Killing the Legends Book Summary - Killing the Legends Book explained in key points
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Killing the Legends summary

Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard

The Lethal Danger of Celebrity

4.3 (27 ratings)
16 mins
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    Killing the Legends
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    Long live the King.

    The date is August 16th, 1977. Forty-two year old king of rock and roll Elvis Aaron Presely lies dead on the red shag carpet of the bathroom in his Graceland mansion. Despite his recent decline in both health and success, the following weeks will find the whole world mourning their beloved hero.

    How did the King end up here?

    The autopsy puts the cause of death as a result of the star’s many medical complications – symptoms of his incredibly unhealthy diet, intense touring life, and cocktail of medications prescribed to him by his personal physician Dr. George Nichopoulos, a.k.a Dr. Nick.

    But the truth, as always, is never that simple. A look into Elvis’s life shows that his fate had been sealed long before his lifestyle caught up with him that night on the toilet. Not by the prescription-happy Dr. Nick – though he would take some of the blame in the years following the death. No, the driving force behind the path that Elvis’s life took was his overbearing long-term manager – Colonel Tom Parker.

    Parker was instrumental in Elvis’s early success after signing the young singer to an exclusive contract in 1955. It was Parker who came up with the magic formula of pairing new hit singles with films of the same name – “Love Me Tender” and “Jailhouse Rock” – cementing Elvis as a superstar.

    Parker was very invested in Elvis’s success. That exclusive contract he signed gave him 50% of every dollar that Elvis made, and Parker was prepared to do whatever it took to maximize his earnings.

    By the mid 1960s, the music scene was changing. Artists like the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez were reaching huge levels of popularity with politically darker, more socially conscious music. Parker was fiercely opposed to Elvis changing his style to fit the times, insisting on churning out as many frivolous love songs as possible. Elvis was losing his reputation, and he and Parker were beginning to fall behind the times.

    Parker put his efforts into controlling Elvis’s career and image. In 1967 he orchestrated the proposal and wedding of Elvis and his first wife Priscilla – creating just enough mystery around the secret wedding to keep the press intrigued.

    As Elvis’s career continued to decline, the King began to focus on his acting – starring in silly movies like Clambake, the sole purpose of which was to sell more records. Around this time, the depressed and introspective Elvis took up reading books. This made Parker furious, and he actively discouraged it, saying they cluttered the singer’s mind and that it wasn’t who he was.

    But Parker’s selfishness came to a head in 1973. The manager – having gambled away most of his money – is desperate for cash. Behind Elvis’s back he makes a long-term deal with his record label, RCA, which would give the King royalties half of that received by other top recording artists. The deal also removes the possibility for Elvis to challenge anything written in the contract, and gives full control of public performances to Parker. It’s a terrible deal for Elvis, by anyone's standards. But Elvis trusts Parker, so he signs.

    On top of this, Parker goes on to sell Elvis’s entire music catalog for the equivalent of $33 million dollars today. This means that Elvis will no longer receive a cent for any record sales, and will have no control over or compensation for the use of his work by other artists. This is a very low amount for what is essentially the singer’s livelihood, but Parker is happy to receive his 50% commission.

    And this basically sets the scene for the waning years of Elvis’s life. Financially ruined and depressed, Elvis’s health continues to decline, and his prescription drug use increases. Nevertheless, Parker still wants to milk his cash cow for all he’s worth – often relying on the drugs to get the King through his grueling tour schedule.

    When Elvis is given the opportunity to fix his image by appearing alongside Barbra Streisand in the rock musical A Star Is Born, Parker demands so much money that they don’t even get a response.

    So, on June 26, 1977, Elvis Presley performs his last concert – pushed to his mental and physical limits by Colonel Tom Parker, a man he trusted and gave complete control of his life, and who abused that trust for his own financial gain.

    Less than 8 weeks later, the King of Rock and Roll takes three packets of sleeping pills and goes to his bathroom to read a book.

    The next day, the world mourns.

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    What is Killing the Legends about?

    Killing the Legends (2022) takes a dramatic and insightful look at the lives and tragic deaths of three of the greatest names of the 20th century: Elvis Presely, John Lennon, and Muhammad Ali. These three celebrities all found early and overwhelming success, before losing control of their lives, being influenced and controlled by those close to them.

    Who should read Killing the Legends?

    • Fans of Elvis, Lennon, or Ali, eager to learn a bit more about their heroes
    • Cultural history buffs interested in the big players of the 20th century
    • The morbidly curious looking for the tragic true stories behind the fame.

    About the Author

    Bill O’Reilly is an Emmy award-winning television journalist and host of No Spin News. He has written 18 number-one best-selling books, including Killing Kennedy, Killing England, and The United States of Trump.

    Martin Dugard is a best-selling history writer, and co-author of the Killing series. His other works include Taking Paris, The Murder of King Tut, and The Last Voyage of Columbus.

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