Elvis' friend & me

It’s a given that I tend to get really excited about little things, and with that I can be a starstruck dork sometimes. But don’t even try prying the smile that comes over my face every time I think of this day for the next few weeks …

I spent most of this morning sitting with Elvis Presley’s best friend, Joe Esposito.

I got the assignment yesterday that Esposito was stopping at a local auto dealership and the news needed someone to ‘do something with it.’ … A ginormous music fan, I am, yes. But an Elvis fan, I never have been. Although I have great respect for the standards he set and the roads he paved for rock n’ roll, it seems to me that a music fan’s allegiances always start with Elvis or the Beatles. I’ve always been a Beatles man.

Nevertheless, I did some hardcore Internet cramming and studying all things Elvis-related late Tuesday, and still didn’t feel as prepared as I would’ve liked. … But I walked into the dealership’s main building shortly after Esposito’s arrival at 9 a.m. and instantly got a sense of Esposito’s gracious and polite personality, as we introduced ourselves. For nearly the next three hours, he allowed me to sit next to him while he signed photos and books for a steady stream of fans, patiently answering my questions with more details than I ever could have imagined …

The long story short: Esposito was a Chicago kid who met Elvis in the Army about 1958 and the two became instant friends. As soon as they were out of the Army, Esposito became Elvis’ road manager and spent virtually every day with Elvis during the next three decades. He was the best man at Elvis’ wedding, he was there when Lisa Marie was born, never missed a show in 18 years and was at Graceland getting ready for the next tour on the day Elvis died.

And the stories I got to hear from the dozens of Elvis fans who came out to greet Esposito were the icing on the cake. I was fascinated to say the least. And I think now I’ll make a little extra room next to all those Beatles CDs for a little bit of The King.

01.20.06 UPDATE: The AP picked up my story today, which you can read here.

In the meantime, a transcript of Esposito's August 2002 interview with Larry King can be found here and here’s some of Esposito’s more interesting answers to some of my questions:

About becoming friends with Elvis: “I always say when I met Elvis, ‘I won the lottery.’ My whole life changed. I was a kid from the streets of Chicago. I was never in the entertainment business and all of a sudden here I am with the biggest star in the world. We came back from the service. Frank Sinatra had the big welcome home show for Elvis. I’m in Miami Beach Fla., and I’m a kid from Chicago; I never traveled. So all of a sudden I’m in Miami Beach at the Fontainebleau Hotel, the top Penthouse, and I’m there with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford and all of these stars and Elvis. I said, ‘Am I dreaming?’ I was out on the patio, overlooking the beach. It was so gorgeous that hotel. At that time it was the biggest hotel in the United States. It was such an experience. I said, ‘I gotta pinch myself. I must be dreaming.’”

About Elvis’ personality: “He was so down to Earth. He’d read something in the paper about a kid who had his wheelchair stolen. He’d call immediately and say, ‘Make sure you get that over to that kids’ house’ and he took it over to the house. And that’s the kind of guy he was and it was just amazing. He would love to help people out and he was good about that. He says, you know Joe I make a lot of money, but money’s only made to enjoy and I want everybody else to enjoy it too.”

About Elvis’ relationships with women: “The one thing about Elvis, he loved women more than anything. He related to women more I guess because of his mother situation. He was very close to his mother. … He could never be a one-woman man, ever. No way. I still am very close to a lot of his old girlfriends, and they all love him. No matter what, they knew he had affairs, they still love the guy and they all say nothing but nice things about him.”

About Priscilla: “It was great at the beginning, let’s face it. But like I say he could never be a one woman guy. So he was definitely in love with her. Got married. It was a beautiful wedding, but eventually -- hey, we were all doing it. Our wives were married and we were single, that’s the way it was. I was the same way.”

About his wedding day: “It was very exciting. I think I was more nervous during the wedding than he was. He was so calm I couldn’t believe it. Priscilla was really nervous. But it was very exciting.”

About Lisa Marie’s birth: “That was very exciting too. He was nervous wreck at the hospital waiting. And after she was born he gave everybody cigars. He was just a little excited kid that his daughter was born. It was just very, very exciting.”

