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How Much Was Elvis Presley Worth When He Died?

Nicki Swift logo: MainLogoNicki Swift 6/30/2022 Acacia Deadrick
Elvis Presley portrait, red shirt © Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images Elvis Presley portrait, red shirt

This feature contains references to drug use and addiction. 

Few musicians have impacted the world the way Elvis Presley did. The Mississippi-born singer became known as The King for good reason -- he introduced rock 'n' roll to a new audience, changed the landscape of modern pop music, and defined an era. His true impact is immeasurable, but it's safe to say it was massive and long-lasting.

With that kind of influence came unbelievable wealth. Per Forbes, Presley earned anywhere from $100 million to $1 billion over the course of his career. He earned this money from multiple sources, and Presley lived up to his nickname by living like a king. A true rags-to-riches story, Presley spent like he had never had a dime to his name -- because he hadn't. From cars and homes to drugs and divorce, Presley's fortune dried up, and he was left with an estimated $5 million at the time of his death. That's roughly equivalent to $20 million in today's economy. 

How did The King spend that much money, and how does anyone earn that much in the first place? Let's dig in and discover how much Presley was really worth when he died.

Elvis Presley Had A Humble Upbringing

Gladys, Elvis, and Vernon Presley © Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images Gladys, Elvis, and Vernon Presley

Unlike the easy, breezy nepotism enjoyed by many modern celebrities, Elvis Presley did not come from a famous or wealthy family. His adolescence was rife with struggle due to his upbringing during the Great Depression in a family struggling to make ends meet. Per the star's Graceland biography, the future hip-shaker was born on January 8, 1935, to Vernon and Gladys Presley. The two did not have much monetarily to offer their son, but they were dedicated parents who raised Elvis as a Christian, regularly taking him to the Assembly of God Church where he developed his deep love for music.

At just 10 years old, Elvis entered his first talent contest in the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show in Tupelo, Mississippi. Elvis came in fifth and won fair ride tickets worth $5 as a prize -- this was technically his first ever payment for singing. A year later, instead of buying him a bike, his parents gifted him with a guitar worth $12.95. That ended up being the best investment his parents could've made and it put him on track to win his high school talent show just a few years later. According to CNN Money, Elvis' first guitar was up for auction in 2011 where it was expected to fetch $300,00. 

His Music Career Was Lucrative From The Start

Elvis Presley playing the guitar © Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images Elvis Presley playing the guitar

After graduating high school, Elvis Presley continued working, but he also began his music career in earnest. In 1953, Presley recorded a demo for $4 and gave it to his mother as a birthday present, as told by Graceland. The artist continued writing and recording, and then began performing and traveling. In 1954, the singer earned the opportunity to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. Though the performance wasn't well received, he continued with his career and signed a contract with RCA Records worth $40,000 a year later.

The King simultaneously set himself up for further wealth by signing a contract with the Hill and Range Publishing Company wherein he also created a separate publishing enterprise under the name, Elvis Presley Music, Inc. This meant the hot new star was fairly cut into the publishing ownership of the songs he recorded. 

Presley was just 20 years old at the time but his career took off quickly. As he revealed during a 1956 interview with the New York talk show, "Hy Gardner Calling!," within just a few years of signing his record contract, he was able to help his 39-year-old father retire. "He's more help at home than anywhere else because he can take care of all my business," he explained. "... He can look after things when I'm gone."

Elvis Presley Was The King Of Merchandise

Elvis Presley in white jumpsuit © Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images Elvis Presley in white jumpsuit

Elvis Presley's rapid rise to superstardom was unprecedented. In 1956, just a year after signing his record deal, Presley released "Heartbreak Hotel." The hot track sold 300,000 copies in its first three weeks and became the recording artist's first number one single, per Graceland.

