An Astonishing Number of People Watched Elvis Presley's First Performance on 'The Ed Sullivan Show'

Elvis Presley is an icon from the past whose legend might be larger today than it was when he was still alive. He was a hit singer and actor that became popular in the ‘50s. He’s considered one of the biggest sex symbols of the 20th century, and millions watched his first performance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Who was Elvis Presley?

Presley is one of the most famous people from his time. He was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, and at just 11 years of age, the future hit singer was given a guitar by his mother, Gladys, whom he adored. Things really started to get going for Presley when he worked on his first record under Sun Studio with Sam Phillips, according to

After that, he started performing, and by the mid-50s he was a huge success. In 1955, Presley had a contract with RCA Victor (Records), and he actually became more famous. He would work as a musician and actor throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s.

But the singer with all the moves was drafted into the military, and he enlisted into the army in 1958. He was stationed in West Germany, where he met his future wife, Priscilla Presley, who was just 14 at the time of their first meeting in 1959. Presley left the military in 1960, and things continued with Priscilla. They would marry in 1967 and divorce in 1973 after having a daughter together named Lisa Marie.

But tragedy struck when Presley died on August 16, 1977, and it was initially reported he died from a heart attack at only 42. However, it’s widely known that his death was impacted by prescription drug use. Toxicology reports showed numerous drugs in his system. He was known to abuse drugs, including opiates, according to PBS.

An astonishing number of people watched Elvis Presley’s first performance on ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’

“The Ed Sullivan Show” was a hugely popular show back in the day, and people enjoyed watching different entertainment perform, including Presley. But before he first appeared, Ed Sullivan is said to have admitted he wouldn’t get Presley on the series because of criticism after his second appearance on “The Milton Berle Show” where he did his signature moves with his hips, according to the official website for The Ed Sullivan Show. Presley also appeared in the Dorsey Brothers’ “Stage Show” as well around the same time, which was his first appearance on television.

But after Presley’s popular appearance on “Steve Allen Show,” Sullivan changed his mind about having Presley on his show although he turned him down in the past. This time around, he agreed to have Presley perform three times for the tune of $50,000, which is the largest amount of money given to an entertainer for a television slot.

But right before the big performance, Sullivan was in a terrible car accident, and he was recovering. He wasn’t able to host the big event, but Charles Laughton did for him. Presley performed in the show from Los Angeles while the host was in New York at the studio. Presley was acting in “Love Me Tender” at the time.

The eventful moment took place on September 9, 1956 according to, 82.6 percent of viewers witnessed the big performance through their televisions. That’s 60 million people, which helped boost the show’s ratings higher than they’d been in a total of two years.

During the first performance on the show, Presley sang “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Love Me Tender,” “Ready Teddy,” and “Hound Dog.” His legendary movements were on full display, including his grinding of the hips and his impactful facial expressions. 

He returned to the series two more times as per the contract, but not everyone appreciated his moves and swinging of the hips. Some burned an effigy that looked like him after his second appearance on the show. The news media also reported on the moves, and they seemed to be against them as well. So during Presley’s third performance, he was only filmed from the waist up so as not to show off his movements.

Elvis Presley appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” to an astonishingly large number of people. It’s a moment from music history that will always be remembered.

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