THE LAUGHTER -
Elvis was a rarity, a man as golden as our dreams of him. Surely there were the human faults woven into the fabric of his being, but this only induced a greater respect from those who loved him; that he was able to supersede the many temptations imposed upon his lesser nature and be consistently a man of great personal quality. His art was indeed masterful, but it was secondary to the entity he was, to the growth of his cosmic stature and loving character. For a lonely man, and there can be no doubt but that he was lonely; his laughter is legendary. He spoke a music to the soul, often transcending reason to bring pure inviolate laughter into the air and into our hearts. As I think back upon the times I laughed with him (you never laughed at Elvis, but always with him), I can recall few comments which induced his laughter and ours that would be found especially mirthful if presented by anyone else, and yet Elvis' delivery saturated his words with a wise-silliness that was usually devastating to the funny bone.
Sometimes no words were necessary for him to communicate comedy. I can remember his stooping from the edge of the stage to kiss me and suddenly finding himself the object of a tug of war. A woman on my left had grabbed the right end of his scarf in a simultaneous surge with the girl on my right, who clutched the left end of the same scarf. The result was a siege of choking Elvis as one woman pulled the scarf her way and the other yanked her end in the opposite direction. Elvis, with his neck in the twisted noose, was being jostled back and forth. He should have been in a panic. I was only inches from his face and could see a distinct red coloration rising from his neck up. Instead, he put on a show of comic expression (while looking right into my eyes) that was priceless. He gave a few futile gestures of attempted embrace toward me, and I did the same in mock gesture. Just as he seemed to reach the point of suffocation, with his perfect sense of timing he made one slight, quick move which I could not even describe, and he was free of the scarf. Houdini could not have mastered a better escape. He then gave me a brief kiss and was in flight once again to the opposite side of the stage.
HIS INNER QUEST -
Little is known publicly about Elvis' more serious nature, which was something I was privileged to glimpse because of our mutual interest in spiritual-metaphysics. As a metaphysician and writer, I was able to hand Elvis on stage various pieces of my (written) work through the years. He always responded hungrily and began to recognize me, riveting his eyes to what I gave him. I was encouraged to continue this offering by several people who knew him personally and were aware of his serious interest in spiritual-metaphysics.
It was in 1972 that I first became aware of the immense suppression of Elvis' personal expression and interests. Through a mutual friend, I was to be taken to Elvis' suite, high in the regal chambers of the Vegas Hilton. Permission was at first granted, but then quickly rescinded when my friend revealed to the one in charge, the nature of my work. The reply from this man was, "Oh no, we don't want to get him off on that again!" Later, my friend mentioned to Elvis a book which I had written and recently given to him. She asked if he had read it yet. He responded with a burst of enthusiasm, saying, "Oh, let me explain it to you!" He was at that point immediately and deliberately interrupted by one of his people, guiding him quickly away from the subject. It is not so much that Elvis surrendered to constraint, but that it was surreptitiously imposed upon him. So much was kept from him, and often he was blatantly mis-informed. Many around him depended upon his conformity to the status quo. Elvis was a man with an all-consuming love of people. He was not at heart an isolationist as some would have us believe. He cherished the stolen moments with fans. He relished in the brief walks from his suite in the Las Vegas Hilton to the backstage of the showroom. During this short journey, employees of the hotel would gather along the hallway to touch his extended hands, look into his eyes and to have a momentary humorous exchange with him. His hallway encounters quickly became legendary among the Hilton staff until it received the attention of Elvis' management. Promptly a bulletin was posted in the guard room (what my friend who worked in the Hilton called it - probably a security office) that no persons would be allowed to congregate in the doorways opening to the now-famous 'Elvis hall' during his walk to and from the stage. Several nights passed. Elvis strode the corridors in silence with no one there to greet him. After a short time, he became suspicious. When he questioned those around him, no one would tell him about the bulletin. Finally, he took matters into his own hands and sneaked into the security office by himself. He found the memo containing the order to the staff. According to one present, he was quite upset when he waved the memo in the faces of certain people, saying "No wonder they aren't there anymore, and I thought they just didn't want to see me!" The order was withdrawn and the next night the employees of the hotel were present to greet him again as he beamed delightedly.
The things Elvis was not permitted bordered on the ridiculous. In 1970 he wanted a picture taken of himself on stage when he sang 'You've Lost That Loving Feeling', just as he turned to face the audience wearing a terrible-looking gorilla mask (a joke he was into at the time - I remember it well). He was told to forget it. Elvis pounded his fist on a table in frustration and stalked from the room. Another time he desperately wanted his new karate insignia sown on his suit before the night's performance so that he could show it to the fans. Amazingly, no one would take it to the tailor for him and so he finally climbed into a Cadillac (several of his people rushed to accompany him at the last minute) and astonished a Las Vegas tailor as he walked into the shop carrying the insignia and suit. Imagine the pressures he had to contend with in day to day struggles for his own identity. There are those who say that Elvis was like a helpless infant. The helplessness he experienced did not come from his lack of desire to do for himself, but from his 'keepers', who imposed their dictates upon him.
