Dave Hebler Interview
Elvis' bodyguard and Karate teacher
EIN Interview by Piers Beagley - April 2018
Dave Hebler is best known to Elvis Presley fans as being part of the Memphis Mafia and Elvis’ bodyguard in the mid-seventies.
As an integral part of Elvis’ personal and professional life, Hebler’s primary responsibility was the personal safety of Elvis at home as well as at recording sessions, personal appearances, concert tours and various recreations.
He is also known as a contributor along with Red and Sonny West to the 1977 book ‘Elvis: What Happened’.
Dave Hebler is an internationally recognized Senior Grandmaster and Founder of American Kenpo Karate.
EIN's Piers Beagley recently interviewed him to discuss Elvis and what it was like to be part of the Elvis Experience.....
Dave Hebler is best known to Elvis Presley fans as being part of the Memphis Mafia and Elvis’ bodyguard in the mid-seventies.
As an integral part of Elvis’ personal and professional life, Hebler’s primary responsibility was the personal safety of Elvis at home as well as at recording sessions, personal appearances, concert tours and various recreations. He is also known as a contributor along with Red and Sonny West to the 1977 book ‘Elvis: What Happened’.
Dave Hebler is also an internationally recognized martial arts/self-defense instructor, lecturer and Senior Grandmaster and Founder of American Kenpo Karate.
Since 1977 SGM Hebler has traveled the world as a speaker and self-defense instructor, giving lectures and teaching workshops on self-defense, particularly as it pertains to women and children.
In addition, Dave has authored several books including the recently published booklet “Making it out Alive, protecting Women and Children from Violence” and his newest book “How to Survive Encounters of the Worst Kind.”
He has also produced a DVD detailing the self-defense techniques contained in “Encounters” in video and audio formats.
Recently SGM Hebler was honored as one of the 24 most prominent American Kenpoists of today in the book “The Journey.
EIN recently heard that Dave Hebler is writing his first book about his life with Elvis - hopefully for publication later this year - and he was kind enough to agree to an interview.
EIN: David, thanks for talking with us, I am sure Elvis fans will be excited to know that you are writing a book. Firstly, when did you meet Elvis for the first time and under what circumstances?
Dave Hebler: Well I am certainly hoping that the fans will be excited about me writing a book. And thank you for taking the time to speak with me.
I met Elvis for the first time at Ed Parker’s Kenpo Karate school in Santa Monica, Ca where a number of us Black Belts were working out. In walked, oh my goodness, Elvis Presley. He soon joined us on the mats with me as his workout partner. Fun time ensued.
Kang Rhee, Elvis and Dave Hebler in 1974
EIN: Had you been an Elvis fan earlier in your teenage years?
Dave Hebler: Although I liked Elvis’s music then I was not really a fan. I was a fan of Chuck Berry and Fats Domino - who I got to meet on a couple of occasions while I was working for Elvis.
I actually became a fan of Elvis the first time I saw him perform in person. I was just blown away by how amazingly good he was.
EIN: Most fans know of Elvis’ interest in Karate. How do you fit into that compared to say, Ed Parker?
Dave Hebler: Ed Parker and others taught Elvis on a sporadic basis. I worked for Elvis and as such taught him Kenpo Karate on a much more regular basis than these great Martial Artists.
EIN: At what point did Elvis ask you to work for him?
Dave Hebler: The second time I met him. On that occasion he came to my Kenpo Karate school in Glendora, Ca in July of 1972. He presented me with a gold TCB necklace and asked me to become one of his bodyguards. I said yes.
EIN: What was your main role and how did you fit in with the others such as Red and Sonny West?
Dave Hebler: My main role was the protection of Elvis and his family. I think I fitted in quite well with Red, Sonny and the other guys.
EIN: What about the Stanley brothers? They were so young to be working for Elvis, what did you feel?
Dave Hebler: Elvis was quite comfortable with the Stanleys working for him, I didn’t have a problem with his decision to have them on the payroll.
EIN: How many years did you work for Elvis, and were you there for every tour?
