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Elvis’ Generosity

As the years go by, our memories become like a dense forest through which we make our way along familiar, well-trodden paths. Unnoticed smaller paths branch out, often leading to half-forgotten memories. I recently came upon such a path and began thinking about incidents with Elvis about which I’ve rarely spoken, incidents with a common thread: Elvis’ generosity even in seemingly small matters.
Of course Elvis’ generosity is legendary. During his lifetime he gave away houses, cars, motorcycles, jewelry, furs, clothing and money as if it were going out of style. His generosity knew no bounds. Once someone needed a kidney – no problem. Elvis just thrived on giving no matter who or what.
Once he got the impulse to give there was no stopping Elvis. One afternoon on the Paramount lot during filming of “Easy Come, Easy Go,” we were walking towards the soundstage. A salesman rolling a large suitcase filled with an assortment of jewelry yelled out as he ran up to us, “Elvis wait up; I got something you can’t pass up. You gotta see this.”
Out of breath he exclaimed, “Just check this beauty out,” while he opened a drawer pulling out a diamond ring which he handed to Elvis. Elvis admired it, putting it on his finger, and almost immediately told Joe Esposito to give him a check. On the set Elvis proudly showed off his newest acquisition. After lunch, he was standing around, waiting for the cameras to be set up, occasionally looking at the ring and smiling.
David Winters, Elvis’ choreographer, walked over and Elvis showed him his new ring. David’s eyes lit up. “Elvis, man, that’s beautiful; I love your ring.”
Elvis pulled the ring off his finger and handed it to him.
“Try it on,” he said, “and see how it fits.”
David slipped it on his finger. “It fits great.”
Elvis took one look at his radiant face. “It’s yours,” he said, smiling as he turned and walked away; David stood there staring at the ring and looked at Elvis, he was stunned and speechless.
Another example of Elvis’ generosity that most recently came to mind was an event that occurred one late afternoon in 1965. We were in his Dodge motor home, driving through the Arizona desert on Route 66, approaching the sacred Hopi mountains.
Elvis had been at the wheel as usual, until he had a profound vision, an experience that shook him to his core. It was a spiritual jolt and a turning point in his life. After that he was too exhilarated and distracted to drive, so he asked Red West to take the wheel.
Elvis motioned for me to follow him to the bedroom in the back of the vehicle, where we sat for awhile in silence. Then as night began to fall we began talking about what had just occurred as we continued on the road towards Flagstaff.
Eventually, we both nodded off – when we were abruptly awakened several hours later by shouts of “We’re on fire! We’re on fire!”
We snapped to, and Red quickly pulled over to the shoulder of the road and stopped. Jerry Schilling, Red West, Billy Smith, Elvis and I jumped out to see what was happening. The back axles and the undercarriage were aflame. All of us immediately scooped up sand and gravel from the desert with our bare hands and managed to extinguish the fire. The vehicle was a total wreck and wouldn’t start. Luckily, we were only a few miles outside of Needles, California, in the Mohave Desert. The five of us pushed the RV off the road, gathered our suitcases and walked a mile or so where we checked into the first motel on the outskirts of town.
“Let’s just get some vehicles, Larry, and go home,” Elvis said wearily. “Go hire some cars. Here’s my wallet you’re in charge.”
His wallet was crammed with an assortment of credit cards, but no cash; Elvis never carried cash. I started walking in search of a car-rental agency. It was eight or so in the morning, I hadn’t slept, and I needed a shower and shave. I must have looked pretty grubby and disreputable, an assessment confirmed by the wary look on the face of the man behind the counter.
“Yes sir, I’d like to rent two cars. I’m with Elvis Presley. He’s down the road at a motel.”
Thinking it would help, I handed him the wallet. Flipping through the cards, he asked, “What are you telling me? Elvis Presley?”
“Yeah,” I answered.
Flinging the wallet at me, he screamed, “Get the hell outta here!”
As I retreated and headed back to the motel, it occurred to me that the easiest way to get from Needles to Los Angeles would be by cab. When I got back to the room I phoned a local taxi service, and the people there were only too happy to help. Within minutes, two cabs were at the motel, and we were ready to go.
We loaded all the luggage into one cab, then Jerry, Red, Billy, Elvis and I crawled wearily into the second. As we rode down the highway, our young driver couldn’t stop turning his head around every few minutes to stare at Elvis, or look at him in the rear view mirror. That was understandable, but when he hit a cruising speed of ninety miles an hour and still couldn’t keep his eyes off Elvis, I yelled, “Hey, man, slow down! You’re going to kill us. Yes, this is Elvis Presley. Just calm down or I’ll have to take the wheel.”
All the way back our driver was visibly nervous. When we arrived in Bel Air about four hours later, the other guys who’d lost us on the road during the drive were lined up in front of the house, waiting.
While everyone was dealing with the luggage Elvis asked me how much the fare was. I told him a hundred and sixty dollars for both cabs. He then asked how much cash I had on me. I checked my wallet. “Little over five hundred bucks.”
Elvis said, “Hey, these guys probably never even leave Needles, and they sure don’t get customers like us every day. They work hard, and could probably use a break. Just give ‘em what you have there, I’ll pay you back later.”
I may not have told this story much over the years – but I bet those two cab drivers have told it over and over to anyone who would listen.

