Larry Geller interview - Pt.1

Larry Geller, one of Elvis' closest friends, talks in depth with EIN

Elvis' spiritual side is an often overlooked part of his life and psyche. Larry Geller was a good friend to Elvis who spent years by his side and was there at the very end.

Larry has some fascinating and insightful stories to tell and EIN's Piers Beagley was lucky enough spend a couple of hours talking to him in his LA home.

Because of the length of the interview it has been divided into two sections.

In Part 1 Larry talks about The Sixties, and in part 2 The Final Years.


EIN - It's great to meet you Larry and I have so many questions that I don't know where to start. Nowadays you like to be described as 'Elvis' Spiritual Mentor', whereas before you were often described as his Spiritual Advisor.

(Right: Larry Geller & Piers, 2002)

 

LG - That's something publishers do, I've never billed myself that way. I was Elvis' personal hair stylist, good friend, confidant and we were like spiritual brothers together. I mean the very first night we met really altered both of our lives.

 

EIN - When did you meet Elvis for the first time?

LG - The first time I really met Elvis was as a little kid at a concert at an L.A. Pan Pacific Auditorium concert. However 8 years later I was cutting the hair of Johnny Rivers when my phone rings and it is a person who worked for Elvis by the name of Alan Fortas. Alan says, "Elvis would love you to come to the house and cut his hair would you like to come up?" So I say "Great". At the time I was working a lot of luminaries in Hollywood like Peter Sellers, Sam Cooke, Steve McQueen & others. But when I heard that I was going to do Elvis' hair I got a little bit nervous!

EIN - How did Elvis end up getting your number in the first place, wasn't Sal Orfice his hairdresser at the time?

LG - You're right. Sal was doing Elvis' hair at the time but he just didn't like the travelling & being subservient to Elvis and so it was his wife, Marilyn, who suggested that I could take over. At that point I was doing very well, with my job. I was only 24 yet it was no big deal if we went over to Frank Sinatra's house for instance! But the thought of meeting Elvis, that was 'over-the-top' for me. He was The Man, he was The King, he was a legend! So I drove up to Bel-Air & the Perugia Way house and you could tell which one it was because there were tons of people outside!

As I drove through the gates, girls were screaming "Tell Elvis I'm here & Tell Elvis I Love him" and I'm thinking "Wow, this is something else"! I went into the house and Elvis walks up to me and says, "Hi, I'm Elvis Presley" and I put my hand out and say, 'Hi, I'm Larry Geller". Elvis was about 5ft 11 tall and I'm 6ft 2 and I have this deja-vu of 8 years earlier when I was the kid looking up at this same man when I saw him in the car park. I shook his hand and he says, "Let's go into the bathroom, you can do my hair and we can talk".

We walk into his bathroom and I expected to see all the Hollywood trappings of salon chairs and everything else but there's nothing! Elvis says "C'mon man, we'll do it right here" and just puts his head in the basin! I start to shampoo his hair and as I'm rinsing the suds off his hair he rears his head up and starts shaking. Water is flying & splattering everywhere, over me, over him. He looks at me with that Elvis smile, that grin, and he says. "Hey man, what the hell! At least it's clean!" When he said that I thought what a down to earth guy Elvis was. I just knew right away that he was real, he wasn't fake.

EIN - So how did Elvis find out about your interests? Did he ask you?

LG - Well it took about 45 minutes to finish his hair and the whole time Elvis didn't say a word, but his eyes would follow every move I made. I was working with people like Warren Beatty & Paul Newman and the most handsome guys of the movies but I can tell you no one looked like Elvis Presley.

Elvis eclipsed them all! He had the face, the voice, the career, the fans, the fame, the money and he had the hair! His hair was unbelievable to work on. Once I'd finished and sprayed it I asked him, "So, what do you think Elvis?" Elvis looks and says, "Yeah, yeah great but I want to ask you a question Larry. What are you really in to? What are you really all about?" I thought to myself, 'Wow, this guy didn't say a word and now he's getting really personal'.

