New evidence supports that Elvis Presley was ready to tour foreign countries.
New evidence supports that Elvis Presley was ready to tour foreign countries.
Graphic by Jack Dennis, Photos courtesy of Texas Elvis Fan Club archives

Years of buzz that Elvis Presley considered traveling to the United Kingdom and Japan for concerts before his untimely death on Aug. 16, 1977, peaked when recently discovered documentation supported this speculation.

Presley friend and Memphis Mafia member Charlie Hodge told this Examiner in May 1976 that there had been talk that “Elvis would someday perform overseas, like maybe Europe, Australia, or Japan, but not until it happens will it happen.”

By April 1972, years of tension between Presley and his manager Colonel Tom Parker had built up to an all-time fervor of angry resentment. During the filming of the musical documentary “Elvis on Tour,” Elvis and Parker were seen in the heat of a fierce disagreement in the hallway of the San Antonio hotel, that one police officer assigned to security judged as “one vicious battle of words between the two.”

Down below, while San Antonio party goers celebrated the city’s annual Fiesta party on the River Walk, “Elvis came out of his room in his pajamas and he was not happy,” the officer told his peers later. “I wasn’t quite sure who the big man (Parker) was, but the men around Elvis all moved as far away as they could. One told me it was okay, ‘they both need to clear the air about this.’ I went back towards the elevator but could still hear the yelling.”

The night before, on April 17, Elvis, or one of his Memphis Mafia, found a bugging device in the limousine taking them to the Hilton Palacio Del Rio hotel for the concert and filming. According to Hodge, “Elvis, by this time things were so bad, that his first thought it was the Colonel’s people spying on him.”

“Later we found out it was a hidden microphone recording dialogue for the movie ‘Elvis on Tour’,” Hodge explained. Cinema Associates, an independent film company from North Hollywood was filming during his San Antonio performance. “But some of us thought Elvis had every right to blame Colonel the way things had been going.”

Hodge attributed the fighting between Elvis and the Colonel to many factors, but he thought the leading factors leading up to the tension were the realities of some mistakes and controlling intrusion of the manager’s team. In retrospect, the biggest successes came when Parker was least involved or didn’t get his way. What is now termed the “68 Comeback Special,” produced by Steve Binder for a December NBC television program that year, and the “69 Memphis Sessions” with Chip Moman were incredibly prosperous even though the Colonel’s meddling forced obstacles and setbacks along the way.

Elvis was concentrating on making the movie the best it could be, but he was also frustrated with Parker’s insistence to go against the grain of Presley’s creativity and talents. Elvis wanted to go to other countries beyond the United States and his father, Vernon, who took care of personal business for his son, began to share his disenchantment about Parker. Eventually, the world would discover that Parker was taking too large of a percentage, limiting Elvis' access to songs by demanding a share of the songwriters' publishing, and he set up exhausting concert tours unlike the appropriately scheduled shows other entertainers appreciated.

“Four weeks is a marathon and the repetition of cramming 60 shows into that period can be really monotonous and mind and body sapping,” the late Memphis Mafia member Lamar Fike once remarked. “The biggest disappointment for Elvis in his life was not touring outside the US.”

“When I got older I saw that things were changing between Elvis and Colonel,” Presley’s cousin, Billy Smith. “He started picking on the guys, including me, for information about Elvis. Colonel always liked me and my family but my loyalty was always with Elvis.”

“I know that Elvis loved Colonel, but he also had resentment toward him for holding him back on certain things that he really wanted to do,” Smith continued. “One thing was to tour Europe. He talked about it many, many times, and we all looked forward to the day that happened. Unfortunately, it never came to pass.”

This weekend the Mirror, in the United Kingdom reported that a document that was included in an auction proved Presley was actively planning to travel to England and Japan a year before he died. Presley signed his name to an August 11, 1976 aviation questionnaire on ‘The Lisa Marie,” his Corvair 880 private jet, for $3.6 million of life insurance.

“Elvis filled out the aviation questionnaire in his full name Elvis Aaron Presley and states that he has flown 45 hours as a crew member since buying the plane (the previous year for $250,000),” the Mirror reported. “Significantly, in response to a question about what countries he intends to fly to outside of the US, Elvis put ‘Japan & England’.”

“He then states that he anticipates to double the plane’s usage from 25 hours a year to 50 and that the purpose of the flights would be business and pleasure.”