Dave Hebler: I worked for Elvis for about 2 years on a part time basis and 2 years on a full time basis. No, I was not there for every tour.
EIN: When Elvis was home in Graceland between tours, what did you do?
Dave Hebler: Sometimes I was there with him and other times I was with my family in California. The four bodyguards - Red, Sonny, Dick Grob and myself - would often work two on and two off when not on tour so that we could get some good time with our families. We all worked 24/7 when we were on tour of course.
EIN: Aloha January 1973 was probably the peak of Elvis’ filmed performances. Were you there and what was your view about such a massive world-wide broadcast?
Dave Hebler: No I was not there. I thought that it was an incredible performance, an amazing spectacle and whoever those people who thought it up and pulled it off were geniuses.
EIN: Some of the tours, such as March 1974, caught Elvis in such an energetic mood and putting on such great shows, but then it would all fall apart with the emotional rambles of the summer Las Vegas season. As someone who was there could you see the sudden changes?
Dave Hebler: Of course I could and so could everyone else. And everyone else includes the fans, the venues and the media. For me personally, it was quite concerning and difficult to understand.
EIN: Did you ever get time alone with Elvis where he confided his fears about the future?
Dave Hebler: I got time alone with Elvis many, many times and we talked about seemingly every topic on earth. Elvis was a very curious person and liked talking about and learning about lots of things. With respect to your specific question, he really didn’t have fears about his future. He knew that he was massively popular of course and he sometimes wondered “why me?” I had some ideas about that and shared them with him.
EIN: Were you at any of the studio recording sessions and what was your feel about Elvis recordings in the seventies?
Dave Hebler: I was at some recordings and I enjoyed the heck out of them. As I was never at any recordings prior to 1972, I have no way to quantify 70’s recordings in comparison to other recordings.
EIN: Do you keep up with the FTD label live concerts that get released? We have had two concerts from Murfreesboro 1974 released and they are damn good. Do you ever listen to these previously unreleased performances, do they bring back memories?
Dave Hebler: I’m sorry but I am not aware of the “FTD” releases however I’m sure that I would enjoy them and I’m positive that they would bring back some terrific memories.
(Note, EIN of course has now hooked him up with FTD)
EIN: What was your best memory. the best concert you ever saw Elvis perform?
Dave Hebler: Had to be pretty much all the concerts at the Sahara Tahoe. Wall to wall insanity. As I recall, people four-wide, in a line down this long hallway, snaking around the casino and into the show room for the 8 PM evening show at 8 AM in the morning. The casino was great, the employees were great, the restaurants were great and the shows had amazing energy. And, of course, Lake Tahoe. One of the most beautiful places on earth.
EIN: After four years of working with Elvis what was it like being kicked out of your job and what on earth did Vernon say was the reason?
Dave Hebler: Pretty shocked initially and then pissed off when Vernon said that the reason was because they had to “cut down on expenses” which was bullshit on the face of it. Only three day’s notice and one week’s pay. Pretty crappy way to treat a loyal employee I think.
EIN: Red West has been with since school and all the way through, what on earth did he think about it?
Dave Hebler: The same way that Sonny and I thought about it….pretty crappy way to treat someone. Pretty bad for me but I had only been there 4 years. Sonny for 16 years and Red for 25 years. What, all of a sudden we didn’t know how to do our jobs?
EIN: We all know that Elvis would fire any member of his group at a whim- Lamar Fike, Joe Esposito, Marty Lacker all say they were fired and then usually taken back the next day. Did you all think you would be offered your jobs back?
Dave Hebler: Don’t know about Red and Sonny because we never talked about it but I would not have gone back even if he offered.
EIN: Red West, Jerry Schilling, Joe Esposito all seems to be people who could have been Elvis’ best friend (of course Diamond Joe was the only one to put that in print) - Who was Elvis’ best friend?
Dave Hebler: Red certainly could have been but I and most everybody who was there will tell you that it was Billy Smith.