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Priscilla & Ann Margaret

A few days into production on “Girl Happy,” Ann-Margret came to visit Elvis on the set.  We were filming all night on the back lot of MGM, famous for many classic movies going back to the golden era of Hollywood.  They’d met a year before when she costarred with him in “Viva Las Vegas,” and the attraction between these two sex symbols was instantaneous; Elvis became deeply infatuated with her.  Gossip had it that things between them were serious; Elvis dismissed the stories as studio publicity, but they were true.  Priscilla made her displeasure known to Elvis, and though he pleaded his innocence, she really didn’t buy it.  Neither did anyone else who knew him.

When Ann-Margret walked onto the back lot around eleven o’clock one evening, all eyes were instantly glued to her, including Elvis’ – he lit up like an incandescent light. When Elvis finished shooting his scene, he eagerly walked over to her. They hugged, and then he took her by the hand and motioned me to follow them.  We entered Elvis’ tiny, cramped dressing room trailer with barely enough space for two people, let alone three.   Elvis seated himself at a small table in front of a mirror surrounded by light bulbs so I could do his hair.

Taking care of Elvis’ hair was certainly a different experience for me that night.  As always, my first obligation was to make certain Elvis’ hair looked perfect, camera-ready for his next scene.   But this time I was engrossed in the interchange between Elvis and Ann-Margaret, the room buzzing with electricity and their emotions flying in all directions.  Each time they looked at one another their self-consciousness and magnetic attraction were obvious and transparent.  My main dilemma was to do the task at hand despite the distractions. There I was, standing between them in very tight quarters, brushing Elvis’ hair; with Ann-Margret’s body so close to mine that I could actually feel her breasts on my back.  Talk about a blessing and curse! It was a tough job…but somebody had to do it.

Elvis and Ann-Margret were beautiful together; they shared an energy and enthusiasm for life that made you feel happy for them. Elvis was very fond of her and loved to make her laugh.

They seemed to have all the elements for an enduring relationship, but Elvis confided that she intimidated him.  She had her own very successful career, which she wasn’t about to throw over for anyone, and – more importantly – she was independent and wouldn’t take a submissive role.  Few woman Elvis became involved with had that kind of resolve and sense of self.

Elvis recognized that he’d never exert the control over her that he had then over a young, inexperienced Priscilla.  It inevitably came down to a choice between Priscilla, someone Elvis believed he could sequester a couple of thousand miles away whenever he wanted to enjoy his “freedom,” and Ann-Margret, who challenged him, if only because her life didn’t revolve around his.  It was a challenge he never rose to with any woman.

Several hours after Ann-Margret left the lot, Elvis and I retreated back to his dressing room between scenes. Elvis didn’t waste a minute, plunging right into what was foremost on his mind.  “Lawrence, it’s between Ann and Priscilla.  And what’s really strange is that they look so much alike, almost like sisters.  But to tell you the truth I don’t think things would work out with Ann and me. Two egos like ours, two careers.  There’s bound to be conflicts. I really care for her. But to tell ya the truth, I really don’t think it would be a lasting thing.”

Elvis then explained what he believed was the main obstacle to continuing with Ann. “Women should stay at home and raise a family.  That’s how I was raised.” A small smile crept over Elvis’ face. “I’ll tell you something I learned a long time ago.  There’s more to life than lust.”

