Elvis Presley's gift-giving was legendary. Elvis referred to his gifts as his "happies.” No one Elvis was even remotely close to came up empty-handed. According to many recipients over the years, the reason Elvis gave gifts so lavishly over the years was because he loved seeing the look on their face.
Anyone familiar with Elvis knows of his fondness for giving away Cadillacs, and this part of Elvis' "legend" is, indeed, true. But Cadillacs were just the tip of the gigantic iceberg of gift-giving by Elvis.
The gifts Elvis gave were generally given out of genuine and pure love, admiration, and affinity, but some served as a reward for loyalty, some re-inforced the power balance in a relationship, and sometimes Elvis (who never liked to apologize for anything) would give gifts as a way of saying "I'm sorry".
Not everybody accepted: early girlfriend June Juanico, adhering to southern custom, declined the many gifts her boyfriend offered her because she understood that a man giving a gift to a woman would want something in return. She later said: “Think of all the Cadillacs I passed up!"
Another early girlfriend, Anita Wood, wasn't quite so “Southern,” and received a diamond ring, a new car, and endless toys and jewelry.
In 1956, Elvis gave a maid who looked after his family a car when he found out she had to walk a mile from her home to get to the nearest bus stop.
When future wife, Priscilla, first visited Memphis for Christmas 1962, Elvis gave her a poodle puppy, which she named “Honey.” When she came to live there the following year, Elvis gave her a Corvair to get her to and from school (Priscilla was still a teenager). One of the first things he did was buy her a $1,500 wardrobe of clothes (all of which he picked himself). Elvis was still buying her gifts a decade later, after their divorce.
With Elvis' gifts, it wasn't always big ticket items, either. Elvis always made it a point to welcome the female co-stars of his films with lavish bunches of flowers. He gave his co-star in King Creole (1958) a stuffed tiger at her birthday party.
After Elvis discovered one of his favorite books The Impersonal Life, he gave copies with a personal dedication and often his own scribbled annotations, to several people who really mattered to him.
When filming of Frankie and Johnny (1965) wrapped, Elvis gave the entire cast and crew a special watch designed by jeweler Harry Levitch, depicting a cross and a Jewish star. That same year, he gave his aide, Lamar Fike, enough money to buy himself a large house. He also gave his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, an electric golf cart.
When the Beatles came to visit him at Graceland in '65, they left with cowboy holsters and guns, stagecoach lamps, and a full collection of Elvis records.
Faron Young once told Elvis he liked the look of one of his Harleys. Elvis threw him the keys and told him to take it.
Another acquaintence recalled admiring the shirt Elvis was wearing, only to watch as Elvis, literally, gave him the shirt off his back.
In 1967, he gave his Speedway co-star Nancy Sinatra a car with the name of the movie on one door, and their names on the other.
Because of his love of gift-giving, as would be expected, his favorite holiday was Christmas. Christmas 1957 was Elvis' first at his new home Graceland. He gave six of his employees a $1,000 bill as a Christmas bonus. (He handed out $100 bills to his younger cousins.) Elvis gave the newsboy who brought him the paper $100 and told him to keep the change.
For Christmas 1967, he gave Colonel Tom a $595 gold Accutron watch. (Over the years, he also gave Parker a bubble car, a boat, and an airplane (!!!) -Parker had to graciously decline the plane because of the cost of upkeep.)
In January of 1969, Elvis gave one his most special and unique gifts. He was so pleased to be working at American Studios at the same time as Roy Hamilton, one of his musical heroes, that he gave him a song, “Angelica,” that he had intended to record himself.
Elvis went on a major shopping spree during the Christmas holidays of 1970. After buying a small arsenal of guns for himself and his friends, he bought a house for his close friend and aide Joe Esposito. Then he purchased three Mercedes cars, one for himself, one for pal Jerry Schilling, and one for his girlfriend Barbara Leigh. (At this time he gave all his girlfriends guns to make sure they were safe.)
Elvis presented Priscilla's brother with a brand new Mustang when he came to visit in the late sixties.
For a spell in the seventies, Elvis travelled with his own personal jeweler, Lowell Hayes, so that he could have a ready supply for when he felt the urge to give a gift.
The first Christmas Elvis spent with girlfriend Linda Thompson, he gave her a mink coat plus a fox suede coat. Two assistants, Red and Sonny West, suggest that over their four-year relationship, Elvis bought her more than A quarter-million dollars worth of jewelry.
Not all of Elvis' gifts were appreciated. Elvis loved and admired boxer Muhammad Ali and gave him a beautiful boxing robe with the inscription “The People's Champion.” However, after Ali wore it to fight and was defeated, he refuse to ever don it again, considering it bad luck.
They also estimate that Elvis gave drummer J.D. Sumner around $100,000 worth of jewelry as gifts.
He pushed a car on his karate instructor, Ed Parker, despite his protests that he already had three. Then he bought Parker's wife a $12,000 mink coat.
Red and Sonny also recall when Elvis took his gift-giving to new heights by handing out rings to members of the audience, and the band, at a Greensboro, North Carolina show, in 1975. On that tour, Elvis threw his customized Gibson guitar out into the audience.
Within weeks of meeting his new girlfriend, Ginger Alden, in 1976, Elvis had already given her a Lincoln Continental, a Triumph tr6, as many as five fur coats, and extended his generosity to her family (fur coats and jewelry, as well as money for improvements to their home).
Ironically, although Elvis did give (and receive) genuine joy with his incredible, lavish gift-giving, most of his girlfriends, family, relatives, friends, aides, employees and fans all agree on one thing. Just being around Elvis- experiencing his talent, his friendliness, his humor, his great "spirit of play,” was the greatest gift of all.