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Rock and Roll Up Your Sleeve Like Elvis Presley

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Elvis Presley prepares to give blood while deployed in Germany. Photo courtesy of American Red Cross.

The extent of Elvis Presley’s good deeds come to light decades later.

If you go walking in Memphis, Tenn., you’ll most certainly see the shining lights of Beale Street, hear a chorus of local blues music floating through the air, and smell the molasses-infused BBQ sauce that has come to define Memphis-style BBQ. And if you go talking to people in Memphis, one thing you are guaranteed to discuss is Elvis Presley.

It’s been five decades since Presley’s passing, but Memphians (and the world, for that matter) still remember him fondly. Moreover, those who personally encountered Presley still recount many private acts of kindness.

A personal letter of thanks from the American Red Cross in Memphis to Presley for his charitable support to the community. Photo courtesy of Graceland.

Today, we are still unraveling and learning the extent of Presley’s philanthropy. He often gave without fanfare and out of the public eye.  You can still hear stories of Presley handing out teddy bears to children’s hospitals, performing free concerts, paying off mortgages, and even purchasing Cadillacs for strangers in need of cars. But he didn’t stop there — Elvis even donated his own blood to help patients in need.

A commitment to help

The year was 1959, and Presley was on an intense international high following a string of popular songs. Despite being on top of the world, Presley was silently suffering. His beloved mother, Gladys, had just passed away. Presley now found himself deployed with the U.S. Army in Germany, an ocean away and separated from his family. Despite his personal turmoil, Presley, alongside his fellow soldiers, decided to donate blood on base in Friedburg, Germany. At the young age of 24, he rolled up his uniform’s sleeve and gave the lifesaving gift of blood.

Elvis Presley confirms his blood donor information prior to giving blood. Photo courtesy of the American Red Cross.

Presley’s commitment to helping save patients in need through blood donations did not just stay in Germany. After his return and transition to civilian life, his charitable giving continued. He continued to be a supporter of the American Red Cross and blood donations. To this day, Presley’s blood donor card can still be found at his former home of Graceland in Memphis. Additionally, in 1961, Presley started a tradition of annually sending checks to more than 50 charities, including the Red Cross.

The legacy of giving

Today, the American Red Cross is asking the American public to ‘Rock N Roll Up Your Sleeve’ and give the gift of life through a blood donation. The American Red Cross supplies 40% of the nation’s blood, and the need for blood is constant. Every two seconds, someone in the United States needs blood. Unlike other medical treatments, blood cannot be manufactured in a lab and can only come from the generosity of volunteer blood donors.

Although Elvis Presley left us many years ago, the legacy of his giving lives on. Even with an artist as prolific as Presley, we are still learning new charitable acts that he committed. Although he never knew the patients who received his lifesaving blood, he committed to a routine of scheduled giving and knew that those donations made a difference.

At age 24, Elvis Presley makes his first blood donation to the Red Cross. Photo courtesy of the American Red Cross.

As a thank-you for helping, in honor of the new Baz Luhrmann film, “Elvis,” all who come to give blood in the month of June will be automatically entered for a chance to win a VIP trip to Graceland for two, including round-trip airfare to Memphis; a three-night stay at The Guest House and Elvis Entourage VIP tour, courtesy of Graceland; a custom-wrapped Gibson Epiphone guitar; and more. Additionally, those who come to donate June 1-30 will also receive a $5 e-gift card to a merchant of choice. Terms apply. Visit for details.

To schedule an appointment to donate blood, platelets, or plasma, download the Red Cross Blood Donor App, visit, or call 1-800-CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

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