Just a couple of months later, his debut self-titled album "Elvis Presley" was released and went number one on the Billboard pop chart, generating over $1 million in sales for the star. And though that may seem like a lot of money, especially considering the times, it's nothing compared to the money he made in merchandise. The same year he signed his deal with RCA, Presley had earned $22 million through affiliated products alone, according to Celebrity Net Worth.

The performer loved to spend his money, but he also used his earnings to help others, giving frequently to organizations around Memphis, and raising $75,000 for the Kui Lee Cancer Fund. In 1984, the Elvis Presley Charitable Foundation was created in The King's honor, and it's still at work today, giving to various organizations and providing scholarships for students interested in the arts, just as Presley was.

He Had A Fruitful Movie Career

Elvis Presley in blue shirt © United Archives/Getty Images Elvis Presley in blue shirt

Elvis Presley was a wise man who knew that in order to optimize his success in Hollywood, he would have to branch off into at least one other area. For him, that was acting. The singer's prolific acting career began when he starred in "Love Me Tender," signing a contract with the production company worth $15,000 for the first year. That eventually increased to $100,000 for the seventh and final year.

Presley continually scored roles in Hollywood and became known for films such as "Blue Hawaii," "Jailhouse Rock," and "Girls! Girls! Girls!." However, the "Hound Dog" singer's projects were generally not critically acclaimed. While he was churning out popcorn pleasers, he lost out on starring in high-quality roles. According to "Elvis Presley: A Life," his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, turned down film opportunities like "Thunder Road," "West Side Story," and eventually even "Midnight Cowboy," on the star's behalf. Presley, on the other hand, wanted to be involved in something of substance. In 1962 he told Parade (via The Guardian), "I'd like to do something someday where I feel that I've done a good job as an actor in a certain type of role."

According to the Los Angeles Times, Presley may have been making as much as $1 million per movie. However, his focus on film had a negative impact on his singing career. He stopped doing live performances and even once told John Lennon his filming schedule wouldn't allow him to record new music.

Serving In The Military Didn't Stop His Success

Elvis Presley in army uniform © Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images Elvis Presley in army uniform

It's hard to fathom a star of Elvis Presley's stature putting their career on hiatus to serve in the army. Can you imagine Justin Bieber canceling his tour to fly overseas and fight a war? It seems rather unbelievable, but such was the reality of The Korean War. Per Graceland, On March 24, 1958, Presley was inducted into the United States Army and served for just shy of two years.

Prior to his service, Presley worried about how it would affect his work, a reasonable fear given his unique position. According to "The Boy Who Would Be King," Colonel Tom Parker, Presley's manager, assured him his career would survive, and said, "Elvis, you have records that haven't been released and a movie in the can. We can stretch out the product we have." Thanks to some careful timing from RCA and the movie studios, all of whom released Presley's work while he was away, the demand for The King remained steady.

The star resumed his entertainment career when he returned to the United States. According to Graceland, The King's first post-war album, "Elvis is Back!" hit No. 2 on the Billboard pop chart. Additionally, he was paid $125,000 for his appearance on Frank Sinatra's variety show in the "Welcome Home, Elvis" special episode. Presley was on track to earn more money after serving than he had before.

He Spent Lots Of Money On Graceland

Elvis Presley stood outside Graceland © Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images Elvis Presley stood outside Graceland

If Elvis Presley is known for anything aside from his career, or the thousands of men and women who have impersonated him over the years, it's his former home Graceland. In 1957, Presley purchased Graceland Mansion for just over $100,000, according to Graceland. The star lived there with his parents and grandmother. Per Celebrity Net Worth, he continued buying the land around the home for years after the initial purchase, expanding the size of the estate from 10,266 square feet to 13.8 acres.

Graceland still stands today and serves as a museum and shrine to The King. The home not only makes money for the Elvis Presley estate, but the city of Memphis, as well. Per Graceland, the city is estimated to have benefited from the tourist spot to the tune of $150 million per year, with over 600,000 people visiting the estate annually. As Priscilla Presley, Elvis's ex-wife, told TODAY, "If he were here today looking outside and seeing all the people that still loved him, missed him ... he wouldn't believe it."

