Colonel Thomas Parker, the former carnival barker who became famous after joining forces in 1954 with a 19-year-old sneering singer named Elvis Presley, died Tuesday in a Las Vegas hospital. He was 87.
Parker, who guided Presley’s career for 22 years until the singer’s death in 1977, died from complications of a stroke.
Though Parker’s managing career effectively died with Elvis, he still consulted for firms and performers, including the Las Vegas Hilton and Michael Jackson, perhaps the prime entertainment phenomenon since Elvis.
Parker, who went by colonel after the governor of Louisiana gave him the honorary title in 1948, also did radio spots for the hotel and helped book the Starlight Express when the room was dark. His trademark cane, loud shirt and cap were signs that the Colonel was in the building.
Parker’s agreements for Presley dramatically changed the way artists were treated two and three decades ago.
He landed Presley the first $1 million-per-picture pact, and was a pioneer of merchandising deals and concert tours.
His dealmaking exploits were legendary, including those he made for himself, at times earning as much as 50% off Presley’s income.
He would also seal deals in the steam room, often arguing so long that his adversaries would acquiesce before they completely dehydrated.
Members of the Presley inner circle, whether former execs at RCA Records or Parker’s minions, often remained mum about their days with the Colonel. He was feared and revered even after his ties to the music industry became tenuous in later years.
“I hope history knows him someday as the person he really was and not how he was often portrayed,” said Jerry Schilling, a member of Elvis’ so-called Memphis Mafia who knew Parker for 33 years and worked with the Colonel on various projects including Elvis docus.
On Jan. 8, 1993, Parker made a rare public appearance when he participated in a Hilton promotion touting the Elvis postage stamp. He would always say he was writing a book, but would comment that he turned down several multimillion-dollar offers to serve up the dirt on Presley.
Parker’s first wife, Marie, passed away nearly 20 years ago, and he remarried several years ago in a small ceremony to Loanne Miller, whom he would describe to friends as “his angel.”
Funeral services are pending.