Even four decades after his death, rumors continue to swirl about Elvis Presley. There’s the theory that he’s actually still alive, for instance – and that he may even have faked his death. When the King’s cousin Billy Smith caught wind of one particular piece of gossip, though, he cleared up speculation once and for all. And what Smith had to say about his famous relative is pretty surprising.
We’ll discover what Smith had to say about his superstar cousin a little later, but first let’s learn more about Elvis himself. There is, of course, no denying that he remains one of the biggest cultural icons of the 20th century. And it probably would be fair to say that the singer’s image is as famous as his music, as he’s instantly recognizable even to those who don’t count themselves as Elvis fans.
Most famously, the King marked himself out with his distinctive quiff hairdo. On the recommendation of a make-up artist, the star originally dyed his hair black on the set of his 1957 film Loving You. And the decision to keep that shade seemingly paid off, as a 2019 study compiled by the beauty vitamin company Perfectil named Elvis’ locks as the most iconic of all time.
Then, of course, there were Elvis’ boyish good looks. His pale eyes contrasted with his dark hair – a lock of which often rested on his forehead. The musical legend also boasted a near-perfect pout, a defined Cupid’s bow and a full lower lip. And as fans know, he would often make his mouth quiver as he performed – lifting just one side to give a glimpse of his teeth.
Altogether, then, Elvis and his image are synonymous with the music of his era. And the star had quite the seismic impact after arriving on the scene. The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll emphasizes Elvis’ importance, labeling him “an American music giant of the 20th century who singlehandedly changed the course of music and culture in the mid-1950s.” The magazine also added that “it was Elvis who made rock ‘n’ roll the international language of pop.”
Yes, Elvis made a splash almost from the moment he entered the cultural arena in 1954. It helped, too, that his emergence came at a time when teenagers had more money and freedom than ever before. And it was Elvis’ style that seemed to appeal to this new emancipated group of consumers in particular.
With Elvis firmly cementing himself as one of the first teen idols, kids suddenly wanted to look like him. Most notably, his distinctive “ducktail” hairstyle was coveted by teenage boys, who also stoked the demand for loose-fitting, open-necked shirts and black slacks in a bid to emulate their new musical hero.
But part of Elvis’ appeal to teenagers no doubt lay in their parents’ disapproval of the star. When he emerged as a singer in the mid-1950s, you see, his demeanor was considered provocative. And the way in which Elvis swung his hips would become an iconic dance move – even if it wasn’t to everyone’s taste.
In fact, when Elvis appeared on The Milton Berle Show in 1956, his performance of “Hound Dog” caused quite the stir. According to PBS, critics slammed the star’s “appalling lack of musicality” and disapproved of his “animalism” and “vulgarity.” At the time, the outraged Catholic Church even published an article entitled “Beware Elvis Presley.”
But while some adults denounced Elvis, his teenage fan base seemingly couldn’t get enough of his dance moves and sultry looks. And the singer reportedly became quite particular about his appearance over the years. As he got older, for instance, Elvis appeared to favor more flamboyant outfits in which to perform – often donning form-fitting bodysuits that were apparently designed to catch the eye.
However, by the 1970s Elvis’ star was beginning to wane. Following his divorce from Priscilla Presley in 1973, the star suffered from declining health and a reported pethidine addiction. And in the years that followed, Elvis also struggled with his weight. At one point, the star allegedly weighed 350 pounds and consumed up to 12,000 calories each day.
Rumors flew about the changes to Elvis’ appearance, with many of those whisperings centering on the star’s physical decline and eating habits. And while some have claimed that reports of Elvis’ excessive diet have been vastly exaggerated over the years, there is at least some evidence that he did have a big appetite.
Famously, one of Elvis’ favorite snacks is said to have been a sandwich made with toasted bread and containing bacon, banana and peanut butter. The flavor combination has since become so synonymous with the King, moreover, that it’s listed on menus all over the world as “The Elvis.” The foodstuff even has its own Wikipedia page.