He Owed A Lot In His Divorce

Priscilla Presley Elvis Presley wedding © Keystone/Getty Images Priscilla Presley Elvis Presley wedding

Despite his rockstar spending habits, Elvis Presley did have some money to spare, and he had to spend a big chunk of it when he and his wife Priscilla Presley got divorced. Elvis and Priscilla met while he was stationed in Germany -- she was 14 and ten years younger than the star, per Time. The couple were married for less than a decade, and raised one child together, Lisa Marie.

The two officially divorced in October 1973, with Priscilla telling "Sunday Night" (via Yahoo! News) that fame and unfaithfulness had torn them apart. "It was the lifestyle. I couldn't keep up," she said. "... I just didn't want to share him. Simple as that." Regardless, there was still a lot of affection between the two. As Priscilla told "Loose Women," "I did not divorce him because I didn't love him ... If anything, I left because - and I still loved him - I needed to find out what the world was like."

Priscilla was able to discover the world with her massive divorce settlement. Per Fox News, Elvis had to pay her $100,000 and relinquish a 1971 Mercedes Benz, a 1969 Cadillac Eldorado, and a 1971 Harley Davidson. In addition, she received half the income from their three California rental properties. This information was revealed in a legal document that was auctioned off in 2017, pre-sale figures estimating it would garner up to $32,898.

Elvis Presley Had An Insane Car Collection

Elvis Presley sat in car © Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images Elvis Presley sat in car

Elvis Presley was a motorhead. The king of rock 'n' roll wasn't just into music -- he also had a major affinity for vehicles. Presley spent much of his income on luxury automobiles, and he began collecting them early in his career. As he shared in a 1956 interview with Hy Gardner, "It's the truth, I do have four Cadillacs ... I'm planning for seven."

Presley's car collection far exceeded his plans for just seven Cadillacs. Per Sarant Cadillac, Presley may have purchased as many as 200, many of which he gave as gifts. According to Celebrity Net Worth, on one particularly lavish shopping trip, The King splurged $140,000 on Cadillac cars intended for friends and family. He even reportedly bought one for a lucky woman who was casually browsing the showroom when Presley was on his spending spree. 

Naturally, the singer's collection went far beyond his love of the Cadillac. His treasure trove of sweet rides expanded to include Lincolns and Mercedes-Benzes, a Rolls Royce Phantom, a Ferrari Dino 308 GT4, and a Stutz Blackhawk III, among others, as noted by GQ. These days, much of Presley's collection is on display at Graceland, but some of his cars have been sold, including his 1971 Mercedes-Benz 280SEL, which was listed for $139,000.

He Funded The Memphis Mafia

Elvis Presley with sideburns © Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images Elvis Presley with sideburns

What sort of a rockstar goes anywhere without a beloved posse? However, when you have as much money as The King, it's easy to question the motives of those closest to you and he was unsurprisingly concerned with who was around him. As a result, Elvis Presley's entourage was comprised of childhood friends and family members whom he trusted implicitly. This group of people was nicknamed the Memphis Mafia, and they accompanied The King on tour and worked for him at Graceland. Famed members included Joe Esposito, Lamar Fike, Red West, Sonny West, Dr. Nick, and Gene Smith.

Membership in the Memphis Mafia was exclusive and lucrative. Elvis's friends were paid a salary, but they also received other gifts from The King, and had all-expenses-paid trips any time they traveled with him. They were also allowed to blow his funds on frivolities, like $15,000 worth of firecrackers, as claimed by Celebrity Net Worth. In the documentary, "The Elvis Mob" (via Radar), Eposito claimed that the star shared everything with them -- wealth and women, once counting 150 ladies scattered around the estate. "We had everything," he said.

Though Elvis was a fan of these men, not everyone was so trusting. Speaking to Rolling Stone (via Express) in 2003, Elvis's daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, explained, "They scared the hell out of me when I was a kid ... I remember seeing the Playboys, the drugs, the women -- I watched it all, and I watched them."

Presley Paid For His Drug Addiction

Elvis Presley on stage leather © Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images Elvis Presley on stage leather

Elvis Presley lived an unbelievable life in many respects. He was a rockstar, served in the military, and became one of the most revered people to live in the United States of America. However, he was not immune to the temptations of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle. Near the end of his life, Presley struggled with addiction, which accounted for some outrageous spending.

On August 16, 1977, the singer was rushed to the hospital after his fiancée, Ginger Alden, found him unresponsive on the bathroom floor. Per PBS, his cause of death was labeled "cardiac arrhythmia" and medical professionals debated whether drugs were responsible for his ultimate demise. The star was alleged to have experienced chronic constipation caused by the drugs he was using, and he died from a heart attack while attempting a bowel movement. According to Presley's toxicology report, high levels of drugs including Dilaudid, Percodan, Demerol, and Quaaludes were all found in Presley's blood after his death.

His addiction was not cheap. On top of paying for the drugs, The King hired a personal doctor, Dr. George Nichopoulos -- more commonly known as Dr. Nick -- who wrote his prescriptions. In a likely show of gratitude, Presley helped to design and pay for a custom home for the doctor, per The Guardian. In 1975, a year before the home was finished, the average cost to build a house was over $28,000. Given the specs of the home, Presley likely spent more.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

What Did He Leave To Lisa Marie?

Elvis and Priscilla with Lisa Marie Presley © Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images Elvis and Priscilla with Lisa Marie Presley

In 1968, Priscilla Presley gave birth to her and Elvis Presley's only child together, Lisa Marie Presley. The child was just nine years old when her father died, and while most people would've assumed that her superstar dad left her with as much money as she could need for the rest of her life, Lisa Marie was actually left with a financial mess.

Elvis's entire estate was left to his daughter and his ex-wife Priscilla was named the executor. However, as noted by the Los Angeles Times, the star's musical royalties went to RCA, rather than the estate. As bills mounted, the income generated by Elvis was dwindling. "I worried about my daughter's future and about Graceland and the people who had worked for us for 20 years. I couldn't comprehend them not having jobs or a place to stay," Priscilla told the outlet.

Being a savvy businesswoman, she arranged for her daughter to earn money throughout her lifetime through her father's estate. Unfortunately, due to mismanaged funds and allegedly reckless spending habits, Lisa Marie's fortune dwindled. As of 2018, the sole inheritor of Elvis's estate owed $16 million to various creditors, including the IRS.

Comparatively, her mother, Elvis's ex-wife, is doing quite well. After her divorce, Priscilla went on to start businesses and earn money of her own and is now worth an estimated $50 million. Per Radar, she reportedly sold her LA mansion for $3.8 million in 2019 to help support her daughter.

His Estate Made Hundreds Of Millions After His Death

Elvis Presley in a t-shirt © Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images Elvis Presley in a t-shirt

The legacy of Elvis Presley will live forever. Fans still can't get enough of The King, and thanks to the Baz Luhrmann film "Elvis," a new generation will get to experience why the world fell in love with him in the first place. With such a legacy comes the potential for posthumous earnings greater than those the performer made when he was alive.

According to Rolling Stone, as of 2020, the Presley estate was worth an estimated $400 to $500 million. Unfortunately, those earnings took a dip from 2010 to 2015 but thanks to some clever marketing, they've since increased, and now have the potential to continue increasing thanks to the 2022 biopic.

Whether his estate continues to make money has yet to be determined. But what is certain is that Presley has impacted millions of people through his life's work. His music has forever changed popular music and pop culture as a whole, and his legacy continues to have a lasting influence on the American way of life to this day. 

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