CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Interview With Linda Thompson
Aired August 16, 2002 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, on the 25th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, an intimate conversation with the beauty queen who won the King's heart, and saved his life several times but walked away because she couldn't rescue him from his addictions.
Linda Thompson, Elvis' girlfriend for nearly five years is next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Good evening. We have quite a show in store for you tonight. You're going to meet Linda Thompson, an extraordinary lady. Not only is she beautiful and bright, she's an Oscar and Grammy-nominated songwriter. She is married to the famed conductor, composer, brilliant David Foster. She was married to the incredible athlete Bruce Jenner. And she was the girlfriend of the late Elvis Presley, who is now gone 25 years from us. It's hard to believe, but it's 25 years.
In fact, Elvis has been dead longer than he was a rock 'n' roll star. He was 42 years old when he died. He even had a recent tune, "A Little Less Conversation," that was "Billboard's" No. 1 single on the singles chart. That single opened at number 50 on "Billboard" hot 100. He made the hot list 152 times. No other act in musical history has even been on the hot list 100 times. He's even featured now in the hit movie "Lilo and Stitch."
By the way, you'll be seeing throughout the program tonight video clips, that's courtesy of "Elvis: His Best Friend Remembers" by Diamond Joe Esposito. It's available on VHS and DVD from Universal Studios Home Video. We will also be showing you other footage during the show tonight. That footage was from the 25th anniversary box set "Elvis: The Definitive Collection." That's courtesy of Passport International. And some of the songs you're hearing tonight are courtesy of RCA Victor. And we also want to give special thanks to Paramount Home Entertainment. A lot of the movies you'll see tonight are available on DVD and VHS.
We thank Linda for agreeing to come. Is this hard for you?
LINDA THOMPSON, ELVIS PRESLEY'S EX-GIRLFRIEND: I have been very judicious about the interviews that I have agreed to do through the years. So it is a little bit difficult for me.
KING: But you know me.
THOMPSON: I know you and I completely respect you.
KING: So, married to Bruce Jenner and now married to David Foster. Were not married before Bruce?
THOMPSON: No, no.
KING: And you have two children with Bruce, right?
THOMPSON: That's right. I have good taste in men, don't I?
KING: Obviously do.
THOMPSON: Very good taste in men.
KING: So you were how old when you met Elvis? And how did you -- give me the story. How did you...
THOMPSON: Well, you know that Elvis liked them young, so I was very young. But I...
KING: Under 20?
THOMPSON: No. I was 22. I had just turned 22. But chronologically, I was older than I was emotionally, having grown up in the South in a kind of a very sequestered environment, you know, very traditional, very conservative. So I...
KING: You were 22, but...
THOMPSON: Twenty-two going on, you know, 13.
KING: What was the occasion?
THOMPSON: I was Miss Tennessee. I was Miss Tennessee Universe in 1972, and Elvis was Elvis. And I was invited to go to the Memphian Theater, which he rented out after midnight to screen films. That was prior to screening rooms. We lived in Memphis.
KING: You mean, he couldn't go to a regular movie?
THOMPSON: Oh, no. He could never go to a regular movie. So he rented the Memphian Theater out after closing hours, and they would screen new movies.
KING: And they would send new movies and he'd watch him.
THOMPSON: Yes, and some old movies, a lot of karate movies.
KING: He liked karate?
THOMPSON: Yes, he loved karate. And he loved action movies like that. So, I was invited to go to the theater. And Miss Rhode Island, Jeannie LaMay (ph), was my roommate in the Miss USA pageant. She was living in Memphis. And she and I went to the theater and were introduced to him properly.
KING: Just hello, this is...
THOMPSON: Hello, this is Miss Tennessee. Hello, honey, where have you been all my life.
KING: Did he come on like that?
THOMPSON: Oh, yes. Well, in the beginning, you know, he was a little smitten, you know, physically.
KING: Was he married at the time?
THOMPSON: No, he wasn't. I met him July 6, 1972 and he had been separated since December, January. But I didn't know. It hadn't been released to the press. So I was pretty standoffish, because, you know, I was a good Southern Baptist girl.
KING: Where would you go on a first date with Elvis Presley?
THOMPSON: Well, we were at the Memphian Theater. I would consider...
KING: I know, but that was -- you consider that a first date?
THOMPSON: I would consider that our first date, yes, because that's when we...
KING: You sat next to him?
THOMPSON: He sat next to me. He came and sat next to me during -- he just got up during the film and came back and plopped down next to me.
