in shape. You have to say that he did protect the rights of the Presley estate when Elvis died. People criticized him for making sure that RCA was pressing records overtime, but he went right to work, TCB-ing for Elvis and his name and likeness, controlling the licenses for T-shirts and other souvenirs so Vernon, as Elvis’s executor, would get a cut of all that for Lisa Marie. And his actions on behalf of the Presley estate have carried over into the protections of estates of other dead celebrities. So he did take care of business and he did make sure that the estate would have money coming in. People have told me he was a very honest businessman. His accounting would be to the penny. Well, it may have been the right amount that came in and went out, but he took too big a hunk of it, really, though his percentage of the take varied through the years and with individual deals. But you could also argue that perhaps he really did see himself and Elvis as a team, and as such, as a manager with only one client, he was entitled to more. He signed lots of things, including the Christmas cards, Elvis and the Colonel, you know. Maybe he saw Elvis as his glamorous alter ego and that he was entitled to it. Maybe he did. Maybe I'll ask him about that when I see him in the Great Beyond.


Get Elvis vinyl and collectibles in the Goldmine store