When Col. Tom Parker passed away Tuesday at the age of 87, it marked the death of a super-salesman whose one and only product -- Elvis Presley -- became the catalyst for a worldwide cultural revolution.

Parker, a onetime carnival barker, never had a clue about Presley's sociological impact, didn't particularly care for rock-and-roll, and certainly didn't care for the fans. They were just marks.

He couldn't have cared much for Presley, either. When the singer died in August 1977, the first thing Parker told an associate was: "This won't change anything." And even as Presley was undergoing an autopsy in Memphis, Parker was putting the finishing touches on a souvenir merchandise deal, the final chapter in his client's transformation from cultural oddity to commercial commodity.

Parker and Presley represent the convergence of two characters from carnival culture: the poor country boy who grabs the brass ring and the mysterious stranger who fleeces the innocent.

The Colonel was often described as a cross between P.T. Barnum and W.C. Fields; in the King's court, he was combination court jester, Svengali and Robin Hood.

For Parker, success was never measured by creative achievement, only by financial payoff, understandable since the bigger the pot, the bigger his portion. When million-dollar offers would come in for a concert or some other project, Parker would smile and say, "That's plenty for me, but what about my boy?" And he wasn't joking. Everything had its price, including Parker, who offered himself for interviews at $25,000 for small talk, $100,000 for long conversation. Neither situation promised anything resembling truth, of course.

Admittedly, the Colonel was a character -- fat, oblivious to fashion, possessed of a strange, unexplained accent. But he was a cipher, as well. It wasn't until Albert Goldman's 1981 Presley biography that the world learned Col. Tom Parker was really Andres van Kuijk of the Netherlands. By that time, he'd been an illegal alien here for half a century, as well as an inadvertent cultural revolutionary by proxy. And just as Presley's greatest fear was that everything would suddenly disappear, fear of discovery and deportation kept Parker from ever fully enjoying the fruits of his client's labors.

Since Elvis Presley became an international icon, it's odd to fault Parker's efforts on his behalf. The two made unimaginable amounts of money. For Presley, what he received was so much more than he ever expected that it was apparently more than enough. For Parker, what started out as concern for his client's needs was gradually replaced by a fiscal greed that only a Wall Street shark could appreciate. In 1975, when Richard Nixon invited Presley to perform at the White House, Parker turned the offer down, but not before demanding $25,000. He told the White House that Elvis Presley never performed free, but he meant Presley never performed without Parker getting a fee.

But the Colonel was more than a thief of funds. He was also the emasculator of Elvis Presley's art, the defuser of the roiling rock-and-roll passion that marked his work, both live and on record, before Presley went off to serve his Army stint. Peter Guralnick's fine biography, "Last Train to Memphis," ends with Presley heading off to serve in Germany; the Colonel who inhabits that book is almost amusing, but jugularly instinctive, in manipulating the media (television in particular) as Elvis mythology is constructed out of thin air.

It's easy to imagine Guralnick's reluctance to address Presley's post-Army career and impossible to envision him casting Parker as anything but a villain. Presley's voice may not have changed, but he was castrated by Parker-engineered career choices in the '60s. One of the most dynamic performers of all time, one who reveled in audience response, Presley did no concerts between 1961 and 1969.

Though Presley had been defined and delivered to the public by television, Parker kept him off the tube for a decade until his triumphant 1968 special. Even then, Parker had wanted a tux-clad Presley to sing Christmas holiday standards with a string orchestra. In one of his few acts of defiance, Presley opted for tight black leather, rock classics and his old band.

And what was Parker's worst career choice? Trapping Presley in three dozen of the most mediocre films ever attached to one name, most of them filled with horrid assembly-line pop pap (remember "Do the Clambake"?). Meanwhile, Parker reportedly turned down possible Presley leads in the film version of "West Side Story" and the remake of "A Star Is Born" opposite Barbra Streisand (imagine!), as well as the John Voight role in "Midnight Cowboy."

The most famous pre-Presley Parker story originated in his '30s career working with traveling carnivals. Parker would supposedly take a hot plate, put it in a chicken cage and cover it with straw; then, as a recording of Bob Wills and Texas Playboys' "Turkey in the Straw" played, the poor chickens would start high-stepping, perhaps anticipating their inevitable destination in Parker's pot.

There's no reason to believe this story, though it sounds like typical carny deception. It's also easy to imagine Presley as the chicken in a cage of contracts constructed by the wily Parker. It couldn't have helped that the world's biggest star didn't like confrontation, or that he was so isolated in his fame and insecure in his achievement that Parker's most effective threat was that if Elvis didn't follow orders -- Parker's, RCA Records', the film studio's -- he'd lose everything and return to poverty.