In the wilds of Hollywood, Elvis’ attitudes towards women were almost quaint.  He eschewed promiscuity, although he had certainly gone through some wild periods.  “Man, when I learned that I was going into the army I went hog wild. Larry, I had sex with every girl I could find.  I went as far as I could, until I got so exhausted I ended up in the hospital. I guess I needed that experience; it made me realize then that sex without love or affection is a waste.”

“Besides, I’m committed to Priscilla,” he said, “and someday I’ll live up to my promise to her and to her dad.  Priscilla reminds me of my mom. She wants to be a mother and raise children.  She doesn’t want a showbiz career; she just wants to be my wife.”

Elvis seemed very satisfied and content that he had made such an important decision, and a few years later he kept his promise and married Priscilla.  He remained very fond of Ann-Margaret, and their friendship lasted the rest of his life.

A few days into production on “Girl Happy,” Ann-Margret came to visit Elvis on the set.  We were filming all night on the back lot of MGM, famous for many classic movies going back to the golden era of Hollywood.  They’d met a year before when she costarred with him in “Viva Las Vegas,” and the attraction between these two sex symbols was instantaneous; Elvis became deeply infatuated with her.  Gossip had it that things between them were serious; Elvis dismissed the stories as studio publicity, but they were true.  Priscilla made her displeasure known to Elvis, and though he pleaded his innocence, she really didn’t buy it.  Neither did anyone else who knew him.

When Ann-Margret walked onto the back lot around eleven o’clock one evening, all eyes were instantly glued to her, including Elvis’ – he lit up like an incandescent light. When Elvis finished shooting his scene, he eagerly walked over to her. They hugged, and then he took her by the hand and motioned me to follow them.  We entered Elvis’ tiny, cramped dressing room trailer with barely enough space for two people, let alone three.   Elvis seated himself at a small table in front of a mirror surrounded by light bulbs so I could do his hair.

Taking care of Elvis’ hair was certainly a different experience for me that night.  As always, my first obligation was to make certain Elvis’ hair looked perfect, camera-ready for his next scene.   But this time I was engrossed in the interchange between Elvis and Ann-Margaret, the room buzzing with electricity and their emotions flying in all directions.  Each time they looked at one another their self-consciousness and magnetic attraction were obvious and transparent.  My main dilemma was to do the task at hand despite the distractions. There I was, standing between them in very tight quarters, brushing Elvis’ hair; with Ann-Margret’s body so close to mine that I could actually feel her breasts on my back.  Talk about a blessing and curse! It was a tough job…but somebody had to do it.

Elvis and Ann-Margret were beautiful together; they shared an energy and enthusiasm for life that made you feel happy for them. Elvis was very fond of her and loved to make her laugh.

They seemed to have all the elements for an enduring relationship, but Elvis confided that she intimidated him.  She had her own very successful career, which she wasn’t about to throw over for anyone, and – more importantly – she was independent and wouldn’t take a submissive role.  Few woman Elvis became involved with had that kind of resolve and sense of self.

Elvis recognized that he’d never exert the control over her that he had then over a young, inexperienced Priscilla.  It inevitably came down to a choice between Priscilla, someone Elvis believed he could sequester a couple of thousand miles away whenever he wanted to enjoy his “freedom,” and Ann-Margret, who challenged him, if only because her life didn’t revolve around his.  It was a challenge he never rose to with any woman.

Several hours after Ann-Margret left the lot, Elvis and I retreated back to his dressing room between scenes. Elvis didn’t waste a minute, plunging right into what was foremost on his mind.  “Lawrence, it’s between Ann and Priscilla.  And what’s really strange is that they look so much alike, almost like sisters.  But to tell you the truth I don’t think things would work out with Ann and me. Two egos like ours, two careers.  There’s bound to be conflicts. I really care for her. But to tell ya the truth, I really don’t think it would be a lasting thing.”

Elvis then explained what he believed was the main obstacle to continuing with Ann. “Women should stay at home and raise a family.  That’s how I was raised.” A small smile crept over Elvis’ face. “I’ll tell you something I learned a long time ago.  There’s more to life than lust.”

In the wilds of Hollywood, Elvis’ attitudes towards women were almost quaint.  He eschewed promiscuity, although he had certainly gone through some wild periods.  “Man, when I learned that I was going into the army I went hog wild. Larry, I had sex with every girl I could find.  I went as far as I could, until I got so exhausted I ended up in the hospital. I guess I needed that experience; it made me realize then that sex without love or affection is a waste.”

