Warning: parts of this article may offend or disturb some people
Since his death in 1977 there have been a number of incredible claims made about Elvis. From the undying theme that Elvis faked his death to stories of his illegitimate children, Elvis being abducted by aliens and Elvis being murdered by the mob the stories are the staple of tabloid journalism and help sell thousands of books and magazines each year.
However the most incredible story published about Elvis is one that received only ‘point-in-time’ publicity despite its very sensational theme.
In 1992, tabloid magazines around the world including the ‘Star’ in America and ‘People’ in Australia carried a story by British journalist and alleged friend of Elvis, Derek Johnson, called ‘The Day Elvis Confessed…I Killed A Man!’
According to Johnson he first became friendly with Elvis while both were GI’s stationed in Germany . He claims to have subsequently visited Elvis at Graceland including in 1976, fifteen months before Elvis died. It was on this last visit that Elvis told him the horrible truth about the secret he had carried with him since a teenager:
“I’ve missed your visits”, he said. “but you’re here now and it might be the last time.”
I was shocked and asked: “What the hell are you talking about?”
He took his time answering. He popped a couple of pills into his mouth, took a swig from a cola bottle and grabbed a giant cheeseburger from 15 on a heating tray and said: “Well the way things are going, I may not be around much longer”….then he grabbed my sleeve and said, “Del I’ve got something to tell you…You asked me why I couldn’t shake off the colonel’s hold and now I’ll tell you.
“I once killed a man. I was in my teens and driving a truck. I hit this guy and stopped.
“I got out to help him but saw right away that he was dead because the wheel had gone over his head. I was nearly sick on the spot and I panicked.
“I drove off. No-one linked me to it because I was 200 miles from home.
“But when the colonel became my manager I thought I’d better tell him. He told me to forget about it but he kept bringing it up.
“I’ve been stuck with it for my whole career and there’s no get out. It’s haunted me ever since.”
Derek Johnson’s story is certainly incredible. But what are his credentials? Did he actually know Elvis? Were they friends? And did Johnson visit Graceland in 1976 as he claims?
To answer these questions EIN put on its investigative hat.
Not surprisingly, there were no references to Derek or 'Del' Johnson in any of the major biographies on Elvis. We do know he is a former editor of New Musical Express, the prestigious UK music magazine. And we did ascertain that he was the author of at least two other British magazines in 1988-89, ‘Elvis’ and ‘The Legend Lives On’.
In Alanna Nash’s impressive work, “Elvis Aaron Presley - Revelations of the Memphis Mafia’ we came across Marty Lacker repeating the Johnson story. Unfortunately the short coverage in Ms Nash’s book shed no further light on the subject although Marty Lacker commented that he didn’t believe Johnson’s story was true.
Using our contacts we decided to ask a number of people close to Elvis while he was stationed in Germany . At least they may be able to confirm Johnson’s alleged ‘friendship’ with Elvis. We contacted Rex and Elisabeth Mansfield, co-authors of ‘Elvis Missing Years’ through Marshall Terrill and Sergeant Ira Jones, co-author of Elvis In Germany through Bill Burk in Memphis. The Mansfield's categorically stated they had never heard of Derek Johnson!
Similarly, an email was sent to Joe Esposito through Australian Elvis tribute artist, Mick Gerace, asking if Joe remembered Derek Johnson visiting Graceland especially in 1976. While a response from Joe has yet to be received, Mick Gerace has indicated the story is a complete fabrication!
So is Derek Johnson’s story a cruel fabrication by a money hungry journalist or a factual account of a real, but unfortunate, accident? Regardless of its bona fides, his story ranks in the top echelon of the most incredible stories ever published about Elvis.
Postscript: There is an interesting aside to this story. Earlier in 1992 another Australian magazine, Australasian Post, published a short article about ‘Aussie’ private eye, John Ryan. Ryan had supplemented his income since the age of 14 by doing Elvis impersonations. According to the story he was to star in an Australian feature film, due for release in late 1992 called ‘Elvis Killed My Brother’. If the film was ever made it wasn’t released.
This edition of Spotlight on the King was prepared by Nigel Patterson (email@example.com), © 2002
Derek Johnson is the former news editor of New Musical Express
British Journalist Derek Johnson dies April 22 2009: Derek Johnson who worked on the British music publication NME from 1957-86, has passed away aged 81. Johnson began contributing to NME shortly after its launch in 1952 and joined the staff full-time in 1957, leaving his post as programming director at Radio Luxembourg to do so. He worked as Features Editor and News Editor, writing prolifically for all sections of the paper. In 1960 he flew to Germany to interview Elvis Presley. The two men became friends and he interviewed Presley on several further occasions, even staying, on the singer's invitation, at Graceland.
Johnson eventually left NME in 1986 to run his own news service. He was born on January 17, 1928 in London and died on April 22 2009 in Exeter.
"Elvis Presley is the supreme socio-cultural icon in the history of pop culture"
(Dr. Gary Enders)
" Elvis is the 'glue' which holds our society together....which subconciously gives our world meaning"
"Eventually everybody has to die, except Elvis"
(humorist Dave Barry)
"He is the "Big Bang", and the universe he detonated is still expanding, the pieces are still flying"
(Greil Marcus, "Dead Elvis")
"I think Elvis Presley will never be solved"
"He was the most popular man that ever walked on this planet since Christ himself was here"
"When I first heard Elvis' voice I just knew I wasn't going to work for anybody...hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail"
"When we were kids growing up in Liverpool, all we ever wanted was to be Elvis Presley"
(Sir Paul McCartney)