Las Vegas Sun

October 22, 2019

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Col. Parker active until death at 87

At age 87, Col. Tom Parker was still working as a consultant for an upcoming Elvis Presley movie and advising the Hilton hotel chain on entertainment when he suddenly suffered a stroke.

The cigar-chomping manager who catapulted Presley to megastardom remained active until his death about 10 a.m. Tuesday at Valley Hospital Medical Center. His wife, Loanne, was at his bedside when he died.

"He could tell you who's hot and who's not," longtime friend and former Las Vegas Hilton Publicity Director Bruce Banke said. "The colonel could tell you who's grossing what in each city around the country."

Banke said he was besieged with phone calls from reporters in seven countries after Parker's death.

Las Vegas Hilton will have a memorial service at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in its convention area. Parker will be cremated and interred at Palm Cemetery on Eastern Avenue.

"I handled the press when Elvis died," Banke said of Presley's former manager. "I never expected this response (to Parker's death). For a manager to be held in such high esteem is a surprise. He's as well known as Elvis."

Loanne Parker is asking that donations be sent to the SUN Youth Camp Fund in lieu of flowers. Parker had given thousands of dollars to the camp fund over the years. Once he gave $12,000 on his birthday.

"He was a good friend of the SUN Camp Fund," said Barbara Greenspun, publisher of the Las Vegas SUN. "He will be sorely missed. He loved to tell stories and meet people."

Elvis and Parker came to Las Vegas in 1968, Banke said. The entertainer appeared at billionaire hotelier Kirk Kerkorian's International Hotel in 1969, which was later sold to Hilton.

"All of us here at the Las Vegas Hilton and in the Hilton Hotels Corp. family are deeply touched and saddened by the death of Col. Tom Parker," Las Vegas Hilton President Gary Gregg said in a written statement. "For more than 25 years, the colonel was a key figure behind much of the worldwide entertainment success of the Las Vegas Hilton. ...

"There, in the Hilton Showroom, Elvis entertained 2.5 million people during 837 unfortgettable live performances. Through all that time ... there was the colonel, the strength behind the 'King.'"

Parker at one time maintained several suites at the Las Vegas Hilton. He moved to a private Las Vegas residence in 1985.

"The colonel was an avid reader," Banke said, "He loved biographies. He recently gave me a book on Ann-Margret. He also loved to go out for lunch every day."

Like Elvis, Banke said Parker gave generously to his friends. Every Mother's Day, the colonel would display a huge bouquet of flowers, signed from "Elvis and the Colonel," at the Las Vegas Hilton entrance.

"When my father died, one of the biggest bouquets on the wall (at the funeral home) read, 'From Elvis and the Colonel,'" Banke said. "He was a generous and caring human being. And you'd be surprised how many people would recognize him."

When not doling out entertainment advice, Parker could be seen at local casinos playing slot machines.

"He loved to play slot machines," Banke said. "He would say, 'I'm going down to get my exercise.'"

Parker, who gave up smoking his trademark big Cuban cigars in 1990, had a meteoric rise from a dogcatcher in the 1940s to top show business manager.

The date and place of Parker's birth remain a mystery. He is believed to have been born June 25, 1909.

Several sources say he was born in Breda, Netherlands, and immigrated to the United States as a young man. Parker long insisted he was born in Huntington, W.Va.

He traveled in carnivals and fairs and founded the Great Parker Pony Circus.

In the early 1940s, Parker was the dogcatcher in Tampa, Fla.

Thomas Andrew Parker's nickname is derived from an honorary title of "colonel" bestowed on him in 1948 by then-Louisiana Gov. Jimmie Davis.

He moved to Las Vegas in the 1980s to enjoy craps and roulette and continue his long working relationship with the Hilton.

Parker was part of the ceremonies in Las Vegas in 1993 when the Elvis postage stamp was issued.

Gov. Bob Miller declared June 25, 1994, as Col. Tom Parker Day in Nevada.