Larry Geller interview - Part 2

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

The Larry Geller interview with EIN (Part 2)

By Piers Beagley (Source: EIN October 30, 2003)

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.

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 talked about The Sixties, and this part 2 we discussed the Final Years.


EIN - There was a long period when you had no contact with Elvis, from 1967 - 1972, after the incident during the filming of 'Clambake'. I remember you saying that when you saw him for the first time again in August 1972 you thought he was deep in trouble even then.

LG - It was my friend Johnny Rivers who suggested we should go and see Elvis in Las Vegas. But when Elvis came on I could see the change and saw it in his eyes. It so happened that I said to someone at our table, "He's got five years the way he's going." I didn't really mean it of course but it was just that I could tell that something was wrong. You can tell by someone's body language and I could sense that he was using bad substances and that he probably didn't have the right elements around him. It was an energy thing.

EIN - Although The Colonel definitely made some amazing business moves in the early days, it seems that by the mid-Seventies he was flogging his work-horse to death. This must have been terrible to see?

LG - (Sighing) - Oh God, some nights I don't know how he got through it. On one of Elvis' last tours we were in Louisville, Kentucky, and Elvis was physically ill and was going through so much emotionally. This one night in particular he was nauseous & feverish and he felt terrible. He couldn't sleep and he was tossing & turning. I was so tired myself I said, "Hey Elvis, I have got to get some sleep and I'll see you when you wake up."

We were at the Hilton Hotel and the next day when I got back to Elvis' suite I walk in and surprisingly Colonel Parker is there. The first time I ever saw him come to Elvis' room. I say, "Hi Colonel." He says, "Where is he?" I explain that he's with Dr Nick and I say, "Let me tell Elvis you're here." The Col brushes past me saying, "No. I'm going right in" and he opens the door. It pains me to even tell you this but what I saw was Dr Nick kneeling at Elvis' bed. Elvis is comatose and groaning and Dr Nick is dunking Elvis' head into a bucket of iced-water to revive him. It was a pathetic sight. The door closes and my first thought was, 'This is probably good since finally Col Parker is going to find out what the hell is going on.

The Old Man is going to see Elvis in this terrible shape, semi-conscious, and stop this awful tour'. A minute later the door opens, Col Parker walks up to me, and I stand up. We stand toe to toe and he looks me in the eyes. He says, "Now you listen to me. The only thing that is important is that that man is on stage tonight! Do you hear me? Nothing else matters." Then he walks out. My heart sank. I knew the truth and I wanted to scream. Oh my god, that shallow Motherf****r.

I then heard Elvis shout, "Lawrence are you there? Why the hell did you let that bastard in here?" I explained that he had walked right past me and then Elvis ranted for an hour about Col Parker. He just used every word in the book and said, "That's big, fat, *** . I'm going to get rid of his fat ass. Daddy wants to get rid of him; he's hated him for years. I can't stand him. He's lost touch with show business years ago. He's just using me and I want Tom Hullett to be my manager. After the tour in September that is it!" He talked about who he was going to fire and how he was going to change things for the good.

EIN - What about the rumour that Joe worked for the Colonel and Elvis?

LG - Elvis seemed to know and resent that. I feel uncomfortable going over specifics as it wouldn't be kind but there is much more about that in the new 'Colonel' book. However I can mention a kind of relevant story that is in my book "If I Can Dream".

One day we were in Chicago and I went into one of the guy's rooms and said, "I'm so frightened as something is wrong. If you look at Elvis you can see that he is so sick, more than sick and we need to do something as I'm scared something is going to happen." He said, "Wait a minute. Larry you're being negative. In 20 years from now Elvis is going to be healthier than he is today. Everyone knows that singers get rejuvenated. But I tell you Larry, that something is going to happen to you. And you know why? Cos' you're being so damned negative!"