About raising their families together: “Easter Egg hunts. All that stuff. We really had just a normal life. A lot of picnics and birthday parties and parties for everybody. We just traveled and went on vacation a lot. We all traveled together. We did a lot of vacation in Hawaii and Aspen, Colo., and Vail, Colo., and places like that. We all did everything together.”

About Colonel Tom Parker: “Without him Elvis wouldn’t have been as big as he was because he knew how to handle it and keep him a mystery. That’s very important in that business. Never overexposed him. He made sure that people couldn’t get to him easy because otherwise, they get to somebody easy, they don’t want to see you anymore. You always gotta make it where you’re always in demand and he’d make sure that’s the way it was.”

About stardom: “Being a superstar to me is not a good thing because your life is no longer yours. You’re everybody else’s life and they’re always saying things about you they don’t need to tell or talk about. They make it all up. You know if you got any kind of feelings at all, it has to hurt. So you get depressed. It’s a very lonely position.”

Favorite Elvis song: “There’s too many of them. ‘It’s Now Or Never.’ The song ‘Don’t’ in the ‘50s. There’s so many I have that … I look at them differently. People when they hear them, they hear the song. When I hear him, I remember I was at the recording session. So there’s a big difference. So I see them in a different light than other people see them He’s got so many great songs that I love. The memories are just fabulous. When Elvis did a recording session, it was like a show, not like today. Today when a guy records, the guitar player plays one time. The singer comes in, the voices, the drummer and all that. We did a show every time. Everybody’s in the same room, the singers, musicians, everybody.”

Favorite Elvis movie: “I think his best movie was ‘King Creole.’ But ‘Viva Las Vegas’ was good. ‘Follow That Dream’ was a good movie. And they’re entertaining. His movies are entertaining, that’s what they are. Pure entertainment. No sex in them. Lots of beautiful women. Funny. Lot of good times.”

A rivalry with The Beatles? “He never looked at it that way. He said there was room for everybody out there. Whatever they did was fine with him. He loved a lot of artists. The papers make those kind of stories up to sell papers, that he didn’t like the Beatles and all that stuff. He liked anybody that was good. …When he grew up he was a big fan of Dean Martin. He liked the way he sang with a lot of feeling, good words. He loved Jackie Wilson, Roy Orbison. He loved a lot of entertainers. Depending on the song, and the words and the production of it. Tom Jones was a good friend of ours. He liked Frank Sinatra. He loved the Beatles; he recorded three of the Beatles songs. He loved the BeeGees. He loved John Denver, The Carpenters.”

About those jumpsuits: “The idea came up because he was tearing a lot of his pants out … He’d make a move, he’d do a karate kick and tear the bottom of his pants out, so Bill Belew, his wardrobe designer, came up with the idea. A jumpsuit, they can’t fall, it’s all one piece. And that’s why we got jumpsuits and that’s how it all started.”

On Elvis’ addiction to prescription pills: “He overdid everything. Cars, he’d buy 20 cars. Guns he’d buy 30 guns. Everything he did in life was that way. That’s the same thing he did with medication. He got injured a couple times, and he’d take pain pills. And pain pills give you a great buzz. ‘Oh this feels good.’ Little by little you like it. So you start getting them and that’s when you get hooked. And that’s what happened. Little by little he got hooked on medication, prescription drugs. And it’s hard to get off unless you want to get off. You have to be the one that wants to get off, just like an alcoholic. No matter what you say to anybody, they can sit and agree with you, but they ain’t going to change unless they want to. And he didn’t.”

On Elvis’ death: “There always were points where he would clean his act up. He was in great shape. People would say, ‘Did you know he was going to die?’ I said, ‘No. Never ever.’ It was never in my mind. But his body just said one day, ‘that’s it, can’t take it anymore.’ … I was there. I went with him to the hospital. … Then they came and told us he was gone. And that was a tough one. Very tough. It’s a hard one to talk about.”

On Elvis’ legacy: “I think it’s wonderful. I couldn’t believe it. I would have never expected it. I figured five years. Now it’s 28 years and going as strong as ever and people are loving him. Young kids. It’s been great.”

No comments: