Larry Geller Interview
Elvis' spiritual mentor, hairdresser and one of Elvis' closest friends, answers questions for EIN and the fans.
From 1964 until the very final days Larry Geller was a close friend to Elvis.
Perhaps Elvis might have even lived longer had he paid more attention to Geller's healthy life-style and managed to shake off the demands of Colonel Parker.
Elvis fans often send questions to EIN for us to pass onto Larry Geller but with the 30th Anniversary fast approaching, Larry was kind enough to answer a lot of the questions, and to also tell us something about his new book.
Larry Geller has multiple projects happening at this very moment, so EIN extends its sincere thanks to him for sparing us the time for this interview.
(Right: Elvis and Larry Geller in 1966)
EIN - Hi Larry it's great to talk to you once again and thanks so much for sparing some of your valuable time. Let me first ask you how did your 'GellerCare: Healthy Hair, Healthy Life' project that we talked about last time? And what are you doing nowadays?
Larry Geller - I'm so glad you asked, as I'm going forward with several exciting projects right now! I certainly don't want to appear as if I'm here attempting to sell a book, as that's not my intention for this interview. But this is the perfect opportunity to give everyone a heads-up on what I'm up to these days. In a few weeks I'll have my own website up and running. It will be at www.larrygellerauthor.com.
It will feature my new book - the one I've been working on the past few years - the culmination of all that I've written about Elvis over the years.
It's entitled 'Leaves of Elvis' Garden - The song of his soul'. The web site will offer more information about the book, but I can honestly say no matter how much you may already know of Elvis, you will come away feeling that you know him far better for having experienced this book. This new book of mine explores in depth Elvis' very personal search for meaning and his relationship with God.
EIN - A lot of Elvis fans are always interested in the "other side" of Elvis, if I can call it that. The more spiritual and personal side - since of course we tend to hear more about the touring & rock'n'roll side of his life.
LG - You are right but in this book everyone will be able to read more about many private conversations along these lines and other important subjects, with quotes and passages from some of his favorite books, which will shed an intimate and revealing light on Elvis' inner life. There will be never-before-seen pages taken from his books, underlined and with his private marginal notes, will also be included.
So 'Leaves of Elvis' Garden' is not a conventional Elvis book, another version of the story that's been told again and again. Of course many of these books are valuable as you know, and the stories about Elvis offer information that is essential to understanding his total legendary life and career. What I'm conveying here is that my new book will look deeper into the heart and soul, the very essence of the man; it's the untold dimension of his life.
But back to your original question about my other book; Healthy Life, Great Looks, Healthy Hair!. Actually, we had a small printing of the book for my visit to some Elvis fan clubs in the UK, The Netherlands and Belgium in 2005. The book sold out immediately, and then it was decided to postpone any further printings until the publication of 'Leaves of Elvis' Garden'. My web site will offer both books, as well as a picture gallery, media room and many other exciting elements.
(Right: The cover of Larry Geller's new book)
EIN- As you know I often get fan questions via the website that I have forwarded to you. It would be great if your website offered this as an option for fans.
LG - I did realise that fact - and so I should mention that on my web site there will be an 'ask Larry Geller' page, where I will answer questions submitted by Elvis fans. It will be updated on a regular basis.
In fact I just realized what the date is today. I'll bet most of you know that this was the day when Elvis sang in public for the very last time. But it was also Colonel Parker's birthday, and the day Elvis' father Vernon died in 1979. (EIN note: This interview took place on June 26th 2007)
EIN - What is your relationship with Priscilla and EPE now?
LG - My relations with Priscilla and EPE are excellent. Not too long ago I had lunch with Priscilla, and we had a great time. We both live in Southern California, as does Jerry Schilling.
EIN - What about your involvement in other EPE projects?
LG - Well EPE and Reese's (The Hershey Company) are coming out with a new Elvis candy bar: peanut butter banana cream filled. And it's delicious! Also, a famous car designer in America, Boyd Cuddington is creating a new pink Cadillac, based upon Elvis' pink Caddy. Both will debut in July in New York. I was selected by EPE along with George Klein and Sam Thompson to be spokespeople for the project. We'll be doing a lot of media, and it's an honor to represent Elvis this way.
EIN - What did you think of the documentary 'Elvis By the Presleys'. Some fans wanted to know why so many of Elvis' well-known friends were not featured. Even real "Presley family" like Billy Smith was not included. Did you think this somewhat strange?