I realised that I was speaking a foreign language to someone, with pills in their system, who just couldn't see the reality and who was in total denial. Later I went & told two of the others but similarly they said that I was just being paranoid. Not knowing what to do I actually went and told Elvis. And I told him the truth and that I was worried. I told him in front of Joe Esposito & Dr Nick.

EIN - You must have also been there when the rumours of the 'Elvis What Happened' book started circulating.

LG - When Elvis heard about the EWH book deal, and that the 3 guys were going to spill-their-guts, it blew his mind. He felt that he was being stabbed. He said, "If those guys needed money I'd give them whatever they want. I just don't want them around me any more. I had $10 million lawsuits because of those guys." Two or 3 months went by and no one heard any more about the book. Elvis thought that maybe The Col had managed to have it stopped. He said to me that he didn't think it was coming out after all. However one day, on tour, a fan who had worked at the publishers in New York gave me a manuscript copy.

So I went back to my room and I thought, "Oh Shit, they are going to do him in." A lot of it was exaggeration and half-truths. I then felt that I needed to wait for the right moment to tell Elvis 'cos now I felt the pressure was on me. A couple of weeks later on tour I was staying in Elvis' room and he was complaining how his throat hurt, how his bones hurt. He felt like there was something wrong and this was where he mentioned possible cancer. I said that he needed to sleep bad and recharge his batteries since he had to be on stage again that night. I let him be and went to my room.

An hour & later my phone rings, "Lawrence get back over here please. I can't sleep, get Dr Nick in here." Dr Nick arrives and gives Elvis a bunch of pills. I return to my room and leave him to sleep. That afternoon at 4pm I go back to Elvis to wake him up and I knock on the door gently. Elvis says "Come on in Lawrence" and he is sitting up in bed. He's shaking his head and saying, "I can't make it man." At this point Joe walks in. Elvis says, "Listen guys I'm sick. I gotta cancel the tour. I'm going to call Daddy & you guys come back in 5 minutes." I realised that if Elvis cancelled at that moment then it would only help fan the flames of the book that I knew was coming out.

EIN - So was that the point when you realised that you had to tell Elvis about the book?

LG - Exactly. With Dr. Nick & Joe there I told Elvis in his bedroom that day. I said, "Elvis I've got to tell you something. No one around you tells you the truth but you know that book? It is coming out, I've seen the proofs" Elvis turned white. I said, "If you are sick and cancel this tour that is one thing. But the guys are out to crucify you and you have got to know what is going on. They are going to say things that you are not going to like but you've got to know the score". Elvis was standing up but then he sits down on his bed, in his huge suite, and he says, "Call the Colonel now." He gets in bed, sits in bed and folds his arms. Charlie Hodge walks in at this point, all jolly and ready to go. Elvis says, "Shut the hell up Charlie."

Now Joe & the rest of us are all sitting on Elvis' bed when Tom Hullett walks in and asks what's wrong. Elvis says, "I can't make it. I'm sick man. I hate to do it, I hate to cancel the tour but I can't make it." Tom Hullett says the same thing as me. "If you have to do it that's fine but it will hit the wires. So we have to get you into hospital for the insurance and then get you home." Elvis motions for me to come in the bathroom with him and he holds his arms up and looks at me.

He says, "Look at me Larry, look at me man. I'm shaking, I'm sick" and he's crying. I start to cry and say, "I know you're sick but I had to tell you. I'm sorry. This is the moment I had to tell you. You're life is on the line." For the next couple of hours we were packing up and getting ready to leave. I didn't do his hair like I usually did and he was very quiet with me and wouldn't talk. We fly back to Memphis where I expected that we would go straight to the hospital but we go to Graceland instead.

There Elvis eats a big pie and ends up staying in his room until 6am and then he goes to the hospital. I felt that I couldn't go back to LA until I had talked to him so I went to the hospital where the guys tell me that he doesn't want to see me. I remember Lamar coming out of Elvis' room and saying to me, "You told him the truth didn't you! Man, let me shake your hand. You're the only one around here who has any balls!" I still needed to see Elvis so I waited days in an ante room next to his room. I just couldn't leave.