Another indulgent sandwich to which Elvis was supposedly partial was what’s known as the Fool’s Gold Loaf. Made by the Colorado Mine Company restaurant in Denver, the meal was comprised of a hollowed-out bread loaf filled with one whole jar of grape jelly, a jar of peanut butter and a pound of bacon. And according to David Adler’s 1993 book The Life and Cuisine of Elvis Presley, the star apparently loved the sandwich so much that he once flew a private jet out to Denver just to get his fix.
Even as far back as 1960, Elvis’ apparent love of food was well documented. An extract from James Gregory’s biography of that year, The Elvis Presley Story, listed what the author claimed to be the star’s preferred morning meal. According to Gregory, “Elvis loves enormous breakfasts complete with sausage, bacon, eggs, fried potatoes, home-baked rolls and coffee. He has a tremendous appetite at breakfast.”
However, Mary Jenkins Langston had more insight than most when it came to Elvis’ diet, as she was the icon’s private chef for 14 years. And in 1996 Langston appeared on the BBC documentary The Burger and the King, where she attested to the singer’s large appetite and penchant for fatty foods.
Langston explained on The Burger and The King, “For breakfast, he’d have homemade biscuits fried in butter, sausage patties, four scrambled eggs and sometimes fried bacon.” However, while Elvis clearly had a love of junk food, he did try to lose weight over the years – sometimes even going to extreme lengths to do so.
One fad diet apparently put Elvis’ love of fizzy drinks to good use. For weeks on end, you see, the star was said to have eaten only bananas and jello made from his preferred black cherry soda. And that was far from the only eye-raising method that the King supposedly used in order to regain control of his image.
For instance, at some point during the 1970s, Elvis is believed to have tried the controversial “sleeping beauty diet” upon a doctor’s recommendation. The very risky process involves putting someone into a medically induced coma for days to prevent them from eating. Luckily, though, the musician changed his mind after the procedure and vowed never to embark on such excessive measures again.
Ultimately, though, Elvis passed away at his home in Graceland, Memphis, in August 1977. He was just 42 at the time, with his cause of death officially named as cardiac arrest. The King had also reportedly been in poor health at the time of his passing, being largely confined to bed and looked after by an assistant.
And like many aspects of Elvis’ life, the musical legend’s death has been subject to a number of rumors over the years. Gossip has also continued to circulate about the singer’s general appearance. It was this hearsay, then, that Elvis’ cousin decided to address in a video posted to his son Danny’s Memphis Mafia Kid YouTube channel in 2017.
Smith’s father Travis was the brother of Elvis’ mother Gladys, and the two boys had remained close for life. In fact, the singer’s relative was also part of the so-called Memphis Mafia – the name that Elvis gave to the close group of friends and associates with which he had surrounded himself throughout his career.
Owing to their close links to Elvis, Smith and his family were therefore in a position to clarify some of the bizarre rumors involving the King. Indeed, that’s precisely why Danny had chosen to set up his YouTube channel; he and his relatives wanted to share an insight into their lives with Elvis with the wider world.
So, upon taking to the channel in 2017, Smith decided to finally address some of the crazy rumors about the King that had emerged over the years. According to the description to the video, he would be discussing “some interesting facts about Elvis.” And Smith made good on this promise, too.
At the beginning of the video, Smith addresses his viewers by saying, “Hello folks, I just wanted to kinda tell you about a few things about Elvis and the way he was. I’m going to start off by saying, first of all, that [he] always tried to look his best. He always wanted to look good. He tried different things…” And with that, Smith divulges what he knows about Elvis’ changing appearance.
First of all, Smith addresses Elvis’ famous hair. And according to the King’s cousin, he didn’t always sport his iconic quiff. Smith explains, “In high school, he once got a crew cut, but [he] decided that [it] didn’t look real good. So, he let his hair grow out, and that’s kind of when he started wearing his sideburns long.”
