Elvis and Charity

Two entertainers, one already a star and the other emerging as one of the greatest names in music, joined forces in 1957 to help make the world a better place for children stricken with cancer and other deadly illnesses.

Danny Thomas, star of the hit television show Make Room for Daddy, was holding a second fund-raising event in Memphis, Tennessee, to raise funds to support his dream of building St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Star power was needed to bring in the crowds, and in 1957, no one was hotter than Memphis’ very own Elvis Presley.

Presley had burst onto the music scene in 1955, with a rollicking version of That’s All Right, the first jewel in the crown of the man many would ordain the “King” of Rock ‘n’ Roll. By 1957 when he agreed to perform at Danny’s event, Elvis had appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show three times and was filming his third movie, Jailhouse Rock. Thousands of dollars were raised that evening and St. Jude opened its doors in 1962, changing the course of medical history.

Each year, thousands of people from around the world will be in Memphis to honor Elvis during Elvis Tribute Week, a week-long celebration of the life of the legendary singer.
St. Jude also honors Elvis because of his early support of Danny’s dream.

Elvis continued to support the hospital after the 1957 event. In 1964, the same year the Beatles invaded America, Presley donated a yacht, the U.S.S. Potomac, to St. Jude. The Potomac had served as the presidential yacht, or “Floating White House,” for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Elvis gave the boat to St. Jude to do with as they saw fit. In a February 13 ceremony that took place in Long Beach, California, Elvis officially gave the boat to Danny. The boat was sold for $65,000 with the proceeds coming back to the hospital.

Elvis’ legacy in music is unparalleled and his early support of St. Jude was remembered fondly by Danny and the Board of St. Jude. His support, and that of many others, enabled the hospital to tackle acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common form of childhood cancer. At the time, only four out of 100 children survived ALL. By 1970, St. Jude research and treatment protocols had raised the survival rate to 50 percent, and today more than 80 percent of children stricken with ALL will survive.

Despite this success, there are still thousands of children dying from ALL and other forms of childhood cancer, not to mention infectious diseases and genetic disorders that St. Jude has pledged to investigate and cure. That’s why the fans of Elvis have continued to support the hospital: to continue the fight Danny began and Elvis joined.

St. Jude has challenged Elvis fan clubs to raise $1,222, which will cover the costs of providing two days of intravenous chemotherapy for a St. Jude patient. Or fans can make a memorial or honor gift in honor of another Elvis fan. St. Jude will send a unique Elvis card to whomever the donor designates. Or the donor can send the recipient a special Elvis e-card, featuring artwork of Presley drawn by St. Jude patients.

“Almost everyone can appreciate the music Elvis gave us over the years,” said David L. McKee, chief operating officer of ALSAC, St. Jude’s fund-raising arm. “But his support of St. Jude was also appreciated, especially in those early days when Danny’s dream had yet to take form. We thank Elvis, his family and his millions of fans for helping create St. Jude and for continuing to support children fighting deadly diseases.”

Having given to endless charitable organizations throughout his career, as recently as today information on his "secret" donations for causes is still being discovered.

The single largest donation of funds for the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor came from Elvis.

He would often visit sick children in their hospital rooms and then secretly send them toys or pay the entire cost of medical bills.

He continuously gave generously to many charities, and annonymously to the Boy Scouts in and around Memphis, and was a great supporter to the local Memphis police.

Elvis gave to many charities including St. Jude, The March of Dimes, St. Josephs Indian school, the Heart Association, to name only a few. His most heart-rendering philanthropic deeds fell upon complete strangers he'd meet on the street, unsuspecting strangers and friends who continuously received monetary gifts from Elvis, medical/financial support, gifts of food, clothing, and jewelry, and most of all, his love.

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