EIN: OK, we have to mention the book “Elvis What Happened?” that you did with Red and Sonny West. EIN is an Australian website so sadly I have to acknowledge that Steve Dunleavy who authored the “Elvis What Happened?” book was an Australian tabloid journalist. How did you all become involved with him?
Dave Hebler: He was put on the job by the publishers. We had no say so on that or on many other things about the book. If you want to know more let me add that I’m revealing my opinions of “Elvis What Happened?” for the first time in my new book.
EIN: We now can see other celebrity deaths such as Michael Jackson and Prince in a very similar way-through prescription drugs and star-infatuated doctors? Do you see similarities and think that Elvis got a harder time because he was one of the first superstars to be exposed in this way?
Dave Hebler: Kinda’ eerie how many similarities there are isn’t it? The list is a lot longer too. Before Elvis there was Lenny Bruce and Janis Joplin and if we look we can probably find more. But in my estimation, Elvis was bigger than all of them and he had a squeaky clean image so the impact was much larger.
EIN: Fans were so angry about the book - but apart from the tabloid sensationalism there was also some genuine caring stories within the book. How did you think it was going to come out?
Dave Hebler: I thought that it would come out more balanced than it did and I was quite upset when it didn’t. We had absolutely no control over the content. The publishers wanted to sensationalize the book and our inputs were ignored. Just read the covers on the book…… those were not our words.
EIN: Were you upset by the final manuscript and the reception it got?
Dave Hebler: Yes, I sure was.
EIN: In the book the blame is often attributed to Elvis’ doctors - rightly I feel - so who was to blame, the doctors or Elvis?
Dave Hebler: The doctors who took advantage of a trusting Elvis and should have been a lot more ethical than they were but ultimately Elvis who refused to even admit that he had a massive drug problem much less try and do something about it regardless of those of us who tried to help him with his addiction.
EIN: Now we are 40 years on, will your new book be exposing new details about characters such as “Fetchum Bill”?
Dave Hebler: No, but there are more stories, many of them funny. I mean with Chapter titles like “The Gunslinger” and “The Crazy Ladies” perhaps you’ll have a better understanding of where I’m going without giving away the specific contents.
EIN: With so much more known about the bad situation Elvis was getting himself in, fans seem to realize that Doctor Nick wasn’t so bad after all. What are your thoughts on Dr Nick?
Dave Hebler: To my certain knowledge, Dr Nick was the only doctor who actually tried to help Elvis. But when other doctors are giving Elvis drugs without Dr Nick’s knowledge, he had no chance to make a positive difference.
EIN: In the same way, it seems that Parker perhaps was more to blame than everyone realized at the time, working his only client to death, and perhaps only to pay for his own Vegas casino losses. How did you feel about then and now with 40 years to look back?
Dave Hebler: I would disagree with the premise that the Col worked Elvis to death. Many if not most professional performers work 200-300 concerts a year routinely. The Col could have raised the concert ticket prices 2-3 times what they were and the concerts would still have been sold out. But the Col wanted the poorest of fans to be able to afford a ticket so he kept them low. So how the Col spent his own earned money, whether spent to pay for gambling losses or for anything else had nothing to do with Elvis. I say this as someone who, after Elvis, became a dealer and a pit boss for 15 years in various casinos throughout Nevada.
EIN: What memories dominate your time with Elvis - happy or sad?
Dave Hebler: Mostly happy, we had some great times and a lot of fun. Sad having to watch a man you care for…someone you love destroying himself right in front of your eyes. I said this before and I say it again, no matter how much you care, you cannot save a man from himself.
EIN: So what did Dave Hebler do after 1977?
Dave Hebler: Lots of things. Went back to the Martial Arts and this month I celebrate my 60 years in the Martial Arts. Was a pit boss and dealer for 15 years. Wrote a couple of books on self-defense for women and teens. Did a DVD “The Elvis Experience” which is the working title of my new book (looking for an August publishing date). Went on a number of concert tours in Europe. Worked on a Kung Fu film in Bangkok. Presently working on a fitness and self defense training manual and DVD for seniors. Running my Martial Arts Association - and I also do personal appearances telling Elvis stories. I would love to come to Australia as I have long wanted to visit there.
