Walking into a seedy old bar in Memphis, I was alone and needed a cocktail. I don’t typically frequent bars by myself but I just needed to think.
I saw a man sitting at the end of the bar and couldn’t really catch his face at first. He had thick hair, almost completely gray and was leaning over his drink. He looked towards me and despite his elderly appearance the uncanny resemblance to Elvis Presley stopped me in my tracks.
I’d been a fan my whole life. Not the visit his gravesite every year, posters all over the wall kind but I loved his music. But this was now, 2013. If he were alive he’d be nearly 79. So, the idea that anyone could look that much like him and not actually BE him was well, scary.
He looked up as I sat in the bar stool next to him. He greeted me with a sad look in his baby blue eyes. I had to mention the obvious, I told him how startling his resemblance to Elvis was. His response was even more startling when he asked me if I’d believe it were really him. Right.
Now I’d read a lot about Elvis in my life. I knew that there was a very deeply spiritual man underneath all the gyrating and hip swiveling. There were and still are people that believe Elvis was God. So, who was I to say that anything wasn’t possible? I played along.
“Sure, I believe you”, I said. He looked surprised that I was so quick to buy into him. So, we started to talk.
“I thought you were dead”, I said. I mean come on, what else would you say?
“Most of the world believes that. That’s the way I wanted it”. “Why in the world would you want that?” I asked. After all, this man had everything you could dream of. Or at least I thought. I’d been to Graceland; seen the extravagance (although cheesy and ever so seventies!!). Here was a man who was worshipped like he was God. There were and are people who actually believe he is God.
“I was getting kind of tired of being Elvis Presley” he said. I thought for a moment. That was something I had to absorb. Tired of being regarded as the King. I didn’t understand.
“My life was all about image. The image is one thing, the human being is another. It’s very hard to live up to an image”. He stirred his drink and took a few sips. I asked him about his early days, when he first got started. He told me about his first time recording a birthday record for his mama at Sun Studios.
“I wanted to give my mama a nice gift, we were very close ya know. So I went into Sun and made a record”.
“That’s Alright Mama ?” I asked.
“No, that’s what everyone thinks. The first record I ever made that day was called “My Happiness”. That’s Alright was the first song that was played on the radio”. I hadn’t known that. I was dying to hear a recording of it if I could find one.
“Everything happened so fast after that. Before I knew it I was being marketed like I was cattle. And from then on, no matter what I did, I couldn’t go anywhere or do anything without being bothered; scrutinized. I couldn’t even go to a movie. Theaters would open up for me during the night, just so I wouldn’t be bothered.”
I noticed that he was wearing a necklace with a gold lightening bolt pendant. “What’s that about?” I asked. “Well, once during a thunderstorm at Graceland, a lightening bolt hit a statue in the Meditation Garden. I took that to be a sign from God. I also had other signs. Once I was traveling through the Arizona Desert and I had a vision. Well first you know I thought I saw the Antichrist, the face of Stalin and I thought to myself, why Stalin? Is it a projection of something that’s inside me? Is God trying to show me what he thinks of me? Then I cried out to God “if that’s really me Lord then I want to die”. All I truly want is you. And then it happened! The face of Stalin turned right into the face of Jesus, and he smiled at me, and every fibre of my being felt it. For the first time in my life God and Christ were a living reality”.
“But you used to wear a cross and a Star of David, what was that for?” I wondered. He made me laugh when he answered that he did that because “he didn’t want to miss out on heaven due to a technicality”.
That was some pretty heavy stuff and I didn’t quite know what to say. I only knew him as the singing star of movies like “Girl Happy” and “Viva Las Vegas”. “So what led you to obviously fake your own death?” I asked. We had talked about some other things before I blurted that out. His life at Graceland, his mother. Priscilla, Lisa Marie. Colonel Parker. So many things. He just seemed sad about everything (except his love of peanut better and banana sandwiches – he smiled about that).
“I needed to end that life. It was no life. If I could disappear and just live a quiet existence I wouldn’t feel the need to drug myself to sleep and to stay awake. You know that year I took over 5,000 pills? It had to stop. So, it took a lot of planning but it worked. There have been a lot of times when people came close to figuring it out. There was even an “Elvis is Alive Museum” until 2007. People never wanted to believe I was really gone.”
“And here you are, talking to me”.
“Yes and I’m almost eighty years old and I could go any day. It’s amazing when you look at a body, you realize how temporary it all is, how it could all end in a matter of seconds. So here I am, waiting for that second”.
It was time for me to leave. He thanked me for the conversation and wished me well. He reminded me of one thing: “God is love…a living presence in all of us”.
I walked away, a changed person.
Okay, so!!! We had to choose a person we would like to sit at a bar with and have a conversation, someone who may have influenced us. 16 years ago I wrote a movie script about Elvis. Much of what you have read here are actual quotes from the King himself. I dusted that script off today to help me write this. Maybe I’ll give it another shot….
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