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.”

Elvis Presley was extremely successful

Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley | RB/Redferns

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. Presley worked on his first record under Sun Studio with Sam Phillips, according to Biography.com.

After that, he started performing, and by the mid-50s he was a success. In 1955, Presley had a contract with RCA Victor (Records), and he became more famous. He would work as a musician and actor with wild success throughout the 50s and 60s. He continued to sing and perform in the 70s as well.

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

Elvis Presley's appearance on 'The Ed Sullivan' show
Elvis Presley’s appearance on ‘The Ed Sullivan’ show on September 9, 1956 | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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“The Ed Sullivan Show” was a hugely popular show back in the day, and people enjoyed watching different entertainment perform, including Presley.

But before Presley appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” negative commentary swirled 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.

Before Presley first appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” Sullivan is said to have admitted he wouldn’t have Presley on the series because he didn’t want his show or himself to be criticized by the press.

However, after Presley’s popular appearance on the “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 to the tune of $50,000, which is the largest amount of money given to an entertainer for a television slot at the time.

But right before the big performance, Sullivan was in a 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 History.com. 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.

On his third appearance, he was only filmed from the waist up

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 effigies of 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 famous 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.