The name of Colonel Tom Parker will always be linked with Elvis Presley. There was a time when you thought of one; you automatically thought of the other. And, being associated in a management role with Presley, you could be forgiven for thinking that financially he did okay.
You would be right. So, I decided to take to look a little closer the Colonel Tom Parker net worth number. But before I get to where it all ended up, we ought to take a look at where it all started. For those that might not know, Parker had an unexpected early life.
- In The Beginning
- To Rotterdam
- The Military
- Career In Music
- Along Came Elvis
- An Unexpected Rivalry
- Still Able to Do It
- The Basis Of His Wealth
- Colonel Tom Parker Net Worth
- The Investigation
- Not Flavor Of The Month
- His Personal Life
- His Legacy
- Want To Learn About The Net Worth of Other Famous Musicians?
- Final Thoughts
In The Beginning
He was born Andreas Cornelis van Kuijk in 1909 in Breda in the Netherlands. His parents, Adam and Maria, had eleven children. Tom was the seventh.
He must have been a confident young man growing up since he worked as a Carnival Barker. The barker’s job was to parade around the towns and the local villages announcing the impending arrival of the circus or a carnival. No internet in those days, so it was an important job given to those that could create interest and encourage people to come along.
When he was still only 15, he went to Rotterdam to work on the ships. It was this that allowed him his first taste of America, albeit illegally, as he jumped ship. After a while, he returned to the Netherlands and then did the same thing again when he was 19.
On his second illegal entry, he probably realized that he needed to find a way of “legalizing” himself. He did this by applying to join the military, changing his name to Tom Parker, which was the name of the person who conducted one of his interviews.
Parker did two years in Hawaii, but then on his second enlistment, went AWOL and was arrested and sent to military prison. He had to be treated for a mental illness that caused him to endure a brief stay at a mental hospital. Eventually, he was discharged.
Career In Music
Parker returned to what he knew for a while, working for Royal American Shows. He went back to promoting carnivals but sensed there was something more for him than just that.
He managed to find a position as a promoter and was soon working with a popular crooner of the day Gene Austin. Parker was doing very well and moved on to managing some of the artists. Two of those were Eddy Arnold and, perhaps more significantly, Tommy Sands. Sands was what was known at the time as a “teen sensation” in the 50s, even rivaling Presley for a short time.
If there was one thing that was not lost on Parker, it was recognizing opportunity. He probably looked at Sands, along with plenty of other singers of the time, and saw dollar signs. But, deep inside, he knew that he needed someone that offered a bit more than Sands did or even could give him.
Along Came Elvis
In tandem with a Memphis radio presenter, Bob Neal, Col. Tom Parker promoted Elvis Presley. Green, and at times, out of control Elvis may have been, but Parker had found his cash machine.
Elvis’ first single, “Heartbreak Hotel” in 1956 was the launch pad. The securing of the record deal with RCA Victor was all Parker’s doing, and Neal decided not to continue working as a representative for the boy who was fast becoming a sensation.
Parker was now working flat out, signing deals for merchandising and getting his young charge on TV. He arranged seven film contracts with Paramount. The result of this was films like Love Me Tender. and perhaps his finest, Jailhouse Rock. The films gave us more hit singles and albums.
Presley was flying, and so was Parker…
Parker was now running every part of Presley’s life. From telling him his military service would be vital to his future to perhaps that he should marry Priscilla. Colonel Tom Parker was running the show, and no one got in his way.
While Presley was serving in Germany, Parker was going full throttle. He didn’t want Elvis to be forgotten. After all, if the young singer faded in the public eye, it wouldn’t only be Presley that suffered. The Parker cash machine would be closed as well.
But, all was not as it should be…
It does seem that I am painting a rather contentious image of the man. But, as we shall see later, all was not as it should be financially. Some questions need to be asked and answered, most about Colonel Tom Parker’s individual wealth.
An Unexpected Rivalry
No one dared to challenge Presley’s status through the early part of the 60s. Parker saw to that. Well, almost no one. The Beatles arrived, and the British Invasion commenced. Presley was complaining about just about everything. Especially the quality of the film scripts he was now making. He had a point.
But, there was little Parker could do about what was coming over from the other side of the Atlantic. Presley’s career began to stagnate, and the poor quality of the films only enhanced that problem.
Parker needed some eye-catching publicity. Priscilla Beaulieu had been living with Elvis for four years, and Parker thought it was time they got married. That may have brought publicity, but it didn’t solve the problem.
Still Able to Do It
Occasionally, Presley proved that he could still produce great records, “Suspicious Minds” was one. Also, he could still rock and roll, with his 1975 offering of a Chuck Berry song, “Promised Land”.