“Besides, I’m committed to Priscilla,” he said, “and someday I’ll live up to my promise to her and to her dad.  Priscilla reminds me of my mom. She wants to be a mother and raise children.  She doesn’t want a showbiz career; she just wants to be my wife.”

Elvis seemed very satisfied and content that he had made such an important decision, and a few years later he kept his promise and married Priscilla.  He remained very fond of Ann-Margaret, and their friendship lasted the rest of his life.

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Torchbearer

It was sometime during our hiatus in June of 1965, at Graceland. The Memphis days were long and humid. In a few weeks we’d be off to Hawaii to make another movie, “Paradise Hawaiian Style.” Graceland from the beginning had been Elvis’ center of gravity. His refuge and sanctuary, the quintessential oasis in the midst of his fishbowl life. He thrived on being there.

On most lazy, skyblue afternoons our pattern was for the two of us to retreat upstairs where I would take care of Elvis’ hair. The ideal setting to relax and talk before our midnight run to the Memphian Theater with everyone to watch movies til the wee hours of the morning. Our days were filled with laughter, excitement and exuberance. Life was radically amazing – could anything be any better than this?

Elvis was always Elvis. A man of many sides and endless depth, always radiating a magnetic force, a soft smoldering sulkiness, raw, vulnerable – a troublemaker.

One afternoon Elvis decided to stop by the office outside in the back of Graceland to visit for a few minutes and say hello.  When we left he grabbed a stack of the fan mail that poured in every day, just before we headed upstairs to his special dressing room down the hall from his bedroom.

I began brushing Elvis’ hair as he read a few letters. As he was reading one particular note from a fan, he shook his head from side to side, “No, this girl has it all wrong.”  A self-deprecating look stole across his face. “I’ve heard all this before, but I wasn’t the one who invented Rock ‘n Roll. No way, no way!”

“Larry,” Elvis began passionately, “let me tell you the real truth that most people have no idea about; how the whole thing really happened.”

Elvis was silent for a moment, as his mind wandered back over the years. He stared into the distance and began to point with his index finger, indicating the stretch of time.

“It all began not too far from where we are right now, in the heart of the deep ol’ South. Man, back in those days the poor ol’ colored slaves were forced to work their asses off.  They had to, or they’d be whipped, tortured or even killed by the sons of bitches in charge.  Those slaves really knew what pain and suffering was, more than most people can ever imagine.  From the time the sun came up til it went down, they worked in the fields picking cotton, or whatever else they had to do. It broke their damn backs and bodies, bending down and working all day long in the hot blistering sun. But it didn’t break their spirit.”

  I was soaking in every word Elvis spoke, his entire body reflecting the deep, overwhelming emotions he was experiencing. His focus momentarily fell to the ground – then his eyes carefully looked into mine.

“And do you know how they survived, Larry, how they got through it?  They sang. It was their music and their faith, that’s how. Slavin’ their lives away they did what came natural to them, they sang. They sang their hearts out, from deep down in their very souls. All day long working in the fields they would all sing out together, makin’ up the words as they went along. And some of those songs from back then are still with us today.

What blows me away is that during all that, they never lost their faith in God. Their faith was something else, and that’s what got them through it all. Man, a lesson for all of us, that’s for sure. What a message!  They brought their music right into their churches, and then white people started copying what they did.  As time went by their music spread outside the churches to become honky-tonk and ragtime in places like New Orleans, and Beale Street right here in Memphis.  Later it became the birth of the blues in St. Louis, Chicago and New York; then it eventually evolved down to our times in the form of rhythm and blues.”

I pretended not to notice as Elvis brushed his hand across his eyes.

“Look, real truth is that I wasn’t the one who invented Rock ‘n Roll. I was just lucky enough to have been in the right place at the right time. All I did was to introduce their music to a white audience. And right there is why I love this country so much. I mean, no matter who you are, or where you came from, or even if all the odds are all against you to making it, you can dream the impossible dream and get the chance to achieve it. That’s what America is all about. Believe me, I know; I’m so damn grateful – because I’m living that dream.”

Larry

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The Mystery of Jesse Garon

The life and death of his stillborn twin brother, Jesse Garon, was a precious mystery to Elvis, an indelible part of his life. But then, Elvis was always intrigued by the mystery that lay at the heart of all existence. When it came to Jesse Garon, he told me that as a child he would talk about him to anyone who would listen. “I have a brother!” he announced proudly, telling everyone how close they were, and how they talked together all the time.  At night as he lay in his bed, in the dark and silence of his room, he would have special conversations with Jesse, and later tell people what his brother had said to him.

