Joe Esposito Interview

Elvis' close friend Joe Esposito shares his stories with EIN

2001 Interview by Nigel Patterson

Joe Esposito is best known as a key member of the "Memphis Mafia' and one of Elvis' closest friends. Joe met Elvis in 1958 when they were both in the army. They met in Germany and formed a friendship over playing games of football and taking trips to Paris. Before leaving the service Elvis asked Joe to work for him, from then on their friendship would last almost two decades with Esposito's main role being road-manager.

In 2001 EIN's Nigel Patterson met up with Joe Esposito in Canberra. He had agreed to give us 15 minutes of his time, but ended up talking for over an hour. This interview was featured in our EIN Fan Club newsletter but not on-line. 

November 23 2016 - Joe Esposito Has Died, Aged 78: It is very sad to have to confirm the passing of Joe Esposito. He was a good friend of EIN's and a lovely man every time we crossed paths. The photo shows EIN's Sanja Meegin with Joe Esposito in 2011.
Joe Esposito is best known as a key member of the "Memphis Mafia' and one of Elvis' closest friends. Joe met Elvis in 1958 when they were both in the army. They met in Germany and formed a friendship over playing games of football and taking trips to Paris. Before leaving the service Elvis asked Joe to work for him, from then on their friendship would last almost two decades with Esposito's main role being road-manager.
Along with Marty Lacker, Esposito served as co-best man at Elvis' wedding while Esposito's wife, Joan was matron of honor. After Elvis' death in 1977 Esposito went to work for Tour promoter Jerry Weintraub and worked as road manager for multiple stars including Michael Jackson, The Bee Gees, Karen Carpenter and John Denver.
Joe Esposito was a principal consultant for the 1981 movie 'This Is Elvis' and has authored several books on Elvis.
Esposito has 3 children, with one from his second marriage to Martha Gallub. Very sadly Martha died on March 19, 2012, after a long fight with cancer.

The last time EIN had a chance to catch up with Joe was in 2011 when he toured with Australia with Shawn Klush and Donny Edwards and helped raise money for Cancer Awareness.
Joe Esposito died November 23, 2016 after a year of declining health.

It's a truly sad realisation that all these good friends shown in this 1968 photo, Alan Fortas, Col Parker, Elvis, Lamar Fike, Joe Esposito and Charlie Hodge are all no longer with us.

Joe Esposito January 22, 1938 - November 23,2016 - RIP. 

EIN’s Nigel Patterson met Joe Esposito, twice in the one day, on a sunny afternoon at Waldorf Apartments, Canberra City in 2001. This was part of Mick Gerace’s ‘In The Spirit of Elvis’ tour in which Joe Esposito was doing a question and answer segment.
Joe was very friendly, pleasant and spoke positively about Elvis.  He had agreed to give us 15 minutes for an interview but ended up chatting for over an hour.

Unfortunately EIN has lost the full original transcript of the 2001 interview – it is probably on a floppy-disc somewhere – but we did publish most of it in our EIN Fan Club printed newsletters. We remember asking Joe questions about working with John Denver and the Bee Gees and also what else he had been doing in the previous decade but that section is missing.

The following is all we can find in our EIN archives of printed originals. Unfortunately at the time we never published it in full on the EIN website as one always believes you will meet up with these great characters from Elvis' life again in the near future.

From Joe Esposito’s “Elvis Straight Up”

The plain truth is we were a bunch of young guys, traveling in the fast lane of life with the brightest star the world has ever seen. We lived upside-down lives where night was day and day was night. We took many absurd risks and made many foolish choices. Quite a few of us lost ourselves, and our families, along the way. We shirked responsibilities, hurt loved ones, and made extreme sacrifices to be with Elvis. But we did so willingly. We were there, and we wanted to be there. We paid a heavy price for that lifestyle... and Elvis paid his. More importantly, we all shared a brotherhood and camaraderie with one another that could never be duplicated or experienced by any other group of men.

We all made mistakes but regardless of what it cost or how much it hurt when I lost it, I would never trade the memory of those days for anything in this entire world. Deep in our hearts, despite the dissentious between some of us, I believe we still love as brothers. We will forever share something unique only a handful of people on this whole earth can claim.