EIN Notes - Fans should check it out Dave Hebler’s website at www.davehebler.com.
EIN: I was particularly impressed to know about your involvement with “Making it out Alive, Protecting Women and Children from Violence” And now in the ‘me too’ era it seems more relevant. Can you tell me more about that campaign?
Dave Hebler: I can tell you a lot more about it and thank you for asking me about it. Very briefly, there are about 10 million females who are violently assaulted every year here in the US. That’s a huge number of course and if you’re like me it’s hard to relate to numbers personally. But, every single one of those 10,000,000 victims is somebody’s little girl. “Making it out alive“ is the first part of a female’s personal protection plan. The book is a bunch of tips and strategies on how to avoid becoming a victim in the first place. The thinking being that if you can learn how to recognize and avoid a dangerous or threatening person or situation and get out of there before it becomes a physical assault, you have just saved yourself the very best way possible.
The second part of your personal protection plan is physical techniques that work.
I also do workshops on this topic.
EIN: Did you keep in regular touch with any of the Memphis Mafia guys after Elvis died?
Dave Hebler: Mostly with Sonny West, Marty Lacker and Lamar Fike. Sadly all gone now and I miss those guys.
EIN: It was such a shock with Red West, Sonny, Marty Lacker and Joe Esposito dying within months of each other. How did you feel and when did you last spend time with any of them?
Dave Hebler: I was stunned and saddened. Since we all lived so far from each other it was very difficult for us to spend time together but we corresponded via email fairly often. Marty and I spent considerable time insulting each other by threatening to come kick the other one’s ass and Sonny and I did get to spend time together on occasion. I was unable to attend their funerals but in Sonny’s case I wrote a eulogy that was read at his funeral. The man suffered so badly and for so long (5 years) and he fought so hard and so bravely against that awful disease, that his passing was almost a blessing and a relief that his suffering was finally over. Sonny West was one of the bravest men I have ever met.
EIN: I have to ask you about the Frank Skinner documentary “A Little Bit of Elvis.” To be honest it is one of my favorites and captures the true fascination of an Elvis fan and the desire to find something deeper. Now in the doco you are somewhat derided for supplying a dodgy “Certificate of Authenticity”. To be honest it hardly matters as Frank Skinner got to sing with The Jordanaires and experience so amazing Elvis moments. But I have to ask you, was the shirt for real?
Dave Hebler: OK Piers, here’s the real story of the shirt - i’ll get to Frank in a minute. Elvis gave me a bunch of clothing off his closet rack with the comment “here, take these, some of them been hanging in my closet since the fifties.” Now, I didn’t really believe the 50’s remark but that is what he said. One of those items was this shirt. I sold or gave away all of those items. I sold the shirt to a lady along with the COA citing Elvis’ remark. The lady in turn sold the shirt to someone in Germany. The person in Germany put the shirt up for auction CLAIMING that the shirt was the shirt that Elvis wore in his 1956 concert in Tupelo. Understand that I didn’t even know that there was a 1956 concert in Tupelo…. I didn’t go to work for Elvis until 1972 and knew virtually nothing about him or his various concerts before then.
Enter Frank Skinner who bought the shirt believing that it was the shirt from the 56 concert for some $18,000. At some point in time Frank became aware that he had been ripped off and further believed that I was the person who ripped him off. Frank became incensed at what happened, rightly so, and at me. He also became obsessed at proving to the world that I was the Devil incarnate and launched a campaign to expose my evilness on world-wide television.
He went to Memphis and talked with Elvis’ shirt maker who told Frank that they did indeed make the shirt. He interviewed a few of the guys - Lamar in particular - who told him that they did not believe that I would do something like that. And, in spite of all this evidence to the contrary, ambushed me on camera, confronting me with the shirt.
