Col. Tom Parker, the former carnival barker who helped guide Elvis Presley to stardom, died Tuesday of complications from a stroke. He was 87.
Parker, a rotund, rough-around-the-edges figure with a fondness for Cuban cigars, became Presley’s manager in 1955 as the young Memphis truck driver was on the verge of becoming a rock ‘n’ roll sensation, and stayed in the job until the death of “The King” in 1977. After that, Parker all but retired.
Thomas Andrew Parker was credited with getting Presley a $35,000 recording contract with RCA Victor in the mid-1950s when Sam Phillips of Sun Records in Memphis decided to sell the contract.
He also arranged Presley’s early television appearances, including three on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1956 and 1957 that helped catapult the young Presley to stardom.
Parker took 25 percent to 50 percent of Presley’s earnings - figures that some in the Presley circle considered too high. He defended his take, saying: “I sleep very good at night.”
His wife, Loanne, and longtime friend Bruce Banke said Parker came to the United States and served in the Army before becoming a carnival pitchman. He founded the Great Parker Pony Circus, and Colonel Tom Parker and His Dancing Chickens, an act in which he placed live chickens on a hot plate covered with sawdust. The chickens “danced” to the music.
The “colonel” was an honorary title bestowed on Parker in 1948 by Gov. Jimmie Davis of Louisiana.
It was Parker who started marketing Elvis bracelets and other trinkets that first gave Elvis memorabilia its reputation for tackiness.
He is survived by his wife.