I had the time of my life, and I sincerely thank all of them, and especially Elvis, for having been a part of it.

Q. Having met Elvis in the army what was the first big event you remember after going to work for him?

Joe Esposito: The Frank Sinatra TV show. Elvis was just so nervous because he'd been away in the army almost 2 years. I remember how he was pacing back and forth in his dressing room and I remember him really sweating. He was so nervous. I think it was the first time he had ever met Sinatra and Frank had said some bad things about Elvis back when he started out. And Colonel Parker or Sinatra  also wanted everyone to wear tuxedos so we all had to get fitted out by a tailor. Elvis really didn't know what to expect. In the end of course it all worked out great.

Y' know it was the first time I had seen Elvis performing on stage to a live audience. Seeing that reaction, all the screaming and yellin’ for the first time, it was really exciting - for me. It was just great for me to be there and see it for the first time.

Vernon Presley, Frank Sinatra, Joe Esposito with Elvis in Las Vegas 1969

Q. Was it because of Frank Sinatra that you all got to be called the Memphis Mafia?

Joe E: Yeah, like Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack we were Elvis and the Memphis Mafia but there was never a rivalry thing. The name was given to us by a reporter - maybe in Vegas. We'd all be driving round there in limousines with black suits and sunglasses, white shirts looking like the mob. We thought it was funny. We all got a real kick out of it. Of course Sammy Davis was a good friend of Elvis' - and Elvis loved Dean Martin - so there was no rivalry.

Q. The 60s movies were they good or bad for Elvis?

Joe E: To begin with they were great. I remember the first day on the set of G.I. Blues, Elvis was so thrilled and excited to be back at the studio. Blue Hawaii was one of the best movies Elvis ever made and so much fun for everyone being in Hawaii. We stayed at Coco Palms on Kauai and every night we’d eat together and go sit and party in the bar. Patti Page (EIN Note: Best-selling female artist of the 1950s) was there because her husband Charlie O’Curran was the choreographer on Elvis’ movies. Elvis would sit around play guitar and sing songs - it was fun in those days.

And then there was Ann-Margret and Viva Las Vegas, amazing chemistry between those two.

But Elvis soon got tired, he wanted a serious role, he wished he didn’t have to sing in every movie. He wanted to do action movies, he wanted to be like Clint Eastwood, something like Dirty Harry. Elvis loved Clint Eastwood.

Q. What about Elvis and Ann-Margret?

Joe E: I can tell you that Ann-Margret was his all-time favourite co-star and they were more than good friends for many years. She would call Graceland when he was there. And every time she had an opening show in Vegas Elvis always remembered to send her expensive flowers. Ann-Margret was Elvis’ only co-star that came to his funeral.

Q. What about the idea for Elvis in ‘A Star is Born’?

Joe E:  I don't know what happened, there were a lot of meetings with Elvis and the Colonel. Streisand's boyfriend Jon Peters was going to direct the movie but it all never happened. Elvis could have done a good job in it - possibly better than Kris Kristofferson.

Q. The Comeback Special and playing live in Vegas saved him from those terrible movies?

Joe E:  We all saw Elvis get excited again. He told the Col that was what he wanted to do. Elvis loved to be on stage more than anything else in the world. He wanted to go back to live performances in front of his fans. And that's what he did for the rest of his life, that’s what we did, and I was there at every concert.


From Joe Esposito’s “Elvis Straight Up”

I have been involved in show business a long time now, and I have worked with many, many of the great stars. I can say without reservation that Elvis Presley possesses the most intense, loyal and passionate relationship with his audience, which as you know has grown even more massive and worldwide since his passing. His primary goal was to please them. If ever he left the stage feeling he didn't do a great show, he would beat up on himself and get into a funk if he thought he disappointed his fans.

Immediately after a performance, having just slammed the doors of our limousine, Elvis's first concerns were about the show: "How did we do", and "Was the sound okay?" If he were unhappy with his performance, he would openly criticize himself or make suggestions to someone like Charlie Hodge or conductor Joe Guercio on how things could be improved in the next show.