So I tell him the truth about my interests and this was way before The Beatles explosion and the Maharishi stuff became popular. So I told him how I worked as a hairdresser as a living but that more importantly was my search for the truth, for the purpose of life, for God. I said, "I know you're Elvis Presley and the biggest star in the world and what I'm saying probably sounds very corny to you" But Elvis replies, "No, wait a minute. Larry you have no idea how I need to hear what you have to say. Please keep on talking."

So I tell him about my mediation, yoga, my spiritual books, being vegetarian and everything. Right away he wanted to know about the soul, Do we have a soul?, Where do we come from?, Do we survive this life?.. all these things just emerged into this conversation.

EIN - And during all this you are still in Elvis' bathroom?

LG - Well before I know it, it is an hour later and Elvis is talking to me and I look in the mirror and he has tears rolling down his cheeks. He's talking about his Mother and how poor they were and how she slaved her life away. How they didn't have running water in the house, but a well out the back. He talked about his still-born brother Jesse and about growing up in the church. We got into some major, major stuff and we had been talking about 3 hours.

All of a sudden there was a knock at the door and this is so ironic that I'll never forget it. One of the guys said, "Hey boss, you all right in there?" Elvis replies, "Sure man, of course I'm all right. What the hell do you think is going to happen to me in my own bathroom?" Of course that was where it all ended, so how ironic is that?

EIN - At that time weren't you also offered a full time job with Peter Sellers?

LG - You are right. Two weeks earlier Peter Sellers had asked me to go back to England with him and work him on his new film. It was a change of country and although I did like Peter, it was a long way to go.

So I said I would have to think about it. But when Elvis said to me, "Go back to your shop. Tell them you quit and come and work for me full-time. What do you think?" I didn't have to wait a nano-second, I just said, "Yes." It was a situation that 'clicked' and I knew that it was right.

EIN - Did you feel the same about any other celebrity who you worked for?

LG - You know I'd been cutting celebrities' hair everyday but the only other one I had connected with spiritually was Sam Cooke. Sam was a very down-to-earth guy, very sensitive. He had lost his son. His son had died and he was going through a lot. And he was a major star. He was setting music on fire; he was probably the biggest black artist of that time. I actually gave him some books on yoga too.

EIN - So after saying 'Yes' to Elvis, did you start working for him on 'Roustabout' immediately?

LG - Elvis told me to be at Paramount Studios the next day at 8 o'clock. So the next day I went down to Paramount and did his hair. It was so incredible because at the end of the day we all walked out to where the cars were parked and Elvis was sitting in his Rolls Royce he just bought. He said to me, "Hey Larry I just got this Rolls do you want to borrow it tonight? Come over to the house & pick it up and take your wife out & go for a ride!" Just like that! But, you know, I felt a little funny so I said, "No that's ok Elvis". I just couldn't believe his generosity, but that was Elvis!

EIN - He just loved to give, didn't he?

LG - If you met Elvis tonight he would have given you a watch or bracelet or something. That's the way he was, just a most extraordinary, giving person. He genuinely loved making people happy and sharing.

EIN - Have you read the new Alanna Nash book about The Colonel? Did you suspect this stuff all along?

LG - You must read the new book, it will open your eyes. It is very truthful. I knew about The Colonel and the type of character he was and how bombastic he was. He was a real con man who used power to get what he wanted. He had iced water running through his veins. It's a great book but a lot of it is no revelation to me. I gave the author Alana Nash all the information I knew. She's a true journalist.

In the last couple of years I remember Elvis saying, "I want to go to Europe & tour and see the world. I've got fans in Europe, in Germany, in Japan. The Beatles come here, the Stones come here. What about me?" He even said to me that he thought there was something fishy going on, but he couldn't put his finger on it. Elvis said that whenever he asked what was happening, the Colonel would say that he was working on it. But now we know!

EIN - But did you get on well with The Colonel in the beginning because you were one of the few people inducted into Col Parker's crazy 'Snowman's league'?