One morning I came back and then I heard Elvis say, "Lawrence, are you out there?"

I went into his room and Elvis says, "Larry you've got to forgive me brother. It was my ego. You're here because you tell me the truth. That's why you're here. You got to understand what I'm going through."

EIN - In your book you mention that even in his condition Elvis was still making future plans. That at least sounded positive.

LG - Elvis did have future plans both for a book and as an actor. The very next tour was 2 weeks later. We were in Detroit and it was April 25th because we we're talking about his Mother, that was her birthday. Elvis stands up, we're looking at each other and he puts his hand on my shoulder. With his other hand he points outside and says, "The fans know 'Elvis' all right". Then he poked his chest real hard and says, "But man, they don't know me. They have no idea." He says, "Lawrence, are you with me?"

I ask him what he means and he says, "Look, Larry, if you don't tell the world the truth they will never know my real story. You are the one that knows me and I wouldn't ask anyone else. You're responsible, you got me on this path. You know what I read, know what I go through. You know what I'm trying to do, how I want to help this world. We're supposed to do something together Larry. Maybe we'll write a book. We could call it 'Through My Eyes' and we'll make meaningful movies".

All this sounded so good and I agreed and said, "Of course Elvis. I'm with you and we can do it."

In the sixties Elvis would rant & rave about his movies many, many times and he wanted out. He would say, "Look I'm not into this just for the money I've always wanted to be an actor". His real regret was that he never won an Academy Award. I had already been working with him on the docudrama in 1974 about the Martial Arts. So we talked about kicking around movie ideas that Elvis liked and getting some of the best script writers in Hollywood to work on a film tailor-made for him. That was the plan and we even talked about taking a year off in Hawaii for preproduction but, of course, it never happened.

EIN - But to do that he would have had to escape from The Colonel, which of course, he tried to do in 1973 but failed.

LG - That's right! Elvis gave in that time but by 1977 he knew things had to change. He wanted The Colonel out and a new change. He talked of getting married again and having more children. He wanted that. It was a struggle.

(EIN Note: Click here for more about 'Closing Night' 1973 & Elvis firing The Colonel)

 

EIN - In March 77 you did go on that last vacation to Hawaii. Obviously Elvis at the time was really floating between vitamins & health regimes that you were suggesting and Dr Nick and all his chemicals.

(Right: Elvis & Larry- The Hawaii holiday 1977)

 

LG - I have no respect for Dr Nick. Before a tour would start I would have packets of vitamins and minerals all wrapped up for the tour to help keep me healthy. Plus I was a vegetarian. One day I was in Elvis' bedroom when he woke up and Dr. Nick was there. I took a packet of vitamins out and put it on the table and said, "Elvis you should take some of these man, they are so good for you." I also gave a little spiel to him about their benefits. Dr Nick says, "Hey, get that crap out of here. That shit doesn't work." Here was a medical Doctor saying this! Of course he is not anymore. Thank God for some justice.

EIN - In fact wasn't 1967 when you first left Elvis the same moment that Dr Nick arrived?

LG - Yeah, and Elvis started his regime of pills at that time.

EIN - One of the quotes I like best is when Elvis introduced you to Kathy Westmoreland and said, "Kathy this is the heaviest Motherf***** I have ever met. You'll never meet anybody heavier than this". Now that's a great introduction!

LG - (Laughing) When he said that I thought, "Oh my God! What would she think!" Elvis sort of thought something romantic might happen between Kathy and me but I didn't want to go there. The guys knew that Elvis respected me. It makes me feel very self conscious all this but it is what it is.

EIN - Some people say the mysticism and spiritual side of Elvis wasn't important but in the sixties it must have been a real key because here was Elvis making goddamn awful, lightweight movies and he must have been searching for something.

LG - Elvis came from his spiritual base, that's who he was. The most important thing in his life was his career, his daughter and his spiritual soul.