Once, when he felt the sound system had caused a poor show, Elvis asked us to see if we could arrange to have the entire audience's money refunded!


Q: Joe, you are one of a select few who has worked as Tour Manager for two of the world's biggest superstars, Elvis and Michael Jackson. What was it like working with 'The King of Pop'?

Joe E: Working with Michael Jackson was very different to working with Elvis. I didn't actually tour with Michael but I did the up-front arrangements. Michael's tour involved 18 months and there would have been a lot of time twiddling my thumbs in hotel rooms as Michael only performs three times a week. As my son had just been born, I asked if I could fly home every couple of weeks to be with my family but his policy was that no one left the tour. I think he was concerned that something might happen, they wouldn't return, leaving him with a problem. I didn't want to leave my family for long periods as I had done during my time with Elvis when my two daughters were growing up.

Q: Your first book ‘Good Rockin' Tonight’ was a really interesting and positive tribute to Elvis. Have you any plans to re-release it?

Joe E: Good Rockin' Tonight has been out of print for a few years now and I'm interested in re-issuing it in an expanded version. My original manuscript was 500 pages but Simon & Schuster released it as 250 pages. There are a lot more interesting things in the manuscript including things beyond Elvis's death in 1977.

(EIN note: Joe Esposito published several books after we talked including ‘Remember Elvis’ and his ‘Elvis: Straight Up’ volumes)

From Joe Esposito’s “Elvis Straight Up”

Music to Elvis was his life's blood. He lived to sing, and he sang to live. I believe he was destined from birth to be "Elvis Presley". I'll tell you something about Elvis, he was the most natural talent that I've ever heard or seen. Everything he did was natural and innate. He wasn't a music student; in fact he did poorly at the subject in school. And he never took a lesson. Yet his "feel", his pitch, his creative edge, his expressiveness, and his power were all on point, and from a very early age. Even at twenty, he possessed the experienced vocal prowess of someone over twice his age.

It is almost supernatural how he sang. His entire career seemed guided by the stars. Many people feel he was a gift from God, and I must say I agree.

Q. What do you think Elvis would be doing if he was still alive?

Joe E: I think he might have got back in to the movie business. Maybe got a chance to do those action movies he loved. In his music I think he would have gone back to his roots and recorded more country and gospel songs. Y’know, Elvis sang gospel more than anything else when he was at Graceland playing the piano by himself.

(EIN Note: Back in 2001 the “Elvis Is Alive” stories were far more active and headline-grabbing than they are now)

Q. What about the ‘Elvis Is Alive’ stories and Gail Brewer-Georgio’s book?

Joe E: If only. Everyone knows it was Elvis in the coffin whatever the stories and what people say. That woman is only in it for the money, it’s all fiction. I am surprised that Graceland don’t make a statement to counteract her stories. That phone-call tape she supposedly had.. the guy on the tape was really a guy named David Darlock and he admitted to me that it  was a hoax. He said the same thing on TV ... on Geraldo I think it was.

Q. Can I ask you about the stuff Dee Stanley has written about Elvis?

Joe E: All those bad lies are coming from a very bitter and angry old woman. Elvis was always skeptical of Dee and that was why Elvis did not attend her wedding to Vernon. He was right. Those horrible claims about Elvis and Gladys… as well as Elvis being gay. I can tell you that Elvis loved women and that women loved Elvis! After everything that Elvis did for her three sons… I think Priscilla or someone should take Dee to court for defamation.

Q. So what is your fondest memory of Elvis?

Joe E: Best memory is Elvis looking at me with that big smile on his face. And also I remember him performing on stage when sometimes he would sing a song with such sincerity that it would bring tears to my eyes. I also knew that Elvis was always there for any of his close friends. To this day I feel bad that he's no longer with us.

On the 2001 tour Joe Esposito talked openly about the final days with Elvis so we didn’t want to ask him all over again. However this is how he explained that fateful night to Larry King on CNN.

