If not for his music, title as “King of Rock n’ Roll” or iconic sideburns, then you definitely know Elvis for being America’s Sweetheart and for dying an untimely death and all the rumors, conspiracies and scandals that transpired after.
What you probably don’t know is that Elvis Presley, by most, if not all definitions was a pedophile.
It’s been exactly 40 years since his death, at the age of 42 from a heart attack caused by his years of prescription drug abuse. He’s been immortalized, however, and his death seems nothing less than a Greek tragedy. A handsome, talented young man berated and victimised by his own demons. The story of a man who had the world in the palm of his hands and then lost it all. A symbol of old Hollywood and more or less of its struggles and many sticky webs.
This narrative, however, whether you weep or roll your eyes has largely been shaped not by facts but by fans of the late “legend”. Very few acknowledge who he was as a real person—the insecure, manipulative and overbearing man who lived in Graceland. In fact, it seems like very few people know who Elvis Presley was, rather than what he was. One of the lucky few who knew him was none other than his wife Priscilla Presley, who Elvis met when he was 24 years old and she was only 14 in 1959. They met in Germany where Elvis served in the army and her stepfather served as a member of the US Air Force. In 1963, at 17 years old, she moved in with Elvis Presley at the famous Graceland mansion. In 1967, they finally wed and their only child, Lisa Marie Presley, was born in 1968.
Priscilla, however, was only one of the many young girls Elvis had a relationship with. Sources close to Elvis report that he had an affinity for teenage girls, in their early teens as he reportedly rejected women like Natalie Wood stating she was too old for him when she was 18 and he was 21. Many have linked his love for younger women to the early death of his mother Gladys Presley and viewed older women, especially those with many past lovers or children as unattractive. There are plenty more stories of the various things Elvis would do with underage fans (most around 12 to 14) in his bedroom and it’s surprising that no one has ever questioned the King of Rock and Roll, considering the age of consent in the United States during the 1960s (otherwise known as the era of Elvis, amongst other things) was between 16 and 18 (depending on the state).
This, however, is representative of the rape culture in the United States and how white males, especially those who are famous have almost gotten a “jail-free” card from what is explicitly statutory rape, rape in general and pedophilia. While many like to point fingers at black celebrities like Michael Jackson and accuse him of molestation of minors and sexual assault, they often overlook white celebrities who actually have committed these acts, like Woody Allen who is still unfortunately relevant. In fact, most of the time when it’s brought up, many people use the stale old saying “separate the art from the artist.” However those same people would not apply this concept to people like Nate Parker, director, and actor in the 2016 movie “The Birth of a Nation”. Another example of this was when Casey Affleck won an Oscar, despite being accused of sexual assault. Sexual assault is sexual assault regardless of who does it but in America’s twisted rape culture white men seem to be exempt from the consequences, and if they’re famous they might even still be celebrated for the “artists” they are. We should hold them all to the same standard because anyone who rapes or assaults is inhumane and extremely volatile. We cannot worship and love some and then hate the rest.
Elvis is just one example of a famous white male whose pedophilia has been clouded by his success and legacy; he’s certainly not the first and unfortunately not the last. The issue at hand is that much of the discussion around rape culture and sexual assault has been averted to the perpetrator and who they are not their actions and certainly not the victims who have been subjected to shame and suffering. Around Elvis’s time, many young girls considered themselves lucky to have been with Elvis whether it was a kiss or something more, but that just goes to show how manipulative he was and how he deserves the same scrutiny that other sexual assaulters deserve. We cannot keep putting these men (and women) on a pedestal because they’re white and they have some value to their name. It completely dehumanizes victims and it’s disgusting to know that behind the glitz and glamour of Hollywood—some of the biggest names carry the worst actions.
Often we romanticise people who have done terrible things because of their legacy. But if we as a society want to progress and tear down this rape culture, we need to hold all guilty people accountable for sexual assault—regardless of their name, race, religion and power.