LG - I liked the documentary, especially the film footage. It was produced with TLC and a lot of thought, but I also thought so much more could have been added. And of course Billy Smith and a few others could have offered a lot of material that wasn't covered in the documentary. Look, when it comes to Elvis' life there's a deep well to drink from. It's like looking through a prism, many colors and shapes appear, providing new and exciting perceptions. I certainly hope in the future more of this type of film will be produced.
EIN - Do you go back to Memphis each year? How often do you go into Graceland and what does it feel like?
LG - I go to Memphis every few years in August for Elvis week. I always speak at several venues, for EPE events, and never miss participating in George Klein's special Memorial. The most significant time for me there, is when I attend the Candlelight Vigil.
EIN - Fans have often asked where was your accommodation when you lived at Graceland?
LG - Elvis gave me the room downstairs off from the jungle room. But I began renting an apartment across the street from Graceland, and sometimes on Winchester Rd., because I always brought my family to Memphis from Los Angeles. In the 60s, we made three movies a year, so half the time we spent in Memphis. After completion of any movie we always went back there for a few months. In the 70s, I stayed at Howard Johnson's down the street from Graceland.
EIN - How much were you involved in the creation of Elvis' Meditation Garden? Did Elvis talk about it with you?
LG - From the very beginning, my relationship with Elvis was rooted in our shared spiritual quest. Together we explored the world’s great esoteric philosophies and religions, teachings that struck many people at that time as bizarre and eccentric, a perception I honestly couldn’t fully appreciate since I’d grown up with these ideas. Of course this was back in 1964, and spiritual ideas were at that time off the beaten path; today it's in vogue. Elvis was always ahead of his time, in just about anything he did.
(Right: Elvis in the Meditation Garden in the sixties)
Within that first year of my working with Elvis, everyone in the group began speaking about "the big change." It's true I entered Elvis' life as his hairstylist, but I introduced him to new spiritual vistas and shared in his sacred quest. Elvis began reading spiritual books every day, whether at Graceland, in Bel Air or his dressing room at the studios. Wherever we were, we spent hours together, speaking about every subject under the sun. It was true, Elvis was changing - and no one was more aware of it than Elvis. Because of the profound changes in his thinking, he decided to create a Meditation Garden (we never in our wildest imaginations envisioned what it has become today).
Elvis and I had many discussions about a Meditation Garden, and my influence was key in this regard. Without getting too wordsy or philosophical: Elvis was pursuing the deepest urges of his very being. It's rather difficult for me to speak about 'my influence' and all that; I'm not coming from an ego point of view, but I must define things as best I can; that's my job.
EIN - What does it feel like going back to the Meditation Garden & do you ever get to spend time there on your own?
LG - It's an extraordinary experience for me whenever I visit the Meditation Garden. Each time I become speechless as memories flood my being, sweeping over me as my emotions span the spectrum from unbearable pain to a deep sense of joy and acceptance.
A few times I've been there by myself - but never alone.
EIN - We heard there's an ABC Elvis Special coming up later this year, are you involved with that?
LG - Just recently I was asked to be part of a major ABC network prime special about Elvis with Jerry Schilling. It is scheduled to air the evening of September 12th. They have asked me not only to speak about being Elvis personal hairstylist, but to go into his spiritual life as well, because that's what so many people are interested in today.
EIN - Fans often ask us if anyone can confirm that Elvis really asked Ginger Alden to marry her? Did you think she was taking on too hard a role being Elvis' girlfriend, as she was so young?
LG - I was there when he asked her. It happened a few days after Elvis' birthday, his very last one in January of 1977. It was around 4am, in his Palm Springs home where I had just concluded marrying Elvis' dentist Max Shapiro. I was at that time licensed in the State of California, and the last minute ceremony I put together for Dr. Max and his new bride deeply touched Elvis.
Right after the ceremony that took place in Charlie Hodge's large rustic bedroom, Elvis asked Ginger and me to follow him into his bedroom. He was so impressed, he said enthusiastically, "That's the way I want to get married, a ceremony like that." He turned to Ginger, who had he only been with for about six weeks, and said, "Ginger, I haven't asked you before, but I would like us to get married, and I want Larry to do it the same way he married Dr. Max and Susan, so what do you think, do you want to?"
Ginger of course said "yes". Elvis then told us how he would like to have the ceremony done at Graceland later in the year. I explained that it would only be legal if I performed it in California. Elvis said he'd bring in a minister to make it legal, then I could officiate and create the type of ceremony we had just experienced.
EIN - It sounds almost too romantic. So do you really think that Elvis would have gone though with the marriage idea in the end?
LG - In my heart of hearts, I knew Elvis would never marry Ginger. She came on tour with us November 29th, and he really didn't know her. Plus there were other factors such as the age difference and the fact that the dust hadn't settled yet: Elvis was still going through the infatuation phase and he wasn't seeing the situation clearly. Eventually he did; it just took a little more time, but the truth always comes out.
