Elvis Presley Case Study

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Legend and Legacy of Elvis Presley

The "King of Rock and Roll" may be dead from obesity and substance abuse, but his legend and legacy lives on in Graceland and among the legions of his fans that remain loyal to his memory and his music today. Indeed, Elvis music and memorabilia remain popular today, and visitors still flock to his home and burial place in Memphis, Tennessee. Therefore, the meteoric career of Elvis Presley provides an interesting case study concerning the positive and negative effects of fortune and fame on an otherwise-ordinary individual. To this end, this paper provides a review of the relevant literature to develop a case study of the life of Elvis Presley, including an analysis of his life from various psychological perspectives and theories, an interpretation of his behavior and what shaped and explained his life story, and a discussion concerning those aspects of his behavior that can be labeled normal or abnormal by society. A discussion concerning the strengths of the case study approach for these purposes is followed by an analysis of what can be learned about what psychology as a tool for understanding individuals. Finally, an examination of how psychology can provide an essential set of skills to apply in the workplace is followed by a summary of how psychology can help human resource practitioners understand individual human behavior. A summary of the research and important findings are presented in the conclusion.

Review and Analysis

Background and Overview of the Life and Times of Elvis Presley

Born in 1935, Elvis Aaron Presley became one of the most important entertainment figures of the 20th century until his death in 1977, but his enormous popularity did not end with his demise (Cooper, 1998). Aging Baby Boomers today who watched Elvis Presley perform on stage during his heyday can readily testify to his popularity, but virtually everything written about the King has been so much hyperbole and it is hard to separate fact from fiction. In this regard, Cooper (1998) points out that, "The 50s icon was [not] cerebral enough to produce a memoir, to participate in an oral history project, to systematically log his own thoughts and feelings in a personal journal, or to confide in a truly talented biographer. Thus, stories of his life are more mythic than historic, more apocryphal than authentic" (1998, p. 92). Consequently, there are legions of die-hard Elvis fans who continue to desperately believe that he is not really dead and reports of "Elvis sightings" continued well into the early 21st century. Indeed, as Cooper (1998) points out, "In the case of Elvis, the mania for his life after death borders on dementia rather than mere veneration. Too bad. The king deserves better" (p. 92).

Notwithstanding the King's latter years when he descended into his own manmade drug-induced and bloated hell, Elvis Presley's enduring popularity today remains focused on these earlier images of the King when he was in his full prime and health and when his songs were redefining music in several genres for millions of American kids. For example, Biederman, Pierson, Silfen, Glasser, Berry and Sobel (1996) report that, "During his career, Elvis Presley established himself as one of the premier musical talents and entertainers in the United States, Europe and other areas of the world. He was the major force behind the American Rock and Roll movement, and his influence and popularity has continued to this day" (p. 111).

Certainly, some other performers from this era in America music history remain popular today as well, but there seems to be something, well, special, about Elvis Presley that continues to set him apart from his contemporaries. At the height of his career, it would seem that Elvis could simply show up and sell out a venue. For instance, Biederman and his associates emphasize that, "During Presley's legendary career, his talents were showcased in many ways. He performed in concert, setting attendance records and selling out houses in Las Vegas and other cities in which his tour appeared" (p. 111). Indeed, at the zenith of his career, America was seemingly fascinated by "anything Elvis" and his fans turned out in droves for his performances irrespective of the venue. Drafted into the U.S. Army in 1958, Elvis, to his credit, did not seek exemption and readily reported for active duty (Chadwick, 1997).

The King would go on to serve honorably as a sergeant in then-West Germany, and his fans at home avidly followed his day-to-day activities in magazines and newspapers as well as on newsreels and television (Chadwick, 1997). His tour of duty in Europe also helped to fuel his popularity abroad and despite being banned in some countries such as The Netherlands during the 1950s, Chadwick (1997) reports that, "During the early sixties, Elvis's popularity reached its peak in Europe. All of his 45 releases such as 'It's Now or Never,' 'Surrender,' 'Are You Lonesome Tonight,' and 'Good Luck Charm' easily made the No. 1 spot on the record charts" (p. 181).

Following his honorable discharge from the U.S. Army in 1960, Elvis pursued an expanded career in other media and began his long-time fascination with Las Vegas. For instance, according to Biederman et al., "[Elvis] starred in numerous motion pictures including one entitled Viva Las Vegas, which is also the name of the movie's title song which Presley sang. He made records which sold over one million copies and appeared on television programs and in television specials made from his tour program" (1996, p. 111). Like many GIs, Elvis would go on to get married (to Priscilla in 1967) and have a child (Lisa Marie), but also like many veterans, Elvis also experienced problems in the transition and divorced Priscilla in 1973 (Biederman et al., 1996). Moreover, and also like many veterans, addictions to alcohol, prescription drugs as well as personal addictions to cheeseburgers, peanut-butter-and-bacon sandwiches and scantily clad teenagers exacted a heavy toll on the King, and he degenerated into a bloated, sequins-covered parody of his former self while performing in Las Vegas until his death in 1977 (Biederman et al., 1996).

Despite this ignominious end, the King's legend has endured and Elvis continues to sell records and generate interest among music historians and the general public alike. In this regard, Biederman and his associates emphasize that, "Elvis Presley's popularity did not cease upon his death. His records and tapes are still sold in considerable dollar and unit amounts and Elvis Presley movies are still shown in theaters and on television. Elvis Presley merchandise is still in demand and sold" (p. 112). Moreover, millions of his fans have visited his Graceland mansion in Memphis for a chance to see where the King lived out his life, suggesting that many people are willing to overlook the ugliness of his later years in favor the "Elvis the Pelvis" that shocked the old folks and delighted the kids during the tumultuous sixties. As Biederman and his associates conclude, "The extent of Presley's continued popularity and the value and goodwill associated with him and his performances on, for example, record, film, and tape, is evidenced by the over seven million dollars in royalty and licensing payments which Presley's estate received in the first two years of its existence" (p. 182). Taken together, it is clear that Elvis Presley had an enormous influence on American society and music, but his untimely end suggests that the King failed to become self-actualized according the theorists such as Abraham Maslow and Erik Erikson as discussed further below.

Psychological Perspectives and Theories about the Life of Elvis Presley

Stage developmental theorists such as Abraham Maslow and Erik Erikson provide useful psychological perspectives for understanding the life of Elvis Presley. In this regard, Maslow and Erikson would both likely cite the fact Elvis foundered in making any real developmental progress in his life after his return from Germany, and he failed to achieve the life goals that are needed to advance to higher stages of development and needs. Certainly, from a Maslovian and an Eriksonian perspective, the King's lower order needs were more than satisfied (after all, he was rich and famous), and his higher level needs were equally on their way to being satisfied along the entire continuum of the human experience (married, father). According to Tyson (2006), "Two important assumptions are fundamental to Maslow's theory: first, higher needs do not become operative until lower needs have been met (e.g. The hungry professor in prison is likely to be more interested in food than philosophy); second, a need that has been satisfied is no longer a motivating force" (p. 13).

Nevertheless, Cherry (2012) suggests that Elvis was mired in Erikson's sixth stage of development, young adulthood, and did not survive long enough to sort out his inner demons to move beyond this stage. By contrast, theorists such as McClelland would likely suggest that Elvis's self-destructive behaviors during his later years was attributable to other unsatisfied needs that may have existed at the lower end of…

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