Joe E: Elvis got depressed a lot towards the latter couple years of his life. Because people don't realize when you're a big star, you turn 40 years old and at that time 40 was old. And there was a picture on a magazine, I forgot, it was 'Life' or 'Look' that said 'Happy Birthday Fat and 40 Elvis'. And that's a horrible thing to say about anybody. And that got to him. Little by little... You know, if you get depressed, you try to take something to make you feel happy, just like a person that drinks, they'd have a drink. Well, he'd take a pill.

Turning 40 was the downhill point.

Elvis didn't eat good. He had an enlarged heart. He had high blood pressure. People didn't realize. And not only that, if you look at his family on his mother's side, they all died at very young ages. They were all addictive people. Couple of his cousins died from drug overdose and stuff, and his mother drank a lot. So, on his mother's side it was bad.

He was on medication because he had glaucoma in one eye. He had some intestines problem. That's why a lot of his medication was off. But all that medication doesn't help because Elvis figured, you know, if one pill is ok, then take two pills must help better. But you know it doesn't work.

I was there August 16. We were getting ready to go on tour that evening. The night before, I talked to him. He was fine. I talked to him. I said, anything you need before we leave?
We were getting ready to go to Portland, Maine. We were leaving the day of the 16th at 7.00. And I fly to Portland, spend the night there and do the show the next day.

We were going to leave that night of the 16th. And his girlfriend Ginger Alden called downstairs.
She called downstairs, asked for somebody -- Elvis had fainted in the bathroom. So, I ran upstairs and went into the bathroom. And I saw him on the floor. And... so I turned him over. And the minute I touched him, I knew he had been dead. I knew it right then. I picked the phone up real quick. It was sitting right next to the bathroom, there was phone there. And I called for an ambulance. The ambulance got there and I went into the ambulance with him, him and Charlie Hodge was with me and Dr. Nick got there too. We went to the hospital, took him to the emergency room.

I knew it. I was hoping it could be possible, but I just knew there was no way. It was -- you know, it didn't hit me for awhile that he passed away. It was just -- I just sort of blocked it out of my head. But it was tough. It was very tough.

He was, we were very close friends and we spent a lot of time together. And I consider him my best friend. And, so, when you lose somebody like that and all the time we spent together, our whole lives together, I thought my life had ended right there.

At the hospital they wanted me to made the announcement to the press but I wouldn't do it. I just couldn't. They wanted -- I said, yes I'll do it. But then, emotionally, I couldn't have done it. So the P.R. guy from the hospital made the announcement.
It was a day of my life I'll never forget.

I want you to know that at his core, Elvis was a wonderful, decent person. He cared deeply about his fans and sacrificed a great portion of his personal life to please them. He loved his country and supported its military. He was a praying man and he respected people. He honored his parents, cared for his daughter and cherished his friends.

He strove to be the pillar of strength we could all rely upon. He rarely complained of his own problems but was always there to listen and help us with ours. His generosity knew no bounds.

Elvis lived to make people happy, and he himself was happiest when he brought joy to someone else. I wish there was a way all the good he has done with his gifts throughout the world could be measured.

The comfort and enjoyment his music still brings to millions every day is impossible to comprehend. His influence as a performer and as a humanitarian has touched untold millions of people. We can never compile exact statistics, but I believe Elvis Presley will forever remain one of the most inspirational and influential men the world will ever know.

Joe Esposito was interviewed by Nigel Patterson for the EIN Fan Club in 2001.


-Copyright EIN November 2016 -
EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.


DO NOT COPY ANY OF THIS MATERIAL © Copyright the Elvis Information Network

Click here to comment on this interview


Joe Esposito January 22, 1938 - November 23,2016 - RIP. 

Other EIN interviews with members of the Memphis Mafia:

Read EIN's 2005 interview with Marty Lacker

Read EIN's 2008 interview with Lamar Fike

Read EIN's 2007 interview with Sonny West

Read EIN's 2006 interview with Billy Smith

Read EIN's 2006 interview with Larry Geller

Larry Geller interview with EIN 2007:

Read EIN's 1986 interview with Charlie Hodge

Patti Parry exclusive EIN Interview:

Red West Interview: 

Linda Thompson - Interview Special:

Jerry Schilling Interview - 2008

Sam Thompson, Elvis' bodyguard, 2011 Interview:

Linda and Sam Thompson in Australia 2013

Interview with Dick Grob, Elvis' Head Of Security:

Shirley Dieu, author of Memphis Mafia Princess, talks to EIN:

- Copyright Elvis Information Network 2016.

