It's every Elvis fan's dream to visit Graceland some day, and I was certainly no exception. In 1989, I had the opportunity to visit the home of Elvis with my manager during "Elvis Week," in Memphis. I was a little surprised to see how small Graceland actually was, expecting to see a much larger mansion. But in reality, the grounds of Graceland were much more impressive than the house itself, which most people would describe as being quite modest. But just being in the actual place where Elvis had lived and played was an experience everyone should have at least once. He and his mother and father are buried in the yard, and yes, the middle name on his gravestone was actually misspelled by the stone carver, "Aaron," instead of "Aron," the way the Elvis' father Vernon had originally spelled it.
It was at Graceland that I had the pleasure of meeting Nancy Rooks, Elvis' second live-in housekeeper and personal cook following the death of his original employee, Mary Jenkins, who retired after 14-years of loyal service. She shared an interesting story with me about her first day working in the home of "The King." Elvis called her into the kitchen to greet her personally, and he had only one request of her. "Nancy, this is what I want you to cook for my supper, every night… meat loaf with country gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans, and a glass of full of ice, with a Pepsi on the side. Don't pour the Pepsi, and don't change the menu unless I tell you to."
"Well," she told me, "this had to be the easiest meal in history to prepare," she said, "because he didn't ask me to change it FOR ONE ENTIRE YEAR." According to her, Elvis was, "a little bit obsessive." But one day Elvis suddenly wanted "a little change of pace" for dinner, so he told Joe [Esposito] to "fire up the Lisa Marie," his private Boeing 727, "and announced. "we're going on a little trip." Then he asked Joe to find the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the entire country, no matter where or how far. Joe called everywhere, and managed to find a place that was reputed to have the best P&J in town, in Denver, Colorado .
So, as promised, Joe had the airplane fuelled up, and both Joe, Red, and Elvis took off that night for Denver… and that famous peanut butter & jelly sandwich. When they arrived at the little diner, the waitress recognized Elvis immediately, even without his jumpsuit and jewelry. When she approached him with a menu, she asked Elvis in a hushed voice, "Are you HIM ??" When he politely answered, "No, ma'am," the waitress, believing that Elvis would never eat at such a place anyway, simply took his order. Little did she know who she had just served! The sandwich cost two dollars, and the Pepsi fifty cents, and so his entire bill came to $7,002.50. $2.50. for the food, and seven thousand dollars for the gas. Welcome to the wild, wonderful world of The King.
When Elvis' original long time hairdresser couldn't show up one day, Elvis was left without anyone to care for his famous hair. That’s when he summoned a young man by the name of Larry Geller to “temporarily” fill in, all the way from his exclusive salon in Beverly Hills. Larry told me that when he arrived at Graceland, Elvis greeted him with a cheery, “So what are you into, Larry??” When Geller told him about his interest in spiritual matters and his search for deeper meaning in life, Elvis responded immediately. Evidently he was hungry for spiritual truth too, having long ago been disillusioned with what he called, "gospel pastors preaching about nothing but Hell and Brimstone." So when Elvis met Larry, he met a kindred soul.
After getting his first haircut with Geller, Elvis suddenly announced: "How would you like to work for me, from now on??" Larry could hardly believe his good fortune, and happily accepted his offer, relocating from LA to live in Graceland for good. Larry always felt that Elvis’ guys, the so-called "Memphis Mafia," didn't quite like or trust this newcomer from the West Coast, and more than likely disapproved of Geller's increasing importance in Elvis' life.
“But Elvis was hungry for spiritual meaning," according to Geller, "soaking up every bit of knowledge I gave him like a sponge." Elvis never had a college education, and to make up for it, he read everything he could get his hands on. The very first book Larry shared with Elvis was called, "The Prophet," by Kahlil Gibran, which became his favorite of the many books Geller loaned him to read. They became close friends and confidantes until Elvis’ death in 1972. While Larry was packing to meet Elvis for his next concert in Portland, Maine, he suddenly received a phone call from Joe. His message was short, and sweet: “Elvis is dead." Larry still has the round trip ticket that he never used.
I was fortunate enough to have met Larry in Los Angeles, and he was really an incredible guy. I met him after Denese sent him my audition tape, hoping to arrange an appointment to be the speaking voice of Elvis for an audio book based on his best-selling biography. Evidently, hundreds of ETAs sent him their tapes for a chance at the plum role, but my acting experience was about to pay off. When Joe Esposito heard my tape, he actually thought it was Elvis himself, and I actually had to prove it was me by calling him directly at Graceland, and performing it for him live, right over the phone. When Elvis was about to leave for the US Army in 1958, he gave a farewell press conference to say goodbye to his many fans before leaving for boot camp, and I simply used his speech from that radio interview as the basis for my entire audition tape. After Joe listened to my reading carefully, he took a moment, then quietly said to me: “The last time I heard that voice was in 1958." He hired me right on the spot.
After getting to know Larry better, I learned a very interesting story from him that might explain why some people still believe that Elvis is actually still alive. So, to all the conspiracy theorists who believe that JFK, Bruce Lee, Jim Morrison, and Elvis Presley are all still alive, let me tell you what Larry had personally shared with me:
“I was actually there the day Elvis died. After the coroner quickly autopsied his body, they laid him in a heavy copper casket that Joe had purchased at Vernon’s request. The sheer weight of it led to the rumor that Elvis' body was simply a wax dummy, and the heavy weight came from an air conditioning unit hidden inside the casket. This is a total myth. The family wanted an open casket so all of Elvis' many friends and fans could see him laying in state at Graceland, but by that time his face was quite distorted after he had lain on the carpet of his bathroom for many hours, giving the impression that it wasn’t actually Elvis.”
Then Larry continued, "I was shocked to notice that Elvis' gray hair was beginning to grow in by about a half and inch, and was quite visible. Elvis was totally gray by then, and he used Lady Clairol hair dye to color to cover it.” Larry often told Elvis to just let his gray hair grow in, naturally. "Just imagine how you would look with your silver hair up there on the stage… you’d look incredible! The fact is, Elvis, your fans would love you if you even if you were bald.”
But Larry realized that Elvis wouldn’t want to be seen like this, even in death. Many of his insecurities were created by The Colonel himself, who didn't want Elvis to do anything that would change his image. So with only 45-minutes left to accomplish the task before they opened the front door of Graceland—and with Elvis still lying in the casket—Larry had only moments to make him look presentable, the way he would have wanted to be remembered. “Since I didn't have the time to color his hair properly,” I had to complete the job by making do with what I had… a tiny mascara brush that I had borrowed from a woman at the house. After the sad and difficult job was done,” Larry recalled, “I had barely finished touching up his hairline when a huge line of fans began to enter the foyer where Elvis lay.“ They came by the thousands to pay their respects, shocked and saddened, many crying. After Larry had personally worked on Elvis that mournful day, he knew beyond any question or doubt that The King of Rock ’n’ Roll had indeed passed away, at the age of only 41.
In Geller's best-selling book, "If I Can Dream," Larry went on to share another little known aspect of Elvis’ personal life with me that I thought was quite interesting. Larry told me that Elvis had always suffered from what is called, “Survivor’s Guilt," the terrible feeling shared by many twins that when one of them dies, the survivor may have had something to do with it, like accidentally suffocating their twin while still in their mother’s womb. “Of course it isn't true, but many twins actually believe that,” Geller explained. He told me that Elvis often fantasized what would have happened if Jesse Garon had lived, and BOTH of them had become stars. He even imagined himself with him on stage, both wearing matching white jumpsuits, performing together. "And guess what, Larry?” Elvis confided. "He was a whole lot better than me."