Ginger was a very nice person. I liked her, but to become Elvis Presley's wife - no way. She was too young, and it wasn't the perfect match Elvis so desperately wanted.
(Right: Elvis and Ginger Alden)
EIN - A fan asks if Elvis ever used curse words as she didn't think it was in his nature? What about stories of Elvis temper?
LG - I've heard this before, and these stories stem from sources that have blown this subject out of proportion. Did Elvis curse? Yes at times - who doesn't? Did he lose his temper? Yes, but not that often.
Elvis was a super sensitive person, a true artist, but those around him didn't share in those sensitivities. I'm not trying to make excuses for Elvis, but the stories and rumors are exaggerated. This is a loaded and complicated subject, but for this forum, I have to say simply that over the years Elvis made a special effort to grow as a person and curb his anger and other tendencies that we all have. In fact this quality, to learn and evolve is something most of us should follow; especially a few of those who have pointed the finger.
Believe me, Elvis was far more intelligent and insightful than those around him. From my point of view he's been harshly and wrongly judged. Naturally, by the mere fact that he was human - he was flawed. He recognized that, and aspired to attain a higher and more refined way of being, both as an artist and as a human being.
EIN - What are your feelings about other members of Elvis' group - Do you stay in touch with the "Memphis Mafia"? How do you feel about fans suggesting that their is tension between the whole group?
LG - Those of us who were part of Elvis' life shared something extremely personal and historical; we are in a uniquely special group. Even if some of us are on different tracks in life, or some of us don't see eye-to-eye on certain issues, my feelings remain harmonious and special for all.
I want to say here that for any question that deals with my opinion or feelings about the many people associated with Elvis, that this is something I just don't do. I'm not comfortable doing it; the main aim of my work is to write and speak about Elvis.
(Photo: Charlie Hodge far left with Larry Geller far right - on stage at the Elvis celebration concert Memphis in 2002)
EIN - Everyone was very sad that Charlie Hodge died last year, when did you last talk with him?
LG - Thankfully Charlie and I kept in touch over the years. During his illness we spoke quite a few times. Two days before he died we were on the phone, and the last thing I said to him was that I loved him.
EIN - A fans asks why is the reason that you left Elvis after the Clambake incident - i.e. Elvis' increase in spiritual interest and the Colonel's dislike of it - rarely mentioned in official biographies of Elvis?
LG - Like it says in Kenny Rodger's, "You got to know when to hold them, an' know when to fold them." It was crystal clear to me that I could serve Elvis and myself better if I left, on my own. At the same time I knew without a certain doubt, that if I did leave - I would return, when it was time. It was so difficult to make that decision, but I knew that if I did, there was no way the circle wouldn't be complete, later on down the line.
As it turned out we were re-united, and our bond only grew stronger over the next five years until his passing.
To more specifically answer your question: How could anyone else really tackle this subject? It just couldn't be done properly without someone being inside my head. That's my territory.
EIN - It is so common now for Superstars to go to drying-out clinics and health farms. Did you ever talk to Elvis about these possibilities?
LG - This is a huge subject. Again I go into it in more depth in 'Leaves of Elvis' Garden'. I'll give you one brief example in the following short excerpt from the book.
"In the last few years of Elvis’ life, he increasingly suffered from a host of debilitating health conditions, and his state of health became a source of distress and continual conversation between us. I’m confident that Elvis could have saved his life and lived longer if only he had only used the knowledge that he possessed. Not just applying spiritual technology alone, but by integrating and practicing the principles and insights replete in the various books on nutrition, health and rejuvenation that I brought to him. Titles like Adele Davis’ classic 'Let’s Get Well, The Book of Living Foods' by Edmond Szekely, and 'Become Younger' by Dr. Norman W. Walker, recognized as one of the most authoritative voices of health and nutrition. He understood so much of this intellectually, but he seemed incapable, of putting it into practice for himself...
As his physical and emotional pain increased, he often said to me, "The spirit is willing, Lawrence, but the flesh is weak."
Approaching the breaking point, Elvis was determined to fight for and transform his life. He knew quite well that he was entering uncharted waters, and that the road ahead for him would be difficult, even turbulent. Elvis finally woke up to the painful reality of his situation and acknowledged that without dramatic changes in his life, both personal and professional, he would not survive.