EIN Website content © Copyright the Elvis Information Network.
Elvis Presley, Elvis and Graceland are trademarks of Elvis Presley Enterprises.
The Elvis Information Network has been running since 1986 and is an EPE officially recognised Elvis fan club.













Did you miss these Popular EIN Reviews
'Live A Little, Love A Little' FTD Soundtrack Review:
'If I Can Dream' Elvis with the RPO - In-depth CD Review:
'A Touch Of Gold Lamé' Book Review
'Elvis: Today' in-depth Legacy Review:
'Hard Knocks' Bootleg CD Review:
'Rock Around The Bloch' FTD Book Review
'Elvis' Christmas Album' FTD Review:
'Flaming Star' FTD Review
Is 'From Elvis In Memphis' the only Elvis album you need to own?
'Final Countdown To Midnight' NYE 1976 - in-depth Review:
'ELVIS' FTD Classic Album Review:
'Elvis-The King Of The Jungle' In-Depth Book Review:
(Book Review): Elvis' Favorite Director:Norman Taurog:
'Ultimate Elvis' Book Review
'Elvis In Florida April 1975' FTD In-Depth Review:
'Ultimate Elvis' Book Review:
The Elvis Films (Book Review)
'Elvis In Florida April 1975' FTD In-Depth Review:
(Book Review): CHANNELING ELVIS How Television Saved the King of Rock 'n' Roll:
(Book Review) Elvis and Ginger:
‘Final Countdown To Midnight' jewel-case Versions Review:
(Book Review) Memphis Mafia Princess:
'Elvis Music FAQ' - Book Review:
'Elvis Films FAQ' Book Review:
'The On Stage Season' FTD In-Depth Review:
'Love Me Tender' Blu-Ray Edition Review:
'Houston We Have A Problem' - CD review:
‘Elvis At Stax’ [Deluxe] Reviews:
'The Elvis Files Vol. 1 1953-56' In Depth Book Review:
'Aloha From Hawaii' 40th Anniv LEGACY CD Review:
'Prince From Another Planet’ In-Depth Review:
'Elvis: Walk A Mile In My Shoes' - EIN Review:
‘Greatest Live Hits of the 50s’ MRS CD Review: 
'A Boy From Tupelo' special In-depth Review:
Bootleg Elvis (Book Review)
'From Hawaii to Las Vegas' FTD CD Review:
'Blue Hawaii - The Expanded Alternate Album' Review:
'Elvis: Live at the International' Book Review:
'The Complete Louisiana Hayride Archives 1954-1956’ Review:
Did You Miss these Popular Interviews?
Interview - Joseph Rene, author of Elvis, The Numbers:
"Dr. Nick" Exclusive EIN interview:
EIN Joyce Bova exclusive Interview:
Ginger Alden Interview:
Elaine Beckett -Easy Come Easy Go costar- Interview:
Shirley Dieu, author of Memphis Mafia Princess, talks to EIN:
Interview With Elvis author - : Gillian G. Gaar
Interview with Dick Grob, Elvis' Head Of Security:
Hollywood veteran Michael Hoey talks to EIN:
Interview with 'Elvis Films FAQ' author Paul Simpson:
Elvis Music FAQ - Mike Eder Interview:
"My Fast Life" Rare Elvis Presley 1964 Interview:
John Wilkinson Tribute & 1972 Interview:
'Elvis: Walk A Mile In My Shoes' - Arjan Deelen Interview:
RIP - Bernard Lansky talks to EIN:
Allyson Adams 'The Rebel and The King' Interview: 
Interview with Elvis Photographer Dagmar:
Linda and Sam Thompson in Australia:
Vernon Presley Interview:
Jerry Leiber Interview for EIN
Elvis Paradise Hawaiian Interview - with Peter Noone
Sam Thompson, Elvis' bodyguard, 2011 Interview
James Burton Interview - Rick Nelson & Elvis:
Elvis Drummer Jerome "Stump" Monroe EIN Interview:
Donnie Sumner Remembers his friend Sherrill Nielsen: 