Thirty minutes before Elvis' funeral Vernon revealed something to me that said it all. We were at Graceland and in the maid's room I saw Vernon sitting in his suit and looking so forlorn. He motioned me to come in and he said, "Larry, I've got to get something off my chest. When you first came around here I was suspicious of you. It was 'you and Elvis' all the time and you bringing him all those weird books. I even went to Elvis and told him what I thought but he said, 'Don't you worry, Larry's a great guy.' It took me a long time, many years, to realise Larry that you & Elvis were just spiritual guys." The house was full of people and Elvis was lying there in his casket and when Vernon said that, it just hit me like a ton of bricks.

EIN - I think so many of us feel so emotional about these last years. It's just so sad. If only it had been different.

LG - Well he did have a plan for the future. Even in that last year when he was really sick, and he was taking a lot of pills, Elvis was acutely aware or it. No one knew more of what he was going through than he did. He knew he had a problem & he knew he had to stop. We were going to go to Hawaii and he was going to get rid of most of the people who worked for him and keep a skeletal crew. He was going to get rid of Col Parker.

Elvis said, "Man, I want to get off these pills and I want to get a good diet and I want to exercise. I want to come back next year & I want to make movies again. Not those teenybopper movies but real dramatic roles and I can show the fans who I really am." He was serious at the time. The tragedy of Elvis' life is that here's the guy that had it all. He was, is, and always will be The King. But he knew he was toxic and that his diet was outrageously bad and that he had to clean up his system. He knew that there were people around who were not his friends but were just there for the pay check. Elvis was smart, & smarter than anyone around him, and he was making plans. The tragedy is that he procrastinated.

EIN - Surely it was a roller coaster ride in his head with moments of clarity and then he would be down in depression?

LG - Sure. Life and death were on each of his shoulders and sadly death won.

EIN - Can I change this mood and ask you a lightweight question? As you spent so long by his side and attended so many concerts what is the Elvis song that means the most to you?

LG - The song that blows me away is 'Unchained Melody' because Elvis put that in his shows the last couple of months of his life. It was Elvis and the piano and a blue light on him. When I hear that it blows me away. That New Year's Eve concert 76 when he sings both 'Rags To Riches' and 'Unchained Melody' - he was phenomenal that night. One of his best ever concerts and he looked great. In fact Jimmy Carter called him that night when we were back at the hotel. I picked up the phone and told Elvis that it someone pretending to be The President of the United States. But it really was him and Elvis was expecting his call!

EIN - What's Larry Geller doing now?

LG - I'm working on a new book that I originally discussed with Elvis. I was going to do a Health & Hair care book and at the time Elvis said that I could use his name on the book. He was very happy to be associated with health and thought that it would be good for his image. He even discussed being in a commercial for me! Elvis had talked about it with Vernon, but Elvis died before any contracts were signed and then I felt I couldn't go through with it. But I'm doing it now and I have revamped it. I will talk all about my early years with Elvis and all the celebrities. The book is called, 'GellerCare: Healthy Hair, Healthy Life' and is all about life & rejuvenation, nutrition and spiritual growth and everything you need to know about hair. It should be coming out early next year and there'll be photos from every movie that I made with Elvis.

EIN - A tricky final question for you. You talked a lot with Elvis about reincarnation and karma. Do you dream of him and do you think you will ever meet Elvis again?

LG - That's a good question. I have so many dreams of him it's uncanny. I wake up and it's like, 'Wow, that was cool.'' The others a big question though.. What happens when we leave this life? My answer is, Yes. I hope to see Elvis again. God bless him.

EIN - Thanks so much for sparing so much of your time Larry. It's been fantastic talking to you.

LG - Keep well and maybe we can catch up again some day.

 

*** EIN copyright 2003 ***

Click to comment on the interview


Click here for Part 1 where Larry discussed more about The Colonel, meeting The Beatles, and Elvis in the sixties. Piers interviewed Larry Geller September 2003.

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


Want to ask Larry Geller a question? Click here & send it to EIN.

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.