I knew Elvis had a stillborn twin brother; my own younger twin sisters had told me after they read a story about him in a movie magazine.  It was only after we met in April of 1964, that I came to realize how deeply Elvis had been affected by this unfulfilled relationship.

“I’ll tell ya Larry, being a twin has always been a mystery for me. I mean, we were in our mother’s womb together, so why was he born dead and not me? He never even got his chance to live. Think about it, why me? Why was I the one that was chosen? An’ I’ve always wondered what would’ve been if he had lived, I really have. These kinds of questions tear my head up. There’s got to be reasons for all this.”

This was our very first conversation. I was a virtual stranger, yet for some reason Elvis felt that he wanted to bare his soul about Jesse Garon.  I learned over the years that this was one aspect of his life he rarely if ever spoke about.  But on this particular afternoon he opened the floodgates freely, revealing something so intimate that it was obvious that he was deeply burdened by the notion that he might have survived at the expense of his twin.

Elvis sat in silence for a moment with his eyes fixed on the ground, then looked up at me. “Larry, listen, I’m going to tell you something, and it might even sound strange, but it’s something I’ve secretly thought about before. Maybe, maybe it was me. Maybe it was something I did, ya know?  Who knows, maybe when we were in the womb together we were fighting like Jacob and his twin like it says in the Bible. Man that story always stuck with me.  Maybe I was like Jacob who tried to stop his brother from being born first.  Hey, I’m just saying…anything’s possible.”

I learned so much about Elvis that first afternoon; his freedom of expression, his willingness to explore, and most of all his vulnerability.   And I’ve always felt that all during his life he reached out for the brother he never had the chance to know; the seed was always there. He called us his “family.” Yet at all times, even when he felt betrayed, he felt a deep concern for the very ones who hurt him most. And in a curious way the guys were a composite of his twin – but never really a replacement.

It wasn’t until 1977, just a few months before Elvis’ death that I heard him bring up Jesse after all those years.   Elvis was so open; he loved to talk about anything under the sun.  From sex, politics or religion, to intimate details about family, friends, wives, girls friends, co-workers and private thoughts and feelings about his career and his own life, nothing was out of bounds.  But I can’t remember his ever really talking about Jesse Garon…not until one day in the spring while we were on tour.  I entered his room while he was still in bed.

“Lawrence”, Elvis declared excitedly, “You won’t believe the dream I just had. Man, it was so real.  An’ I can’t remember dreaming about my brother Jesse Garon since I was a little kid.  But there we were together – on stage.  Seemed like thousands of people in the audience, and they were screaming at us. It was wild!  We were dressed alike, wearing identical white jumpsuits, and we were both playing matching guitars slung around our shoulders. . There were two blue spotlights, one shining on him, one on me.  An’ I kept looking at him, and man, he was the spitting image of me.

I’ll tell you something else Lawrence…” Elvis grinned.  “Jesse had a way better voice than me.”

Birthplace of Elvis

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ELVIS

January 8, 1977.  We were in Palm Springs at Elvis’ house, having a wonderful, carefree time, looking forward to the year ahead.  After I finished doing his hair in the bedroom he put on his black suit – he looked fantastic.  He turned to me and said, “This is my day, Lawrence, my birthday, and I get to do whatever I want.  C’mon man, watch this!”  He had a big smile on his face as he picked up the book The Prophet and a stack of money, motioning for me to follow him to the living room, where everyone was waiting.

“Will all you guys please leave me and the ladies alone; I want to talk to them for a while.”  We all left, leaving our wives or girlfriends with Elvis.  For the next forty-five minutes he read to them several passages from The Prophet. Then he said, “This is my birthday, and what I want most is to give you all a gift.”  As he handed each one a new hundred-dollar bill (a very generous gift in the 70s), he admonished, “Now you have to promise to spend this on yourselves, and I’m havin’ Robinson’s keep their store open late tonight just for you.  No one’s gonna bother you; I’m sending security with you.  So you all go and have fun for me on my birthday.”

So what does the man who has everything want for his birthday?  If he’s Elvis…just the joy of giving to others.

Happy Birthday, Elvis!

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Larry Geller’s Blog2

Yesterday Shira and I drove along the switchback road that climbs through the magnificent northern Arizona scenery from our home in Sedona up to Flagstaff. When we got there we drove for a while on the historic old Route 66 – the route that I traveled between Memphis and Hollywood over a dozen times with Elvis back in the day.

