From Tragedy To Triumph: 22 Of The Biggest Moments In Elvis Presley’s Life

by Jess Catcher
Jess grew up in Oklahoma before moving to New York to become a writer. She has a cat named Agnes.

On August 16, 1977, the world lost one of its most talented and beloved individuals: Elvis Presley.

It’s impossible to choose just one moment that defined the King of Rock and Roll’s life.

From the sad start at his birth to the hardships that accompanied his fame, the Presley family endured. Elvis was clearly destined to shine just a little bit brighter than the rest of the world around him.

And I’m not just talking about the bedazzled attire he took to wearing near the end of his life. Even in his younger days, Elvis was known for standing out from the crowd, thanks to his unique presence and sense of style.

From his small-town roots in Mississippi to the international superstar he became, Elvis was one of a kind.

Take a look to remember all of the biggest moments — both happy and sad — that helped shape Elvis into the amazing man he became.

And be sure to SHARE the look back on Elvis Presley’s life with your friends on Facebook!

[H/T: Elvis, Graceland]

1. January 8, 1935: Elvis Aaron Presley Is Born

young elvis presley with parents
Getty / Hulton Archive / Stringer

Sadly, his twin brother Jesse Garon was delivered stillborn. Elvis’ parents, Gladys and Vernon, never had any more children.

Growing up in Tupelo, Mississippi, Elvis found his love for music at an early age while singing gospel at the Assembly of God Church.

2. January 8, 1946: Elvis Gets His First Guitar

2. January 8, 1946: Elvis Gets His First Guitar

Vernon and Gladys provided the cheap acoustic guitar for their musical son on his 11th birthday.

The instrument cost them $7.90 at the Tupelo Hardware Store.

3. November 6, 1948: The Presleys Move To Memphis

elvis presley in 1954

Elvis enrolled at Humes High School, where he got his first taste of the spotlight performing at the annual talent show. He was pleasantly surprised to earn the biggest applause and win the whole thing.

Those who knew him at the time have described how he always stood out from the rest with his long hair (for the time) and vibrant outfits.

4. Summer Of 1953: Elvis Performs For First Time At Sun Records

sun studios

Fresh out of high school, Elvis stopped by the Memphis recording studio to sing “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin” as a birthday present for his mom.

Sam Phillips recorded him and made note of his skill with ballads.

5. Summer 1954: His First Single Goes Wild

elvis presley performing

Sam Phillips teamed Elvis up with local musicians Scotty Moore and Bill Black to cut a single called “That’s All Right” with “Blue Moon of Kentucky” on the flip side on July 5.

A few days later, a popular DJ put the tune on the air and his switchboard lit up with callers begging for more. Elvis and his musicians spent the rest of the summer and then the fall performing at events in the area.

6. Spring 1956: RCA Releases His First Album

elvis gold record

In late 1955, Elvis signed on with a manager, the infamous Colonel Tom Parker, who helped to negotiate a major record deal with RCA.

Just a few days after his 21st birthday in 1956, Elvis went into the studio to record his eponymous debut album. It was released in March that year. In the meantime, he made appearances on Stage Show and his popularity continued to grow.

In April, “Heartbreak Hotel” earned him his very first certified gold record. This of course led to even more TV appearances, including the infamous, controversial performance of “Hound Dog” that showcased his gyrating hips.

7. November 15, 1956: Elvis Stars In His First Film

young elvis presley

Set in the southern United States during the 1800s, Love Me Tender became an instant hit at the box office following its premiere at New York’s Paramount Theater.

The film also features several musical performances by Elvis, including the titular ballad.

8. December 4, 1956: Million Dollar Quartet Records Their Impromptu Session

johnny cash

Elvis was joined by Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis at Sun Studios, who just happened to be in the area at the same time.

The musicians decided to sing a few ditties together and put them on tape just for fun. The songs include a few seasonal Christmas tunes and gospel staples.

9. March 25, 1957: Elvis Buys Graceland


The freshly crowned King of Rock and Roll spent a modest $102,500 on the now-iconic estate in Memphis.

Elvis moved in with his parents and paternal grandparents later that summer, spending his first night there on June 26, 1957.

10. March 24, 1958: Elvis Is Drafted By The Army

elvis presley in the army

His loyal fans mourned the loss of his luscious locks as he reported for duty: first at the Memphis Draft Board and then Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, where he received the traditional Army buzz cut.

Elvis then spent six months in basic training at Fort Hood, Texas, before being stationed in Germany for 18 months.