EIN: I have to admit it was a memorable part of the programme which was really all about Skinner’s love for Elvis, so I think most fans realised your section was sort-of set up for the show!
Dave Hebler: I won’t bother with trying to detail the heavily edited show, everyone can see it for themselves but Frank finally understood that I had nothing to do with that auction. In fact after I smacked him in the throat, we became friends. Hahaha. If you would like confirmation of the facts of the matter, you can contact Andrew Hearn, editor of Essential Elvis who is Frank’s very good friend and member of the film crew who shot the interview.
EIN: So many of Elvis’ friends have written books about their time with him - and to be honest most of them do shed some new and interesting insights into his complicated life. Why did you decide to publish a book in 2018 - and what can the fans expect from it?
Dave Hebler: Primarily because all of the other books, as good as they may be, are the stories of the authors. My book will be my stories. The fans can expect to see my perspectives on stories that they have already seen in some instances and the inclusion of some chapters that they have not seen. They may even see this entire interview included in the book. Frankly, if I can be so bold to predict the future a little, I think that the fans are going to like what I have to say. And just in case they don’t like it, my exact address will not be included.
EIN: There are plenty of fans who might feel angry about your original 1977 book. What do you say to them?
Dave Hebler: I believe that many fans liked the book because they appreciate why we did it and because we told the truth. I believed then and I believe now that it is far better to be slapped in the face with the truth than be kissed on the lips with a lie.
Here’s a quote by Jose N. Harris that better explains my views on the truth:
“There is beauty in truth, even if it’s painful. Those who lie, twist life so that it looks trusty to the lazy, brilliant to the ignorant and powerful to the week. But lies only strengthen our defects. They don’t teach anything, fix anything or cure anything. Nor do they develop one’s character, one’s mind, one’s heart or one’s soul.”
I believe that some fans hated the book because they don’t want to hear anything “negative” about someone they cared about and some of them still don’t want to hear the truth. I understand their feeling that way, but they were not there and because they were not there, they cannot actually know or even want to understand the truth about Elvis the person. They love Elvis the singer, Elvis the movie star and Elvis the performer. They don’t know, nor will they ever know Elvis the person. Some would rather believe those who tell them sugar-coated excuses, even outright lies to explain Elvis the person than understand that Elvis the person had his good points and his bad points….just like you and I. One of his bad points was that he was addicted to drugs. But that doesn't make him a bad person, it makes him a victim.
Understand that Elvis was a drug addict and being addicted to drugs is a nightmare of a life to live and pure agony for those friends and family who were trying to help him get off the drugs that were killing him. I don’t know if you have ever had someone you cared for addicted to drugs (and I hope that you never do). But, if you do, you soon learn that no matter how much you care, you cannot save someone from himself.
EIN: Had the Betty Ford type clinics started in the 70’s do you think Elvis could have got his act together and lived a healthier life?
Dave Hebler: I don’t think so. Sadly, Elvis rejected all efforts of those trying to help and even refused to believe that he had a problem in the first place.
EIN: How did you hear about Elvis’ death and were you shocked?
Dave Hebler: I was driving home with a present for my wife on the day of her birthday and I heard the news on the car radio. I had to pull off the road because I couldn’t see for the tears.
EIN: What is your book going to be titled and when can the fans expect to see it released?
Dave Hebler: Working title is “The Elvis Experience” and we’re working hard to publish in August.
EIN: Is it going to expand on the DVD you released a few years back, will it include new stories?
Dave Hebler: It will expand on some of the stories in the DVD and it will include new stories.
EIN: What about any new photos we haven’t seen before?
Dave Hebler: There will be a bunch of pictures in the book but I don’t know if there will be any you haven't seen before. Maybe?
EIN: Will you be going to Elvis Week in Memphis this year - will fans be able to get signed copies of the book?
Dave Hebler: We’re working on that but at this time I have nothing that is definite.
EIN: Thanks for talking with us and it’s been great to get some honest answers. '
Dave Hebler: You’re welcome. It was a pleasure to speak with you.
Interview by Piers Beagley.