KING: You were sitting next to Miss Rhode Island?
THOMPSON: I was.
KING: What did she say to you?
THOMPSON: She bruised my ribs. She kept poking me in the ribs with her elbow. And Elvis pulled the old yawn and stretched the arm over the back of the seat next to me.
KING: What did you think, being 13?
THOMPSON: I thought he was -- you know, being 13 emotionally, I thought he was still married and I was very standoffish. And he finally, during one of his nuzzles, he said, "honey, you know I'm not married any more," to which I responded, "no, I didn't. But, you know, I'm sorry that it didn't work out for you, but you should have married a southern girl."
KING: You said that?
THOMPSON: I said that, and he always remembered my saying that, because he said you have no idea how honest that was and how truthful and how right on that was, because only if you grow up in the South do you understand that culture completely. And he was very southern. And so I think we had an immediate kinship. We were like kindred souls right away. KING: Were there a lot of people in the theater all night long?
THOMPSON: There were probably 25 people there.
KING: Friends of his.
THOMPSON: Friends of his, all friends and acquaintances.
KING: Do you remember the movie?
THOMPSON: No, I don't. It's funny because I didn't remember it the next day.
KING: So, what happened at the end? Did he take you home?
THOMPSON: No. I left -- I was staying at my aunt's house, my Aunt Betty. So I went back to her house. And at 4:00 a.m., the phone rang.
KING: You gave him your number?
THOMPSON: I wrote my number. I was -- being Miss Tennessee. And he said, I'd like to get your number. And I said, well, I don't have a pen and I don't have piece of paper. So I made him do the work. And he went and got some paper and pen and he wrote down my number on a matchbook. And then I got home and I was kicking myself. I thought, oh, he'll never call me. I should have been a little more attentive than that.
KING: You wanted to see him?
THOMPSON: Of course.
KING: You liked his looks?
THOMPSON: He was an amazing -- well, I grew up on him. You know, I grew up in Memphis and I grew up listening to his music and going to his movies.
KING: He was how old at this time?
THOMPSON: He was 35, 36.
KING: So he calls at 4:00.
THOMPSON: Called at 4:00 in the morning, and my Aunt Betty, you know, very southern gracious lady, "hello." And I hear her saying "why, yes, she is. Just a moment, please." Then she goes, "oh, my God. It's Elvis Presley on the phone." So, I said, hi, you know, it's kind of late to call. He said I just want you to know how happy that I met you this evening, and, you know, I want to know where you've been and don't disappear on me. I want to see you again. Can you come over tomorrow? I'd like to introduce you to my father, Vernon, and I'd like you to see Graceland.
KING: Very proper. THOMPSON: Very proper. Very much the gentleman.
KING: Did you go over the next day?
THOMPSON: I went right over the next day, yes. Jeannie and I went over and...
KING: Oh, you took her -- you got a little chaperone there.
THOMPSON: Yes, I did. I said, you know, I'd like to bring my friend because I was still, you know, very much an innocent and kind of naive. And I said, I'd like to bring my friend. And he said, certainly, she's more than welcome.
KING: And so what happened that day?
THOMPSON: He was sitting in the jungle room, what became known...
KING: The what?
THOMPSON: The jungle room, what became known as the jungle room, which was the TV room. There was a big waterfall in this room. And he was waiting for me there. And I met his father. I met a lot of the men who worked for him, Red and Sonny West and Joe Esposito, and, you know, a lot of the guys. And we just ended up riding the golf cart together. He had golf carts on the property, and old corn rose (ph) in the back of Graceland, which were bumpity-bump, you know, when you went riding on these little golf carts. It was a thrill ride.
KING: Was he forward on that trip?
THOMPSON: Not at all. He was a very respectful...
KING: Did he kiss you yet?
THOMPSON: He kissed me the first night.
KING: In the movie theater.
THOMPSON: In the movie theater, yes. It was fun.
KING: But the second day, he was...
THOMPSON: He was very respectful and very much the southern gentleman. He was a very dichotimous human being, very paradoxical. On the one hand, you know, he had this raucous image, and he did have a raucous sense of humor, irreverent sense of humor. But he was very pious on another level and very puritanical...
KING: A lot of southerners are, aren't they?
THOMPSON: A lot of southerners are. We're -- yes.
