Skip to main content

In 1958, Elvis Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, arranged for news crews to document the singer’s induction into the army. Elvis would serve in the United States Army despite his celebrity status. While many people expected him to serve in the Special Services, the entertainment branch of the military, Elvis insisted he didn’t want special treatment. Parker didn’t want this for him, either.

Colonel Tom Parker reportedly didn’t want Elvis in the Special Services

After training at Fort Hood, Elvis shipped out to West Germany with the Third Armored Division. This came as a surprise to many of Elvis’ critics, who had expected to take a comparatively cushy position with the Special Services. Elvis’ friend and bodyguard, Red West, believed Parker was behind Elvis’ assignment.

“I always had a suspicion that the old Colonel maneuvered so Elvis would be in that Third Armored Division just so as nobody could say that he was a soft delinquent-type guy,” West said in the book Elvis: What Happened? by Steve Dunleavy.

A black and white picture of Elvis raising his hand as he is inducted into the army with other men.
Elvis’ induction into the army | Hulton Archive/Getty Images

West’s suspicion wasn’t far from the truth. Parker didn’t want Elvis singing during his military service. In the Colonel’s mind, if Elvis was going to perform, he needed to receive a paycheck for it.

“They want my boy to sing,” he reportedly said, “then they are going to have to pay for it like anyone else.”

Elvis agreed with Colonel Parker

Elvis agreed that he did not want to be in the Special Services, though not for the same reasons as Parker. He had been a majorly controversial figure before his military service, with many people saying his songs and dance moves were lewd. 

When he pushed back his induction to finish shooting the movie King Creole, many critics expressed outrage that Elvis was receiving special treatment. To avoid criticism, Elvis knew he had to behave as though he was a regular person.

“People were expecting me to mess up, to goof up in one way or another. They thought I couldn’t take it and so forth, and I was determined to go to any limits to prove otherwise,” Elvis said, per The Washington Post. “Not only to the people who were wondering but to myself.”

The Beatles believed Elvis’ military service had a negative impact on his music

When Elvis joined the military, he had concerns that his fame would wane. Perhaps two years in the army would be enough to snuff out the brightness of his success. This, of course, was not the case. Elvis was still a megastar when he left the military. Still, some believed his career never recovered from his service.

A black and white picture of Elvis wearing his army uniform and cleaning a sign with a rag.
Elvis Presley | Vittoriano Rastelli/Corbis via Getty Images

Elvis Was Obsessed With 1 Co-Star, but She ‘Wasn’t the Least Bit Interested in Him’

Paul McCartney and John Lennon of The Beatles had admired Elvis and took inspiration from his music. Still, they thought he was never the same after the army.

“He played some good stuff after the army, but it was never quite the same,” Lennon said in The Beatles Anthology. “It was like something happened to him psychologically. Elvis really died the day he joined the army. That’s when they killed him, and the rest was a living death.”