According to last year's "The Inner Elvis," written by psychologist Peter Whitmer, Presley's problems with Parker were rooted in his desperate mama's-boy relationship with Gladys Presley. According to Whitmer, Parker was "a perfect psychological amalgam of an idealized mother. . . . After Gladys' death in 1958, Tom Parker became Gladys Presley," with whom he shared such physical attributes as a rotund body and a round face with double chin.

Whitmer also writes that Gladys and the Colonel were both "masters of passive-aggressive manipulation {who} used subtle set-pieces of controlling behavior with which they could coax and entice, rather than shout or push, to make their point. . . . Forever supplicant before those he perceived as authoritarian, in this regard Elvis was like a weather vane in a strong wind."

And Tom Parker was a hurricane, one who first touched down on American shores in Hoboken, N.J., in 1927, after having stowed away on a ship. Soon after, Andres Cornelius van Kuijk became Thomas Parker and joined the Army ("Colonel" was an honorary title bestowed many years later by Louisiana Gov. Jimmie Davis, writer and first singer of "You Are My Sunshine").

After the Army, Parker gravitated to Florida, America's circus capital, and began honing the skills that would serve him so well with Presley. For a while he was an advance man for a traveling circus, slipping into a town to slap up posters, goad the local media and generally stir things up. It was a process he never abandoned, and sometimes you could find traces of that, as when Parker hired a troupe of midgets to parade around Los Angeles, provoking boat loads of copy about the Elvis Presley Midget Fan Club. Even at the height of Presley's fame, Parker himself would sometimes hawk programs, photos and buttons to fans waiting to get into a venue.

That aggressive attitude was a metaphor for the Colonel's stance after Aug. 15, 1955, when Presley signed a usurious contract naming Parker his "sole and exclusive adviser, personal representative and manager." The standard manager's fee then (as now) was 10 to 15 percent, but Parker started at 25 percent. In 1966, he jacked it up to an unheard-of 50 percent.

Presley, ever isolated in Graceland, didn't seem to care about messing with what on the surface remained a winning formula. Taking care of business? He left that to Parker, who not only didn't, but seemed to betray his loyalties when he did. In the '60s, when Presley was the world's highest-paid entertainer and Hollywood's highest-paid actor, Parker was the world's highest-paid manager. And since he demanded additional payments as adviser, consultant, technical director and so on, he actually made more in commissions and consultancies on some films than Presley did.

Parker made a lot of bad deals as well, sometimes by making no deal at all. For instance, Presley was virtually the only American pop star of the '50s and '60s never to tour overseas, though there were myriad opportunities and exorbitant offers. The reason? Parker was afraid that if he tried to get a passport, immigration authorities would find out he had entered the United States illegally and send him back to Holland. And the Colonel was so paranoid about losing control over Presley that he never would let Presley tour without him.

His worst trespasses, however, came in his dealings with RCA Records. Parker never pressed for a good royalty rate, even after Presley became the label's best-selling act. And in 1973, he sold the masters for all of Presley's recordings to RCA for $5.4 million. Not only was that a fraction of their worth; after Parker's cut and taxes, Presley was left with $1.35 million, most of that going to Priscilla Presley in a divorce settlement. With various ancillaries, Parker actually made $1.5 million more than Presley on the deal, which reportedly cost the Presley estate more than $300 million in royalties on sales of his albums following his death four years later.

About the same time as the RCA deal, Parker formed Boxcar Enterprises to handle Elvis merchandising, with Presley getting only 15 percent.

Eventually, of course, the dancing chickens came home to roost. During an estate hearing in 1980, an alert Memphis judge questioned Parker's 50-percent commission as well as other elements of his contract and appointed a lawyer to represent and defend the interests of Lisa Marie Presley, then 13. The court subsequently declared Parker "guilty of self-dealing and overreaching" and said he had "handled affairs not in Elvis's but his own interest." Calling Elvis "naive, shy and unassertive" and Parker "aggressive, shrewd and tough," it closed the book on any further dealings between him and the estate.

After being exposed in Goldman's Presley book and sued by the Presley estate, the Colonel proved wily as ever. He filed legal papers suggesting that since he'd served in the U.S. Army without permission from the Dutch government, he had automatically forfeited his citizenship there. Since he had never applied for U.S. citizenship, he was essentially a man without a country and no one had jurisdiction over him. Such tactics delayed resolution so long that the Presley estate finally settled with Parker, and he received a $2 million settlement from RCA Records. That was the last money he made from Elvis.

Though Elvis Presley reportedly earned as much as $1 billion in his lifetime, his estate was valued at only $7 million at his death. Thanks to deft marketing and fans' undying devotion, Elvis Presley is once again a $100 million-a-year industry. Over the past few years, that must have bugged Col. Tom Parker no end. After all, there was no percentage in it for him. CAPTION: His stranglehold on Elvis Presley's career earned Col. Tom Parker a pot of money but ruined one of the century's greatest acts. CAPTION: The Colonel and the King in 1957: As Presley's career took off, Parker was controlling the trajectory.