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Picks and Pans Review: The Colonel

updated 08/04/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/04/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

By Alanna Nash

Critic's Choice

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How did Elvis Presley wind up a druggy hulk who used towels for diapers and believed he could control the weather? Nash's addictively readable bio blames "Colonel" Tom Parker, the manager who controlled Elvis like a pickpocket hypnotist and often took home half of the singer's pay. Drugs numbed Elvis's pain when Parker rejected serious film scripts (like 1976's A Star Is Born) and forced him to do cheesy Vegas shows and movies like Double Trouble, whose director, Norman Taurog, couldn't see well enough to drive. Parker called Elvis "my attraction," comparable to the dancing circus poodles of his native Holland, only more useful in financing Parker's seven-figure gambling habit. But why did he refuse to let Elvis perform abroad (except for a short Canadian tour), spurning a $10 million offer to sing at the Great Pyramid? Nash believes Parker, born Andreas van Kuijk, killed a shopkeeper and fled Holland in 1929, then settled in the U.S. without a passport. Nash has intriguing dirt on Elvis, but Parker was dirtier and meaner—his pre-Elvis Bible-selling scam inspired the movie Paper Moon. Perhaps Nash's detailed murder-mystery theory is the skeleton key to the Colonel's bizarre heart. (Simon & Schuster, $25)

BOTTOM LINE: Riveting rock and roll mystery

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