11. August 8, 1958: Gladys Passes Away

gladys presley grave

Elvis was granted temporary leave from the Army when news of his mother’s bad health reached him. Gladys was diagnosed with acute hepatitis, and her son was devastated when she passed away after about a week in the hospital.

He returned to military duty following her funeral service on August 15, but carried the heartbreak of her loss with him for the rest of his life.

12. September 13, 1959: Elvis Meets Priscilla

elvis and priscilla
Getty / Fotos International / Contributor

Priscilla Beaulieu moved to Germany at age 14 with her mother and Navy stepdad, Captain Joseph Beaulieu.

A mutual friend ended up inviting her to a party at Elvis’ home not long after her arrival, and sparks flew between the pair.

13. March 20, 1960: Elvis Finally Gets Back To Recording

elvis is back!

After being officially discharged from the Army in March of that year, he didn’t waste much time making his way into a recording studio — for the first time in about two years.

The album was aptly titled Elvis Is Back!

He also got back into the film studio in April to shoot his fifth movie, G.I. Blues, which obviously took advantage of the publicity around his recent military stint.

14. May 1, 1967: Elvis Marries Priscilla

elvis and priscilla presley
Getty / Frank Edwards / Contributor

Priscilla moved to Memphis to be closer to Elvis back in 1963. She finished her high school degree there a few months later.

The couple continued to date for years while Elvis focused on his film career, including the mega-hit Viva Las Vegas in 1965.

They officially tied the knot just before the “Summer of Love” was in full swing. The ceremony took place at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas.

15. February 1, 1968: Priscilla Gives Birth To Lisa Marie

elvis with priscilla and lisa marie

Exactly nine months after their Vegas wedding, the Presleys welcomed Lisa Marie at a hospital near their home in Memphis.

16. December 3, 1968: NBC Airs His Comeback Special

elvis presley display 1968

Given the simple title — Elvis — it’s well-known as “The ’68 Comeback Special.”

It was the most successful televised program that year — drawing more than 40% of the viewing audience across the nation — and received rave reviews from critics and fans alike.

17. March 1969: Elvis Makes A Serious Return To Music

elvis presley in 1970

Between March and April, Elvis returned to recording in Memphis for the first time since 1955, this time at American Sound studios.

It’s during these sessions that he recorded four of his biggest hits from his late career: “In the Ghetto,” “Suspicious Minds,” “Don’t Cry Daddy” and “Kentucky Rain.”

18. July 31, 1969: Elvis Starts His Las Vegas Residency

elvis presley in white jumpsuit

After an eight-year hiatus from live performances, Elvis embarked on a four-week, 57 show engagement at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. This was also around the time he began wearing flashy, bedazzled jumpsuits on a regular basis.

It was the longest engagement for a performer in Vegas at the time (a record he would later break himself) and received incredibly positive reviews.

19. December 21, 1970: The King Meets The President

elvis and nixon

Elvis arrived at the White House with a gift for Richard Nixon — a commemorative World War II Colt .45 pistol with seven silver bullets — and expressed interest in becoming an agent to help battle the war on drugs.

Nixon arranged for the singer to be given an honorary badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Their photos together in the Oval Office are among the most requested pictures from the National Archives.

20. June 9, 1972: Elvis Sells Out Madison Square Garden

elvis performing

The King of Rock and Roll was back in action, selling out not just one but four consecutive nights at the legendary venue. In fact, it was originally only supposed to be three shows, but they had to add another because the demand was so high.

Among the ticket holders were fellow musicians like John Lennon, Bob Dylan, and David Bowie.

21. January 14, 1973: Elvis Says Aloha From Hawaii

elvis from hawaii

The telecast via satellite made history with over a billion viewers. They tuned in from across the globe and about 40 different countries.

Attendees were asked to donate whatever they felt like paying for a ticket and merchandise, earning $75,000 for the Kui Lee Cancer Fund.

The show’s soundtrack would end up being Elvis’ last number one album on the Billboard charts.

22. August 16, 1977: Elvis Passes Away At Graceland

elvis presley grave

After a few more years of successful touring and residencies in Las Vegas, Elvis was in visibly poor health. He was admitted to hospitals on more than one occasion.

While taking a short break at home between shows, he passed away sometime in the morning of August 16. Fans all over the world were in complete shock. His funeral was held just two days later, on the 18th.

He was laid to rest rest between his parents on Graceland’s grounds — where fans continue to pay homage to the incredible performer.

Did you remember all of these amazing moments from the life and career of Elvis Presley?

Be sure to SHARE the look back at The King with your friends on Facebook!