Who was Colonel Tom Parker? Elvis Presley's manager played by Tom Hanks in new film

18 February 2022, 16:45

Tom Hanks (right) plays Colonel Tom Parker (left) in the Elvis Presley biopic
Tom Hanks (right) plays Colonel Tom Parker (left) in the Elvis Presley biopic. Picture: Alamy/Warner Bros

By Tom Eames

Colonel Tom Parker was one of the most important people in Elvis Presley's life, and thus a hugely influential figure in rock history.

The late music mogul is back in the public eye in 2022 thanks to Baz Luhrmann's new Elvis Presley biopic Elvis, with Tom Hanks playing Parker.

But who was the man who managed the biggest rock star on the planet, and what happened to him?

  1. Who was Colonel Tom Parker?

    Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley
    Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley. Picture: Alamy

    Colonel Tom Parker was a musical entrepreneur who was the manager of Elvis Presley.

    Previously a carnival worker, Parker moved into music promotion in 1938, where he worked with popular crooners Gene Austin, and then country singers Eddy Arnold, Hank Snow, and Tommy Sands.

    He also helped Jimmie Davis's campaign to become Governor of Louisiana.

    Parker discovered the then-unknown Elvis Presley in 1955. He quickly became Presley's sole representative. Within months, Parker had won Elvis a recording contract with RCA Victor.

    Elvis soon had his commercial breakthrough in 1956 thanks to first single 'Heartbreak Hotel', and then became one of the most popular and successful entertainers in the world.

    Parker received more than half of the income from Elvis's early success, which at the time was an unprecedented figure for a music manager.

    The manager negotiated Elvis's expensive merchandising deals, TV appearances, and acting roles, but turned down offers to allow Elvis to tour overseas, potentially due to his status as an illegal immigrant, which would have been exposed.

    He was also influential in Presley's decisions to accept military service in 1958, and to marry Priscilla in 1967.

    Parker rarely saw him after Elvis's comeback in 1968, but continued in his management role until Presley's death in 1977.

  2. Where was Colonel Tom Parker from and what was his real name?

    Tom Parker was born Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk on June 26, 1909, in Breda, Netherlands.

    He was the seventh of 11 children. Aged 15, Van Kuijk moved to Rotterdam, and two years later he began wanting to run away to the United States to "make his fortune".

    He entered America illegally by jumping ship from his employer's vessel. During his first visit there, he travelled with a Chautauqua educational tent show, before returning briefly to the Netherlands.

    In The Colonel, a biography of Parker, Alanna Nash claimed that there were questions about a murder in Breda in which Parker may have been a suspect. This may have motivated him to avoid seeking a passport.

    In 1929, Andreas returned to the United States aged 20, finding work with carnivals. He enlisted in the United States Army soon after, taking the name 'Tom Parker' from the same name of the officer who interviewed him.

    He served for two years in Hawaii and then Florida, but he went AWOL and was charged with desertion. He was punished with solitary confinement, leading to a stint in a mental hospital.

  3. Was Colonel Tom Parker a real Colonel?

    Elvis Presley with Colonel Tom Parker
    Elvis Presley with Colonel Tom Parker. Picture: Getty

    In 1948, Parker received the honorary rank of colonel in the Louisiana State Militia from Jimmie Davis, then-the governor of Louisiana, and a former country singer, in return for the work Parker did on his election campaign.

    The rank was just honorary, as Louisiana had no organized militia.

    However, Parker used the title for the rest of his life, and became known simply as 'the Colonel'.

  4. Was Colonel Tom Parker married and did he have children?

    Tom Parker; Elvis Presley's manager
    Tom Parker; Elvis Presley's manager. Picture: Getty

    In 1935, while traveling with a circus, Parker met and married 27-year-old Marie Francis Mott.

    Marie had been married twice before, and had a son from her first marriage.

    Some historians have had doubts as to whether they were legally married at all. Author Alanna Nash has suggested that the couple may have simply placed their hands on a Bible and given themselves a "carny wedding".

    During the 1960s, after many years of ill health, Marie started to display signs of dementia. Parker began to distance himself from her, and she died on November 25, 1986, of a chronic brain syndrome at age 78.

    In 1990, Parker married Loanne Miller, his secretary since 1972.

  5. When and how did Colonel Tom Parker die?

    Parker made his final public appearances in 1994. He had become very sick with diabetes, gout, and other health problems, and barely left his house.

    On January 20, 1997, Parker suffered a stroke. He died the following morning at a hospital in Las Vegas, Nevada, aged 87.

    His funeral was held at the Hilton Hotel and was attended by Eddy Arnold, Sam Phillips, and Priscilla Presley, who gave a eulogy saying: "Elvis and the Colonel made history together, and the world is richer, better and far more interesting because of their collaboration. And now I need to locate my wallet, because I noticed there was no ticket booth on the way in here, but I'm sure that the Colonel must have arranged for some toll on the way out."

  6. What was Colonel Tom Parker worth when he died?

    Elvis Presley & Colonel Parker
    Elvis Presley & Colonel Parker. Picture: Getty

    Parker managed the Presley estate for the rest of his life, but he had also sold the rights to Presley's early recordings.

    In 1980, a judge ordered an investigation into Parker's management practices, finding that Parker's management had been unethical.

    His gambling habit also massively dented his huge fortune, and he died worth only around a million dollars.