A flood of memories.  Passing by motels where we stayed, now old and rundown – we were even snowed in once for several days.  Driving alongside the railroad tracks.  All those memories receded into the background when I thought of the life-changing experience Elvis had a few miles further along Route 66. I wrote some of this in my book “Leaves of Elvis’ Garden;” here’s more…enjoy.

One spring day in 1965 Elvis and I were upstairs at Graceland getting ready to leave for L.A. to begin production on his next movie.

“Man, I really don’t want to go back to that town,“ Elvis said wearily. “I don’t wanna do another one of those damn films they keep giving me. I wish I could stay here and relax – just read my books and go to the movies, far away from all that craziness.”

His anger and frustration were tempered with resignation. We both knew Elvis had no choice about going to Los Angeles. As usual he had procrastinated, concocting excuses to stay longer in Memphis than we should have stayed, so that by the time we finally hit the road our schedule didn’t allow for stops along the way for anything but gas and fast food.

We drove on through the Arizona desert in silence. Elvis was at the wheel, I was sitting shotgun as his Dodge motor home wound its way along old Route 66. Jerry Schilling, Red West and Billy Smith were sitting at the table behind us talking.

The distant mountains loomed in the fading light. An iridescent blue sky seemed to drape itself over the sacred mountains of the Hopi Indians.

And then it happened. Just before twilight, as we began climbing the mountain roads heading up to Flagstaff, suddenly Elvis gasped and cried out “Whoa” as he sat straight up, tightening his grip on the wheel. I followed his gaze to a solitary white mass suspended in the sky. From the cloud emerged a clear, definitive, recognizable image.

“Do you see what I see?” Elvis asked in a whisper. I looked again. “That looks like Joseph Stalin’s face up there.”  Try as I might to see it any other way, there was no denying that it was Stalin’s face in the cloud.

Before I could answer, the cloud slowly turned in on itself, changing form and dimension until the image faded and gradually disappeared. I turned back to Elvis, still staring into the cloud, his eyes open wide and his face reflecting wonder.

Trying to describe and interpret the essence and meaning of an experience so utterly intimate and mystical, whose inviolable secret was revealed only to Elvis, remains virtually impossible.  But I’ll do my best to convey what happened next.

With one twist of the wheel Elvis quickly swung the vehicle over to the side of the road and brought it to a screeching halt. I’ll never forget that radiant and faraway look in his crystal clear blue eyes as he said in a breaking voice, “Just follow me, Larry!”  He bolted out the door. When I caught up with him we stood for a moment silently in the evening desert breeze. Suddenly Elvis began laughing and crying simultaneously.  Shaken to his very core, he explained that he was mesmerized by that face of Stalin, and couldn’t understand the reason why it appeared. Its image deeply repulsed him, representing everything that he detested.

In a twinkling of an eye that afternoon in the desert something snapped within Elvis – and something else was born, enkindled forever. This indelible moment in time served him from then on as a calendar, a psychic landmark in his search for enlightenment. The event was also a marker for when he embraced his quest for a greater understanding to questions that burned in his belly since childhood. Questions about his stillborn twin brother, religion, the soul, his unparalleled career – his ultimate purpose.

For what seemed like an infinity Elvis and I stood silently, the earth reflecting the blue-tinged twilight. Cars were whizzing by on the highway, too far away to recognize one of the two lone figures standing in the desert as the greatest star in the world. If they only knew what was happening here!

Elvis looked at me with a self-conscious grin. “Can you imagine what the fans would think if they saw me like this?”  “Elvis, they’d only love you more.” “Yeah? Well, I hope that’s true.”

Once back on the bus, Elvis was too exhilarated and distracted to drive and asked Red to take the wheel. He acted as if nothing unusual had occurred; Red nodded but kept staring. As if reading Red’s mind, Elvis added, “And don’t worry about me. I’ve never been better, that’s for sure.”