Parker was still producing the goods for Elvis in the early to mid-70s. Tours, dates in Las Vegas, and the “Aloha From Hawaii” live concert beamed around the world. However, it was clear that Elvis was now in serious decline physically, as well as in his career. Parker spent less and less time with him as Presley’s reliance on prescription drugs reached a crisis point.
Colonel Tom Parker was Elvis Presley’s manager until the music icon died in 1977. Then, Parker began negotiations with companies that would allow control over any Presley merchandise. Elvis may have gone, but the bank was still open for business, it seems.
The Basis Of His Wealth
It was important to go through not only his early rather non-eventful life to his involvement with probably the biggest money-earner of his time. In that way, we can begin to appreciate the position of his personal wealth.
He amassed great wealth though it has to be said that it didn’t come easy all the time. At times he worked very hard to achieve it. That wasn’t always the case, though, as we shall discuss later.
Colonel Tom Parker Net Worth
The lifetime earnings of Colonel Tom Parker are more than $100 million. Putting it into perspective, when most of that was earned, that would be much more in today’s world. When Parker died in 1997, however, that had dwindled to just one million dollars.
It was reported that he was a heavy gambler and, at times, accrued debts of over $30 million. Losing money on that scale is a tragedy, whatever the circumstances. But what about when the money you are losing isn’t yours to lose?
In the early 80s, in an attempt to protect Lisa Marie Presley, an investigation was launched into Colonel Tom Parker’s management of Elvis Presley. It was concluded that Parker, as well as RCA, colluded to conduct an unethical business relationship. That relationship was not in the best interests of Presley and wasn’t an honest financial arrangement for him.
It was ruled to be unethical for several reasons…
One of the grounds for the decision was that Parker took 50% of Elvis Presley’s profits. They considered that an extortionate amount given that the going rate for personal management is about 15-20%.
A lawsuit between Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley’s estate was settled out of court. It was assumed that this covered portions of Elvis‘ wealth that had disappeared. Unfortunately, it is impossible to prove that Parker actually stole from Elvis. But, the deals he struck with Presley amounted to not much less.
Not Flavor Of The Month
It wasn’t only the Presley family that had issues with Parker. Presley heard Dolly Parton’s song “I Will Always Love You” and wanted to record it himself.
As you are probably aware, the songwriter(s) take a large chunk of royalties for a hit record. And this was obviously going to be one. Colonel Tom gets on the phone with Dolly and insists she contractually gives away 50% of her songwriting royalties to himself as Elvis’ management.
Dolly was distraught as she thought he would do a great job with the song. She didn’t back down, and no deal was struck. It is unlikely that this was a one-off situation and may have happened to other songwriters/artists.
His Personal Life
To say that Parker had a dark past and wasn’t the most loved and respected man is probably an understatement. Even before leaving Holland, he was implicated in the murder of Anna van den Enden in a bungled robbery in Breda. The evidence is circumstantial but compelling.
He left his family shortly after to travel as an illegal immigrant to America. Parker made contact just one more time, saying he had arrived, and thereafter didn’t make any contact again.
The Colonel married twice…
His first wife, Marie Mott, he met whilst working in the circus. Just as Parker was reaping the benefits of his association with Presley, she showed early signs of dementia.
For all intents and purposes, he deserted her and left her to it. She died in 1986. He married again to Loanne Miller, his long-time secretary. Parker died in 1997 in Las Vegas from a stroke. He was 87.
Without Tom Parker, there may well have been no Elvis Presley. At least in the way he developed as an artist and became an icon to so many young people. Colonel Tom Parker built Elvis Presley’s superstar image.
Conversely, it could be said that without Elvis, there would have been no Tom Parker. Colonel Tom Parker’s income and wealth were down to Presley. It was Presley and rock and roll that made Parker a feared name in the industry.
It would have a better ending if Parker had been a better person. We will never know if or how much money he siphoned away from Elvis. And how much of that added to the Colonel Tom Parker net worth figure?
As we have seen…
Many of Colonel Tom Parker’s business practices were, to say the least, unethical. Dolly Parton would be one who would agree with the court’s verdict on him. And we ought to go a stage further and ask the question.
If Elvis had changed management towards the end of his career, might he even still be alive today? Possibly not, but it is possible he may have given us at least another ten or even twenty years.
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Managers do have a responsibility for the general well-being of their clients. But, I am not convinced Parker ever saw his relationship with Elvis like that. There has to be a reason why Elvis made so many substandard, weak films in the second half of his career. It could only have been for money, not artistic quality.
So, what are we left with here in this consideration of Colonel Tom Parker’s wealth? A man who got lucky lined his own pockets for certain and blew most of it. A good percentage of it on gambling. Some, of course, will forgive his failings. He did, after all, play a huge role in giving us Elvis Presley.
Until next time, may you also find your success.