LG - We got on together very well to begin with. But I knew that everything was to his agenda. He would come on the set occasionally but his contact with Elvis was minimal. He came to the set, talked with Elvis for maybe 3 or 4 minutes and that would be it. He did his thing and he knew how to manipulate people. He arrives and you'd see the body language of all the guys. They would come to attention it would be, "Yes Sir Colonel! Yes Sir." He'd say, "Is there a chair for the Colonel, and bring one for Larry." It made me very uncomfortable but he would separate me from the others and he'd be 'working it'. I felt very uncomfortable around him and then a couple of years later it all came down.

EIN - You were there for some extraordinarily important dates. For instance the mid-sixties when Elvis must have needed something apart from his bad movies. And you brought to him some spiritual interest.

LG - You know every night Elvis and I would spend a couple of hours together alone talking and this went on for years. Even Priscilla in her book points out how we would run off. She was jealous as neither she, nor the guys, knew what we'd talk about.

EIN - How is your relationship when you see Priscilla now?

LG - I have run into her a few times and it's very 'surface' and we hug and we do the "Hi, How are you?" but we're not buddies you know! I found out recently that she's doing some wonderful charity work which is great so, 'God Bless her'.

EIN - One thing I never understood was how Elvis worked in his meditation and going to the Self Realisation Fellowship within his movie schedule. Did he go there when there were breaks between the films or did he come home every night and say, "Larry, this movie is a pile of shit. Let's go meditate!"

LG - (Laughing) We'd be out here in Hollywood for pre production for a week or two before shooting started. So we'd go out to visit Daya Mata at 10 o'clock at night. Perhaps we'd go on a Sunday or during the week to the Self-Realisation Park out at the beach. It would be no problem and no one would ever hassle him. They respected the place and the spiritual environment. That's where his design of the Graceland Meditation Garden came from. Elvis and I designed the whole thing, along with Marty Lacker. By the way, in the final years he meditated every night and before each show I gave him a little spiritual healing.

(Right: Elvis studying the competition!)

 

EIN - Another important event was Aug 27th 1965 when The Beatles came over. What can you tell me about that night?

LG - The Colonel had set up the meeting between Elvis and The Beatles. Beforehand Elvis & I were in the bathroom and I was doing his hair. Elvis was very quiet & drumming his fingers on the ledge. He looked at me and said, "Man, I know what those guys are going through. I've been there, I've done it. They're playing to big audiences and I'm doing these bad teenage movies - I'm so embarrassed". Elvis looked so phenomenal that night. He used to wear these bolero shirts and had them in every colour, expect brown. He hated brown! He wearing a blue shirt that night.

We all went to the den and all of a sudden we heard screaming, like thunder, as if a bomb went off. The front door opened and outside there were thousands of fans everywhere. The word had got out. What we heard was the front door open as The Beatles walked in! The Beatles came in with Brian Epstein, their manager. They walked up to Elvis and were introduced, and Elvis sits down on the chair. The Beatles all sit down on the floor right in front of Elvis, in a semi-circle, and they look up and they are just gaping & staring at him. There's this dead silence in the room until Elvis says, "Well, what-the-hell, if you guys aren't going to talk to me I'm going to my bedroom." And then everyone started to laugh and that broke the ice.

I remember them looking at Elvis' TV and saying, "Wow look, colour Television!" because they'd never seen colour TV before. After that Ringo & Billy Smith & Marty & Richard all went off & played pool in the pool room.

EIN - What about the famous jam-session?

LG - Paul McCartney and John & myself, & possibly Jerry Schilling were sitting around all talking when Paul asked Elvis if he could try one of Elvis' guitars. Elvis says, "Sure man, go right ahead." So Paul picks up one and starts strumming followed by John and then Elvis too. So the three of them start jamming for about 20 minutes and I think, 'This is unbelievable! I'm in the centre of the universe right now. The Beatles and Elvis!'

The real trip was that Col Parker was such a control freak that he wouldn't even allow one picture to be taken of Elvis & The Beatles together! How ridiculous is that?! Now at a certain point I wondered where George had got. So I walked outside where it was pitch black but the minute I went out there I knew he was there because I could smell some reefer! There's George sitting by a tree smoking a joint. I sat around and chatted to him for a while. We had a great talk because I knew that George was into Hindu stuff and later became very close to Sri Daya Mata as well. We had a real spiritual connection. I was so sad when he died last year.