Elvis motioned for me to follow him to the bedroom in the back of the vehicle, where we sat for a while in silence. Then as night fell we began talking about what had just occurred, as we travelled on Route 66 through Flagstaff. Elvis looked at me seriously. “You know Larry, I don’t believe in God anymore.” After a long pause he began laughing, “I don’t have to believe, because now I know!  God is real, God lives in me, in you and everyone else. God is real, God is love itself. And until you have a direct experience for yourself, the only thing you can do is use your head, think about God, read about it, believe that God exists. Hey, I think that’s what everyone is looking for, an actual, direct experience. Talking about seeing the light, that’s what really happened out there. I saw the light, it shot through me into every atom of my body.”  Elvis was so elated he couldn’t stop describing the experience, what it meant to him and many other ramifications theologically and personally.

Eventually, we both nodded off – we were abruptly awakened several hours later by shouts of “We’re on fire! We’re on fire!”

We snapped to, and Red quickly pulled over to the shoulder of the road and stopped.  Jerry Schilling, Red West, Billy Smith, Elvis and I jumped out to see what was happening. The back axles and the undercarriage were aflame.  All of us immediately scooped up sand and gravel from the desert with our bare hands and managed to extinguish the fire. The vehicle was a total wreck and wouldn’t start.  Luckily, we were only a few miles outside of Needles, California, in the Mohave Desert.  The five of us pushed the RV into town, where we checked into a motel.  “Let’s just get some vehicles, Larry, and go home,” Elvis said wearily.  “Go hire some cars.  Here’s my wallet.”

His wallet was crammed with an assortment of credit cards, but no cash; Elvis never carried cash.  I started walking in search of a car rental agency.  It was eight or so in the morning, I hadn’t slept and I needed a shower and shave. I must have looked pretty disreputable, an assessment confirmed by the wary look on the face of the man behind the counter.  “Yes sir, I’d like to rent two cars.  I’m with Elvis Presley.  He’s down the road at a motel.”  Thinking it would help, I handed him the wallet.  Flipping through the cards, he asked, “What are you telling me? Elvis Presley?”   “Yeah,” I answered.  Flinging the wallet at me, he screamed, “Get the hell outta here!”

As I retreated and headed back to the motel, it occurred to me that the easiest way to get from Needles to Los Angeles would be by cab.  When I got back to the room I phoned a local taxi service, and the people there were only too happy to help.  Within minutes, two cabs were at the motel, and we were ready to go.

We loaded all of the luggage into one cab, then Jerry, Red, Billy, Elvis and I crawled wearily into the second.   As we rode down the highway, our young driver couldn’t stop turning his head around every few minutes to stare at Elvis, or look at him in the rear view mirror.  That was understandable, but when he hit a cruising speed of ninety miles an hour and still couldn’t keep his eyes off Elvis, I yelled, “Hey, man, slow down!  You’re going to kill us.  Yes, this is Elvis Presley.  Just calm down or I’ll have to take the wheel.”

All the way back our driver was visibly nervous. When we arrived in Bel Air about four hours later, the other guys who’d lost us on the road during the drive were lined up in front of the house, waiting.

While everyone was dealing with the luggage Elvis asked me how much the fare was.  I told him a hundred and sixty dollars for both cabs.  He then asked how much cash I had on me.  I checked my wallet. “Little over five hundred bucks.”

Elvis said, “Hey, these guys probably never even leave Needles, and they sure don’t get customers like us every day.  They work hard, and could probably use a break.  Just give ‘em what you have there, I’ll pay you back later.”

In a nutshell, that’s a window into Elvis’ heart and soul. After all he’d been through, a life-altering experience, he always kept his feet on the ground – and thought about others.

I may not have told this story much over the years – but I bet those two cab drivers have told it over and over to anyone who would listen. And if they’re still alive, and by some fluke should ever – which is most unlikely – happen to read this, they’ll now have the real back story.

LarryG_1

Larry Geller’s Blog1

He was one of his dearest and most trusted friends and, in many ways, his spiritual mentor. It was pretty much that way from the moment they met in 1964. One of LA’s premier celebrity hairstylists in the 1960’s, working with the famed Jay Sebring, their clientele read like a Hollywood Who’s Who, with such luminaries as Frank Sinatra, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, Peter Sellers, Steve McQueen, Henry Fonda, Peter Fonda, Robert Wagner, James Garner, Bobby Darin, Sammy David, Jr., Rock Hudson, Roy Orbison, Sam Cooke, Kirk Douglas, Tony Bennett, Jackie Gleason and many, many more.

After styling Elvis’ hair for the first time, instead of rushing off to his next famous client, Larry stayed for three hours as he and Elvis talked about everything from show biz to the nature of life. Larry didn’t realize then how much this day would change two lives – his and Elvis’ – forever.