-Copyright EIN April 2018
EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.
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|Red West Interview:
Red West was one of Elvis' closest friends. He first met Elvis in High School and went on to work for Elvis as a bodyguard until 1976. Elvis and Red West became close friends when Red volunteered to help drive Elvis, Scotty Moore, Bill Black and DJ Fontana around the southern US states for their early tours of 1955-1956. Red West is also a talented composer and actor who still appears in award-winning movies.
In 1999 Red West was the main guest at the Elvis English Fan Club Convention where he opened up to fans like never before, revealing his true love for Elvis. It is certainly one of the longest and the best interviews with Red West - and at times devastatingly honest.
EIN now presents this fascinating interview for Elvis Week 2010.
Sonny West talks to EIN: Sonny West needs no introduction to Elvis fans. As one of the members of the iconic Memphis Mafia, Sonny was a close friend to Elvis over many years. Accordingly, Sonny has many great stories to share with fans and many rare insights to offer about the real Elvis Presley, not to mention Sonny's own very interesting life since Elvis' death in 1977.
In part 1 of a long interview with EIN, Sonny talks about:
- his new book, Elvis: Still Taking Care of Business
- where fans can meet him during Elvis Week 2007
- the Sonny West story
- why he Red, and Dave Hebler wrote Elvis: What Happened?
- Priscilla and Ann-Margret
- recounts experiences of life around Elvis
- did Elvis have a self-destructive personality?
- the film offer by Barbra Streisand
- his last contact with Elvis
- Elvis and those racism rumors (Source: EIN, 8 Aug 2007)
|24 February - 'Dr. Nick' Nichopoulos, dead at 88: Elvis' former personal doctor, George Nichopoulos died on Wednesday, he was 88. After Elvis' death "Dr. Nick" was often accused of over-prescribing drugs that would have hastened the King of Rock and Roll's early demise.
In 1981, Nichopoulous was acquitted on charges that he overprescribed drugs to Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis and seven others.
In interviews Dr. Nick always stated that, "I don't regret any of the medications I gave him. They were necessities."
"Dr. Nick" talks to EIN: Dr. George Nichopoulos was Elvis' personal physician for many years. In the Elvis story it appears that "Dr. Nick", along with Priscilla Presley, are figures either loved or hated by fans. There does not appear to be any in-between.
In 2010 Nick took time out to speak to EIN's Nigel Patterson about his life, Elvis, and how Elvis' death has impacted his life.
In a fascinating and revealing interview, Dr. Nick talks about many issues of interest to fans, from the powerful themes of trust and betrayal to Elvis' death, the "other" doctors Elvis used, being Jerry Lee Lewis' road manager!, and Elvis' autopsy.
Dr. Nick clarifies what Elvis' major life threatening condition was and the role of the media in how he has been perceived by many fans since Elvis' death.
Go here to read our fascinating interview
|'Marty Lacker: A Life Well-Lived' & Elvis at American Studio's Interview: It was with immense sadness that last month EIN had to report on the death of our great friend - and a true friend to Elvis - Marty Lacker. We will miss him dearly.
Marty is well-known as one of the key members of the Memphis Mafia and also co-Best Man at Elvis' wedding. He was known for both his honesty and being forthright with his opinions. He was the only member of the Memphis Mafia who still watched and commented on recent Elvis News. He had no issue with holding people to account (especially ones who would inflate their importance within Elvis' legacy) and would regularly ask EIN to add his comments or to correct any inaccuracy.
Elvis fans often ask about Marty Lacker's background, how he came to meet Elvis, as well as his involvement in the music industry outside of working for The King.
As a prelude to Ken Sharp's fascinating interview with Marty Lacker and a discussion about Elvis' famous American Studio' Memphis sessions, EIN presents "Marty Lacker: a life well-lived" in which Marty tells of his life in the music industry, his friendship with Elvis along with his dislike of the over-controlling Col Parker.
Go here to learn all you need to know about Marty Lacker as well as Elvis outstanding Memphis American Sound sessions in 1969.
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