EIN - Have you seen those very poor amateur photos of that night?

LG - Yes, I know them. Elvis appeared and said, "Hey you guys! I want to show you something." First we went outside and looked at his new Rolls Royce. It was mayhem with the crowds screaming both "I Love You Elvis" & "I Love You Beatles." I remember some teenage girls had climbed high into the trees and used their flash cameras. I think that is where the 2 bad photos of the night come from.

Next Elvis took them inside to see his new present from Col parker which was a new sauna-bath off Elvis' bedroom. Paul looked in to check out the mirror and said to Elvis, "Who's that in there?" Elvis didn't know and when we all looked in we found this teenage girl who was hiding under this little wooden bench. She had somehow got by the security. When she saw us she screamed and jumped on Elvis and we had to pry her off!

After The Beatles left and Elvis had said goodbye he & I walked back towards his bedroom and he said, "I really like those guys, they are really good guys. But what's going on with their teeth?!" Of course, because of the post war shortages in England there was a lack of good food and their teeth were bad. Anyway Elvis said, "I don't get it. They have the money why don't they get their teeth fixed?" Just as we headed for bed Elvis said, "Just remember Larry, there are four of them there is only one of me"!

EIN - Did you get to see The Beatles again?

LG - Well, of all the Beatles Elvis definitely liked John Lennon the most. For a few days afterwards John phoned up several times wanting us to all go over and party with them. However the guys all went for the next 3 or 4 nights but Elvis wouldn't go. The other guys had a great time but I ended up staying with Elvis to keep him company.

EIN - There obviously must have been bad tension at times between you and the other members of the Memphis Mafia because of your different background. It also seems that you are often missing from recent documentaries about Elvis, possibly because Joe Esposito is in control? How did you deal with the resentment?

LG - You got it, that's the way it is! Well the point is, I was there because that was what I did for a living but more importantly I was there because of Elvis, 'cos I liked him. Here's a guy who was so open & so receptive and he was interested in what I had so it was a perfect combination. We were both very into numerology and he was an '8' 'cos he was born Jan 8th and that was a number which represented being misunderstood and Elvis felt that he was very misunderstood.

Misunderstood in his career and with people about who he was. I was born August 8th so I had that same thing going and we would talk about it.

Elvis was totally aware of all the jealousy & resentments within the group but he felt that we were there for a larger purpose. That's what our friendship was based on but it was very difficult. To the outside world I was part of the Memphis Mafia but within the group there were little cliques that hated each other - and they still exist to this day. I had Elvis' ear and they didn't like that. They just didn't know what I we were talking about over the years.

In terms of Elvis' vision for his future, the people around Elvis didn't know about it except Charlie Hodge. Charlie was aware of it 'cos he was privy to some very, very important discussions that took place during the last couple of years of Elvis' life. After a concert the guys would go off to the bar and to pick up chicks and I would go and hang out with Elvis. That was why I was there and I wanted to be there.

EIN - Charlie seemed to be one of Elvis' closest friends.

LG - Charlie was a very nice & honest guy and Billy was always there. I always had a sense of mission so I felt that I could really stick with Elvis through the rougher periods. Though to this day, even with those who had resentments and who I didn't get along with, I don't care because we have a bond because we shared something that's so unique and so profound I can look over all that stuff. What I wouldn't do to sit with him for ten minutes right now!

Piers Beagley talked to Larry Geller, September 2003.

** EIN Copyright 2003 **

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Go here for Part 2 where Larry discusses the final years, the nasty side of The Colonel, Dr. Nick and Elvis' future plans.

And go here for EIN's 2007 interview with Larry Geller


 

Click here for Charlie Hodge Interview & special EIN Tribute

Click here for Interview with Memphis Mafia members, Marty lacker, Lamar Fike & Elvis' cousin Billy Smith.