US pop singer. The first rock and roll star, he profoundly changed popular music with his fusion of country music and rhythm and blues.
Born in East Tupelo, Mississippi, of a poor family, he attended an Assembly of God church, where the hymn singing was an early influence. He was still a truck driver when he made his first recordings for Sun records in Memphis, Tennessee, in July 1954. He also appeared on country-music radio shows, his early records becoming hits in the country charts. In 1955 his contract and all his Sun recordings were purchased by RCA for $35,000, considered a large sum at the time. His first recording for RCA, ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, went to the top of all three charts – country, pop, and rhythm and blues – in 1956. All his recordings of that year became rock classics, including ‘Money Honey’, ‘I Got a Woman’, and ‘Blue Suede Shoes’. All were originally other people's songs, but his controversial eccentric improvisational style caught the imagination of the world's teenagers.
After two years (1958–60) stationed in Germany in the US army, he appeared in more than thirty musical films between 1960 and 1969; none achieved critical acclaim. In 1969 he resumed his personal appearances, mostly in Las Vegas. Presley spent much of his life secluded in his Memphis mansion, called Graceland after his mother, surrounded by friends. He became an accomplished singer of ballads and his musical backing was usually first-rate. He remained the biggest pop star in the world until he died of an accidental overdose of drugs.