Lamar Fike EIN Exclusive Interview
Ernst Jorgensen interview about 'The Complete Masters' and more:
D.J Fontana Interview - Elvis Week 2010 special: 
Red West Interview:- 2010 Elvis week special
Linda Thompson - Interview Special:
Elvis in 1969 - Ann Moses & Ray Connolly Interviews:
Ernst Jorgensen interview about 'On Stage' and Elvis' Legacy in 2010:
Dr. Nick talks to EIN
Larry Geller
Mac Davis
Roger Semon
Ernst Jorgensen
Wayne Jackson (Memphis Horns)
Ernst Jorgensen (Record Collector)
Did You Miss these Popular EIN articles
"Baby, Let's Play House" - EIN Spotlight 
'If I Can Dream' new Elvis album - EIN Readers Respond:
"You Can Have Her" Elvis' One-Off Performance:
'Elvis Meets The Beatles':
Did Elvis Record 'Tiger Man' At Sun?
Forever Elvis - A 2015 commemorative Spotlight:
Elvis "Non Stop Erotic Cabaret":
'Suppose - Did It Inspire Imagine':
'Trains, Jet Planes and Morning Rain' EIN Spotlight:
Wertheimer's Reaction To Finding The 'Mystery Kisser':
UPDATED - 'Elvis Madison 1977 - The Gas Station Incident' with Kathy Westmoreland:
"If You're Going To Start A Rumble" -The Importance of Fights In Elvis Movies:
'Big Boss Man: What Kind of Technical Advice Did Parker Provide for Elvis’s Movies?':
JAZZWORLD - Music vs. Elvis Presley.
UPDATED - 'American Studios 1969 - A Turning Point In History':
Elvis' Personal Record Collection:
Linda and Sam Thompson in Australia:
Fourteen Key Elvis Singles:
Happy Birthday EIN EIN turns 100 – a retrospective!:
Elvis Week Through The Years - Sanja Meegin looks back:
'The Wedding' Elvis & Priscilla EIN special Spotlight:
John Lennon And Elvis: It was "Thirty Years Ago Today"
Elvis at Madison Square Garden 40 Years Ago
'Elvis In Ottawa' Spotlight & Elvis Interview:
"Kissed By Elvis" Janet Fulton Interview:
'1956, Elvis Presley’s Pivotal Year':
'Elvis In Concert' 1977 TV special; Should it be released officially?
Ernst Jorgensen interview about 'The Complete Masters' and more:
Dark Side of the Colonel
Best of Elvis on YouTube
Graceland cam
EPE's Multimedia Elvis Gallery
Sirius Elvis Satellite Radio
Elvis Radio (ETA's)
Elvis Express Radio
Ultimate Elvis Radio
Elvis Only Radio
"Images in Concert" PhotoDatabase
Radio Interview: Vernon & Gladys Presley
Sanja's Elvis Week 2007 Photo Gallery
'EIN's Best of Elvis on YouTube'
The Music of Elvis Presley - Australian Radio Show
All about Elvis
All about Elvis Tribute Artists
All about Graceland
All about Lisa Marie Presley
Ancestors of Elvis
Art Archives
Book Releases 2009
Contact List
Elvis and Racism
Elvis as Religion
Elvis CDs in 2007
Elvis DVDs in 2006
Elvis Film Guide
'2007 New Releases'
Elvis Presley In Concert "downunder" 2006
Elvis Online Virtual Library
Elvis Research Forum
Elvis Rules on Television
Graceland - The National Historic Landmark
How & where do I sell my Elvis collection?
Is Elvis the best selling artist?
Links to Elvis' family & friends
Links to other Elvis sites
Marty's Musings
Online Elvis Symposium
Parkes Elvis Festival 2009 (Australia)
Presley Law legal archives (Preslaw)
Presleys In The Press
Sale of EPE (Archives)
6th Annual Elvis Website Survey
Spotlight on The King
"Wikipedia" Elvis biography