By the end of the conversation, Larry was no longer just a hairstylist; he and Elvis had begun a close friendship that did not end the day he prepared Elvis’ hair for the funeral in 1977

SOMEDAY

One afternoon at Graceland in 1966, during a hiatus from making movies, I went upstairs as I always did, to take care of Elvis’ hair and talk. I knocked on his bedroom door and he invited me in. Elvis was sitting on the edge of his bed, and from the expression on his face and his body language, I knew immediately something was up.

I asked him if there was something wrong – he handed me a movie magazine. Its bold headline read, “Elvis still in deep grief over his mother’s death,” placed over a teary-eyed Elvis, a picture actually taken from one of his films.

Elvis was visibly upset, shaking his head from side to side. “Can you believe this? Hey, a lot of reporters do their best to do their job and report accurately; I respect that. But a few of them downright lie and just play on people’s emotions. Anything for a buck I guess.”

Elvis then asked me to read aloud the story itself. I’m paraphrasing here, but the gist of the article went like this. ‘Elvis’ family and friends are extremely worried about Elvis. He’s deeply grieving over his mother’s death, and he feels desperate without her. They hear him pacing the floors in the wee hours of the morning, lamenting and weeping over her passing. One insider is worried that he’s so distraught he might want to join her.’

“Grieve! Larry, I hope you never have to go through and grieve like I did. But listen, that was 1958, it was eight years ago. Don’t get me wrong; you can never really get over something like that completely, but I’ve come to terms with her death.

“Man, you can’t believe what I was goin’ through back then. I mean everything was just crashing in on me at once, every dream I ever had. Just when everything was going my way, the Army calls me. My career comes to a screeching halt; all the movies I was starring in, my records, TV, everything. To tell you the truth, I actually considered that maybe, maybe nobody would even remember me after I served my time, that I’d be some kind of flash-in-the-pan. You know, people would say, ‘hey, remember that guy, the one that used to shake his body, what’s his name?’

“Then the first thing they do when I’m inducted is buzz my hair off!” Elvis shook his head incredulously. “Can you imagine that, Larry, my hair? And that picture of me with that silly-ass grin on my face – damn man, I was dying inside. Then, when I’m struggling to deal with everything, then the final blow, my mom suddenly dies! My Mom! My mom was the light of my life, my best friend; I mean, she’s the one I could always go to…man, no matter what. About the only one I really trusted. That’s a blow you can never really get over.

“An’ that’s when my real grieving began. Hey, I bought Graceland for my mom and dad. I bought the pink Cadillac for my mom, an’ jewelry, furs an’ whatever I could, just to make everything up to her for all she had to go through her life…make her happy. Cause she knew what pain, poverty and strugglin’ was all about, she lived through it.

“Grieve? Just put yourself in my shoes. I mean my mom, my career, everything, overnight, just like that. Then they send me half around the world to Germany. I’ll tell ya, I wasn’t sure what the future had in store for me. I’d lay there at night in the dark and say ‘Why me, why me Lord?’ I’ve always believed in God, that’s the way I was raised. An’ I’ll tell you, there were times when I really began to wonder.

“And I’ll tell you this Larry; I didn’t have to go into the army the way all the other guys did. They told me that if I wanted to I could be in a Special Services unit; you know, represent the army and tour the other bases around the world, talk to the guys, maybe entertain and sing. I didn’t even have to think about it. I flat turned their offer down. I didn’t want to be treated special or anything like that; I just wanted to let everyone know that I was just like every other guy.

“So I’d just lay there on my cot, and held everything inside. I couldn’t let the guys see my grieving.”

Elvis became very quiet, lost in his memories. “You know me, Lawrence. I’ve always had an inquisitive mind; I want to know what’s behind everything. I can remember when I was a little kid, I would always be askin’ my mom about my twin brother Jesse, you know, why he never had a chance to life. I can still hear her voice telling me just like it was yesterday, “Honey, God took your little brother back home to heaven ‘cause it was part of his plan. He has a plan for everybody: for your daddy, for me…and for you too, Elvis. Someday I’ll be goin’ back home, and someday Daddy’s gonna go home. And even someday – a long, long time from now – God’s gonna bring you home, too. An’ then we’ll all be together again, all of us back home in heaven.’”

Elvis looked at me intently. He leaned forward and with conviction in his voice, said, “And that’s exactly what I believe Lawrence; we’re all going home…someday.”