Many times during the closing months of his life we explored ways for him to take on the task of transforming his body and revitalizing his spirit. A plan soon emerged: we would go to one of his favorite places, Hawaii. We even had the perfect house in Oahu picked out. Elvis was burnt out after years of touring the country, and was excited by the prospect of taking off a year or so, if that was what it might take to turn everything around.
The idea of kicking back and relaxing, finally cutting out junk foods and getting off "all those damn pills they give me" really inspired him, lifting him from the boredom and the rut he had fallen into. "Larry, just one of my doses would wipe out an elephant. Man, if you were in my body you’d feel like a wrecked jalopy right out of demolition derby. Believe me; I know exactly what’s at stake."
He was looking forward to his rejuvenating "sabbatical." Eating loads of fresh fruits and vegetables, drinking fresh juices, daily exercise, running and playing football on the beach and meditation were at the top of the list. We were like little kids eagerly looking forward to the end of the school year and the long, happy days of summer vacation. It’s a beautiful fantasy I carry with me to this day.
And there were other changes afoot. For years Elvis had talked to me about making significant changes in his business and career."
EIN - As Elvis' hairdresser and close personal friend, what do you think was your most important contribution to Elvis' life?
LG - Being a true friend to the best of my ability.
(Right: Elvis and Larry Geller sharing happier times in Hawaii March 1977 during Elvis' last vacation.)
EIN - Larry we have never talked before about Elvis and these strange stories of his alleged racism. What do you think about these accusations that occurred throughout Elvis’ career?
LG - Elvis a racist? that's absurd! No Way! Elvis was universal in his outlook; he accepted and respected all races, creeds and religions. Elvis was very evolved that way. He was the first to acknowledge that his music was rooted in the black race. Of course back in the day, everyone including Elvis used the word Negro.
I remember once that he told me, '"Negroes have more soul in one finger than most whites have in their whole body."
EIN - The Osmonds are now saying that Elvis studied the Book of Mormon and they are making a movie about it. Do you know if Elvis ever studied the Book of Mormon.
LG - This is absolutely not true! Ed Parker gave Elvis the Book of Mormon, as he was a Mormon. Elvis skimmed through it, read a few parts and lost interest. He respected all religions, but never studied in depth their philosophy.
It's been also been bandied about that some of these 'Mormon people' have claimed that Elvis was planning on becoming a Mormon, and joining the church of Mormon. There is no truth to this at all. Elvis was not going to join any church, follow any guru, or belong to any cult, that's for sure! I remember his outlook regarding this subject quite well.
EIN - Before we wrap up can you share one story with us that reveals what Elvis was like, that perhaps gives an insight to his way of thinking and the way he talked with you?
LG - Certainly. I remember one afternoon in 1966 upstairs in Elvis’ bedroom at Graceland, he and I were talking about his mother’s passing in 1958. It was the most turbulent, disoriented and confusing time in his life: drafted into the Army, leaving the career that had exploded two years earlier, uncertain what the future would bring.
"Man, you can’t believe what I was goin’ through back then. I mean everything just crashing in on me at once, every dream I ever had. Just when everything was going my way the Army calls me. My career came to a screeching halt; all the movies I was starring in, TV, my records, everything. I actually thought that nobody would remember me after I served my time, that Id be a flash-in-the-pan. Then the first thing they do when I’m inducted is buzz my hair off!"
Elvis shook his head incredulously. "Can you imagine that, my hair? Then, when I’m struggling to deal with everything, my mom suddenly died! Lawrence, I hope you never have to grieve like I did. My mom was the light of my life, my best friend; I mean, she’s the one I could always go to...man, that’s a blow you can never really get over."
Elvis became very quiet, lost in his memories. "You know me, Lawrence. I’ve always had an inquisitive mind; I want to know what’s behind everything. Even when I was a little kid, I would always be askin’ my mom about my brother Jesse, you know, why he never had a chance to live. I can still hear her voice telling me just like it was yesterday, ‘Honey, God took your little brother back home to heaven ‘cause it was part of his plan. He has a plan for everybody: for your daddy, for me…and for you too, Elvis. Someday I’ll be goin’ back home, and someday daddy’s gonna go home. And even someday – a long, long time from now – God’s gonna bring you home, too. An’ then we’ll all be together again, all of us back home in heaven.’"
Elvis looked at me intently. He leaned forward and, with conviction in his voice, said, "And that’s exactly what I believe Lawrence; we’re all going back home…someday."
EIN - Thank you so much for talking with us Larry. You always offer the fans new insights into the wonderful human side of Elvis, and I really look forward to catching up in Memphis this August.
GO HERE TO LARRY GELLER's WEBSITE
Interview by Piers Beagley, June 26th 2007.
-Copyright EIN, June 2007.
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