But the revelation about Elvis’ hair isn’t the only detail that Smith focuses on, as he also goes on to discuss claims that the singer had webbed toes. And on this matter, he neither confirms nor denies whether this was the case. Smith says, “This could be true. I really can’t say for sure, but I had heard the same story.”
If Elvis had had webbed toes, though, Smith believes that he would have done something about them. In the video, the star’s cousin continues, “Elvis – if he did – he probably had them separated because he was kind of particular about his feet. He didn’t like to go barefooted much at all.”
Next up, attention turns to Elvis’ winning smile and claims that the King had help in achieving the perfect grin. Smith confirms this, saying, “He had caps on his teeth.” Explaining why the singer might have had such a procedure, he goes on, “Well, things like this to Elvis, it meant a lot because it made him look – he thought… it made him look better.”
Smith then goes on to address rumors that Elvis had received a facelift in 1957. He adds, “To me, it wasn’t a facelift. Elvis did not like the flare in his nose at that time – how wide it was. So, he decided to have it trimmed down – and that’s what they did, they trimmed the flair down. Which made him look… God! I don’t know how you can look any better, but he did.”
In fact, according to Smith, Elvis made many tweaks to his appearance over the years on an apparent quest for perfection. The legend’s cousin reveals in the YouTube video, “In ’56, he had a couple of moles on his hand which he thought looked kind of unsightly, you know… He didn’t like when his wrist would show because of that. So, he had those removed.”
Smith then claims that Elvis took things to the next level in 1975 and got a facelift. The King’s cousin alleges in the clip that a surgeon had told the star, “Man, you’re perfect. I don’t know where I can improve on it.” Even so, Smith says of his late relative, “He thought that he needed it.” So, the star went ahead with the procedure.
Then, later on in the video, Smith’s wife Jo enters the conversation to discuss Elvis’ black locks once more. She reveals, “Yes, he did have his hair dyed. He had his hair dyed, and the reason being is that someone told him that his eyes were so blue and all that, that if he had dark hair it would make his blue eyes stand out better. So, naturally, Elvis tried it… He liked it, and he kept it.”
But while some of the tweaks that Elvis allegedly made to his appearance may come as a shock to fans, they made perfect sense to those close to the singer. Smith explains, “[He] always tried to improve his looks.” And so that’s exactly what Elvis did, even when his friends and family believed that he was perfect just as he was.
Reflecting on his famous cousin’s image, Smith says, “Believe me, you know, if anybody had ever looked great, it was Elvis… Even before he had all these things done. But think about, you know, the way he was thinking… How he always tried to make himself look better… He wanted to be and look the best… and dress the best.”
Smith continues in the video, “Elvis had a unique way about him to go about doing these things – to make himself look better. And if somebody else he thought had an imperfection, you know, he would encourage them, help them. That was the way he was. And I mean, I’m just talking about things, you know, around Elvis in general.”
What’s more, in Smith’s opinion, Elvis’ desire to improve his appearance simply showed that he was human. His evolving look over the years was all part of the singer trying to look and feel his best – which is surely something to which we can all relate. Smith jokes in the clip, “I tried [to look better myself]. [Of] course it didn’t work, but I tried it.”
But no matter what Elvis changed throughout the years, he remained an idol to many – including Smith. And ultimately, the King’s cousin agrees that Elvis mostly improved his looks with the tweaks he made. Smith says, “He was my hero. To me, he could have never looked better. But, he did, he made himself look better.”
Besides, according to Jo, Elvis was just as attractive on the inside as he was on the outside. She explains, “Elvis was the type of person that never thought he was above anybody else. You would think, oh my gosh, sitting talking to him would be just unbelievable. But he was a really [unpretentious] person.”
Furthermore, while Jo claims that Elvis was aware of his celebrity, she says that he still looked out for those who perhaps weren’t as well off. In the YouTube clip, she adds, “Of course he knew he was Elvis Presley – he was proud of that – but he was an easy person to talk to. And he was always for the underdog. He could not stand to see anybody belittled or anything like that. He was just a really good person.”