Iconic Spotlight : Elvis Presley, by Terry O'Neill
“It’s strange to think I never had the opportunity to take photos of Elvis Presley in the 1960s. I was focused on London and Los Angeles and in between those two cities I’d be on various film sets. Our paths just never crossed. Of course, it was hard to get to Elvis because you had to go through the formidable Colonel Tom Parker. But when I found myself in Las Vegas, I had a way in and that was through my friend Tom (Jones).
“I don’t remember the exact year, but I was in town visiting Tom. He was headlining at the Flamingo, packing them in night after night. Jones was a superstar in Vegas and every door would open to him. There were always great people around him too, from big names like Bing Crosby or John Wayne, to other actors and performers like Raquel Welch. People forget that besides being one of the most talented actors at the time, Raquel was a good cabaret singer and dancer and loved the stage. It wasn’t unusual to have Raquel and Tom doing a duet. Spending time with Tom was always going to be good fun. This time was no different.”
In the late 1960s, Elvis Presley was at a career impasse. Musicians he inspired started to overtake him. After spending nearly a decade away from the stage and recording studio in order to kick-start a Hollywood career, Presley and most likely his management, knew that the money was in music and Elvis was not an actor. A television special was arranged, simply called ‘Elvis’ but now widely known as the ’68 Comeback Special, and his career was turned around overnight. Understanding the financial benefits only Las Vegas could offer, he found the town to be a natural home and he was quickly signed to lucrative residency.
“Tom asked me if I had ever photographed Elvis and he was surprised that I said no. ‘Do you want to?’ You can pretty much guess the answer. “Reportedly, when they met, Elvis asked Tom, ‘How did you learn to sing like that?’ and Tom answered, ‘By listening to you.’ I’m sure that’s true, we all grew up listening to Elvis. But I didn’t realise they were friends at that time, friends enough for Tom to be welcomed backstage with me tagging along.
“The next thing I knew, I was meeting Elvis! I started to grab a few photographs of him backstage. I had to hurry because we had to get to our seats and he had to get ready to perform. Tom fixed us a great vantage point in the audience and I was able to take a few good shots of The King.
“I never got another chance.”
Extract taken from Every Picture Tells a Story available to purchase online and at all good book stores.
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