Colonel Thomas Andrew “Tom” Parker (Born Andreas Cornelis van Kuyk) was an enigma from the day he arrived on a freighter in Tampa Bay, Florida, as an illegal immigrant at about the age of 20 until his death at the advanced age of 87 in 1997. Colonel Parker is of course best known as the manager of Elvis Presley, who was probably instrumental in making Elvis the superstar he became. But in doing so Colonel Parker also benefitted enormously from Presley’s success through his 25 to 50 percent management fee he charged Presley during his career as a singer and performer.
So the jury is still out on whether Colonel Parker was the key to Presley’s success or the beneficiary of Presley’s success. The argument that he was the key to Presley’s success is based on Presley not only depending on him for the business decisions but apparently also for many emotional and personal decisions. He appeared to be the father figure for Presley, a support Presley apparently needed badly. This argument is based on the fact that Presley was Colonel Parker’s strongest defender during his performing career. Presley could have fired Parker whenever he wanted to, but apparently decided not to take that step.
The argument that Colonel Parker took advantage of Presley’s weaknesses can be based on the fact that Parker charged Presley the enormous management fee of 25 percent of his professional income. The going fee for managing a performer at that time was apparently about 10 percent. Later, Parker apparently even increased the fee up to 50 percent. But Presley apparently never complained about Parker’s fees. And one could argue that if Parker provided other services than just managerial, then the higher fee, one could argue, was justified.
In any event let’s go back to the Colonel Parker story. Before managing Presley’s career, in the 1940’s, Parker had managed the professional careers of such well known stars as Minnie Pearl, Eddie Arnold and Hank Snow. Also during that time period he performed promotional services to Jimmie Davis, the gubernatorial candidate in the state of Louisiana. Davis won the election in the late 1940’s, and he felt that Parker had been instrumental in the governor’s success. In turn, in 1948, Governor Jimmie Davis officially bestowed the honorary title of Colonel in the Louisiana State Militia on Parker. And from that day on Parker would be known as Colonel Parker.
Prior to the above and shortly after he arrived from his home country, Parker, then named Van Kuyk, had served in the United States Army. He was stationed on a base in Hawaii. The base was commanded by Tom Parker. So after leaving the service, Kuyk decided to adopt the name Tom Parker, and pretended, and also claimed he was born in West Virginia. All during this time he was still an illegal immigrant, but the United States Army apparently was not all that interested in the nationality of its recruits.
Parker’s cover was blown in the late 1950’s or early 1960’s when family members in the Netherlands recognized Parker when he posed with Presley in a picture which got world wide publicity. One of Parker’s brothers, Ad Van Kuyk, actually visited Parker in 1961, and during the visit Parker introduced his brother to Presley. It is not clear how Parker was able to clear up his citizenship. Was he still a Dutchman when he passed away in 1997? Perhaps. What is known is the fact that Presley never performed abroad, probably because Parker never made arrangements to have Presley go abroad, because Parker would not have the passport needed to accompany him on his foreign travels. The few times Presley performed in Canada, Parker would stay behind in border cities such as Seattle, Washington and Buffalo, New York.
Although there have been several stories written about Parker, and about Parker and Elvis, the full story of Colonel Parker has never been revealed. The Colonel Parker story apparently went down in the grave with him when he died. Several books have been written about the Colonel Parker phenomena, but none apparently has the full or real story. Colonel Parker’s life was definitely not an open book.
Colonel Parker passed away in Las Vegas, Nevada on January 21, 1997, at the age of 87. He had been married but little is known about his spouse, and whether there were any surviving children. Colonel Parker remained an enigma until he passed away in the desert of Nevada.
Colonel Tom Parker, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonel_Tom_Parker
Review of the book, “Colonel Tom Parker: The Curious Life of Elvis Presley’s Eccentric Manager”,http://www.popmatters.com/books/reviews/c/colonel-tom-parker.shtml
Vellinga, Dirk with Farren, Mick, “Elvis and the Colonel”, New York: Dell Publishing, 1988
Dickerson, James L., “Colonel Tom Parker: The Curious Life of Elvis Presley’s Eccentric Manager”, New York: Cooper Square Press, 2001
Nash, Alanna, “The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley”, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2003
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