TENDER MERCIES -
The greatest beauty of the man was his ability to show the same respect and love to a sixteen year old girl anxiously clutching his hand until his fingers bled, as he did the President of the United States by hugging him and not deserting his friendship simply because it was no longer acceptable to be friends with Richard Nixon. His comments to those who adored him are touching and to the point. One girl was cringing under his massive shadow, afraid to reach out to him but wanting desperately to be able to do so. On her dress was pinned a large button which read, "I LOVE ELVIS'. In the chaos near the stage, she could easily have been overlooked. Elvis came to her instantly. He knelt down to the girl and questioned huskily, "Do you really love me, Baby?" He rewarded her affirmative nod with a gentle hug and kiss. The reaction he received from men and children was equal to the female response in depth and intensity. Viewing Elvis' Rodeo performance at the Houston Astrodome in 1970, I witnessed a cowboy who had obviously come only to see the cows, sitting in disgust as women around him gushed about Elvis. However, when the little red car drove out into the arena with Elvis standing up in the seat, all in white, and even from a distance his eyes shining like two sapphires, the cowpoke took his cigar from his mouth, leaned forward in his seat, and said, "Wow!".
I have seen small children (both girls and boys) with their eyes glistening in tears as they sat reverent in Elvis' presence, their attention on him never straying throughout the show. I remember one little girl about four, looking much like Lisa did at that time, who was not quite so awed, but very aware of Elvis. All lace and pigtails, she sat by the edge of the stage with her parents. Her mother primed her in anticipation of the hoped-for encounter with the star. "Now when he comes to kiss the girls by the stage," the woman coached her daughter, "you walk over to him." The little angel responded by opening her cupid mouth and saying with wizened authority, "No, let him come to me!", and then after further consideration, "And when he does, we will just eat him up!" With this delicious thought she rubbed her small hands together and a gleam shown from beneath her long, seductive lashes. By now, people were turning in their seats in rapt attention, listening to the miniature oracle.
During the show when Elvis sauntered to the lip of the stage, there stood the baby doll, just within the veil of theater lights. A ruffled vision of femininity, she raised her hand to hail him, curling her chubby fingers in a coy gesture, and with the sweetest tease of a voice, purred, "E-L-V-I-S!" The kingly man on the stage glanced up to see the creamiest of cheesecakes beckoning to him. He melted on the spot, swinging over to her with the largest, tenderest grin I had ever seen grace his expressive face. They embraced in a flurry of childlike hugs and sloppy baby kisses. I was impressed at the magnitude of his oneness with this tyke. In an instant he had become a child as well, identically mirroring her demonstrations of affection.. He was not a man patronizingly kissing a four year old girl, but one of two very wise and beautiful babies loving each other. He instinctively knew exactly where she was coming from, and she, in turn, was not at all surprised that he did. This young one knew all along that she needed no coaching to communicate with 'her' Elvis. In moments like these, I saw within Elvis the 'infant' charms. Nothing less than purity of heart.
TROUBLED WATERS -
For some reason, few people 'in the know' speak or write publicly of Elvis' serious illnesses that necessitated him taking so much medication in the last years of his life. Fortunately, some have come forward concerning this, such as Kathy Westmoreland, Charlie Hodge, Larry Geller and Wanda June Hill. In Las Vegas in 1974, I was told by a friend who worked at the hotel and knew Elvis, that the entertainer was constantly being harassed by those in charge to 'take his medicine' and when he rebelled, the use of force upon him took place. Both Ed Parker and Wanda Hill indicated Elvis was often coerced into taking medication he did not want, and sometimes he was slipped drugs without his knowledge or consent.
In 1979 a French publication, the 'Cine-Revue', featured an article by a J.V. Cotton. In it, Cotton stated that he was made privy to the secret autopsy report on Elvis signed by Memphis' highest authorities. Cotton's medical knowledge of what he claims to have read on that certificate is quite detailed. He states that the cause of death written on Elvis' autopsy report was 'ERYTHEMATOUS LUPUS', a rare, painful and sometimes deadly disease. While no proof was given as to the authenticity of Mr. Cotton's claim, it should be noted here that Wanda June Hill has told me Elvis confided to her he had this disease, telling her it was as a result of a genetic liver ailment. Kathy Westmoreland stated in her book, 'Elvis and Kathy', that Elvis told her he had a genetic disease which led to cancer.
Elvis was a man of razor-sharp intellect, which in its finely tuned precision deflated the grand brandishing of intellectualism, perceiving instinctively the simple truth. While he was capable of complexity, it existed only to tantalize, to invite the beholder to draw closer to the flame, all the while protecting his subtle nature from the sting of interlopers by constantly introducing new conduits of energy, of emotion, of suggestion to the engrossed observer. Veiled beneath the phenomena of Elvis was the inexhaustible, simple truth, too stubbornly rooted in Spirit to give way to the world around him. All of these ambiguities were exemplified in his performance, in the spine of his music. Perhaps he trusted too much that those near him could cope with the brightness of purity he understood. He loved deeply - his fans, his family and his friends. He even loved those who only touched his life momentarily, such as the cleaning lady he gifted with an expensive car. He trusted that he would be accepted in love, that his confidences would not be violated by those chosen few, nor distorted out of all reason by them. To Elvis silence was a golden word, free of conditions and ultimatums.
Not long before his death, someone was speaking with Elvis' father, Vernon. Suddenly Elvis walked past the two men in an apparent hurry. The elder Presley looked up and called with fatherly sternness, "Elvis, come here, son." Elvis abruptly turned from his course, obediently walked to his father' side and replied in a respectful voice, "Yes Sir?" This is how it was with Elvis and his Heavenly Father. When He summoned him in any moment, Elvis Aaron heard His voice through the clash of conflicting words that were constantly flung about him. He always turned, and came to his Father's side. It is difficult for us to believe that a man such as this could be any less than immortal. Elvis' conviction in the eternality of the soul surely brought him that immortality. Let us rejoice that he has become a part of the pure essence he knew to be, somewhere away from the crushing world of Elvis Presley. He is, at last, an Unchained Melody.