KING: Elvis Presley, he passed away August 16 in 1976. We'll be back with more of Linda Thompson right after this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(MUSIC, ELVIS PRESLEY, "JAILHOUSE ROCK")
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESLEY: If you really want to get to know some of the kids around here, why don't you come down to the park on a Saturday afternoon when we play touch football?
Let me show you how to do this. Put these three fingers right here, honey.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, SEPT. 22, 1994)
CALLER: You co-starred with Elvis Presley in one of his last films. What was it like working with him?
MARY TYLER MOORE, ACTRESS: It was quite a wonderful experience. He was in wonderful condition. He was fit. He was working out.
KING: Was he a nice guy to work with?
MOORE: He was charming, and he had a big crush on me. But, I mean, you know...
MOORE: ... like a young kid with an older woman. Although I think...
KING: How did you handle it?
MOORE: I didn't have to handle it. He was mamming me. You know, he just was so shy and beside himself.
KING: Were you flattered?
MOORE: Yes, of course I was.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRESLEY: You could have told me, you know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Linda Thompson. I said '76. She dated him through '76. He died in 1977. He's gone 25 years. All right. So, from day two, how did this get wind? Did you have to go to the Miss USA pageant?
THOMPSON: I had already been. And Jeannie was my roommate, so she had moved to Memphis.
KING: Did you go to work? What did you start to do?
THOMPSON: Well, I had -- I didn't want to go back to school, and I lacked 12 credits graduating from University of Memphis. And I decided I wasn't going to go back and get my degree. And we were kind of contemplating what we were going to do, maybe move to New York, maybe start modeling, yes.
THOMPSON: I had had some contact with the Stuart (ph) Agency back then. So, I was doing some modeling locally. And we thought about maybe going to New York. But then Elvis came along and swept me off my feet.
KING: By swept you, what happened in the ensuing days?
THOMPSON: Well, interestingly enough, I disappeared for two weeks. I went on vacation with my aunt and uncle to Golf Shores, Alabama.
KING: Did you tell him you were going?
THOMPSON: I told them I was going, but it didn't quite register. And I didn't leave him a forwarding number. And so I literally disappeared for two weeks after having met him those two nights in Memphis, and having connected as intensely as we did. I left his house. I left Graceland and said, I'm going on vacation, I'll be back and hopefully I'll see you again. And when I returned two weeks later and, you know, I agonized when I was away.
KING: Did you think of him a lot?
THOMPSON: All the time. And I played his music, and, you know, I was saying, Aunt Betty, do you think he'll call, and maybe he'll forget about me.
KING: Why didn't you try to call him?
THOMPSON: I don't think I even had the number. I mean, it was like -- you know, I would have never asked him for his number. And he had my number.
KING: And southern girls don't do that?
THOMPSON: Yes, we don't do that. So, he -- when I -- the moment I walked into my Aunt Betty's house, he was calling on the phone. It was Joe Esposito actually. He said, "I have memorized your number. We've looked high and low. We've looked everywhere for you. Where have you been? Elvis wants you here tomorrow." I had just arrived in the evening.
KING: He had to have a guy call to say this?
THOMPSON: Joe Esposito. No, Joe said, you know, he wants to talk to you right away. And so, he said, you know, you don't just disappear from my life. Who do you think I am?
KING: Did he get on the phone?
THOMPSON: Oh, yes. And he said, you know, I have been looking for you and I have been desperate for you. I want you to be here tomorrow. I'm going to Las Vegas. And this was in August. And I said, well, I don't know if I can pull it together in time. I just got back from vacation. And he said, just bring a toothbrush or don't even worry.
KING: He invited you to go to Vegas with him?
KING: So you knew then that you were about to begin a relationship if you get on a plane?
THOMPSON: It certainly looked that way. Yes, it certainly looked that way.
KING: I mean, you were going to go -- did you take separate rooms in Vegas?
THOMPSON: No, we didn't.
KING: So you knew...
THOMPSON: As a matter of fact, Larry.
KING: You knew something was going to happen?
THOMPSON: I figured something was amiss. But, you know, he was still a gentleman.
KING: We'll get to that. What was the Presley plane like?
THOMPSON: Well, I flew commercially at that point.
KING: He flew you out separately?
THOMPSON: Well, yes. He was already out in...
KING: Oh, he was in Vegas.
THOMPSON: He was in Los Angeles. So, he flew me to Los Angeles, and then we took a Lear jet to Las Vegas that evening.
KING: And go to his opening?
THOMPSON: Went to his opening. Well, he was there for rehearsal, so I was there for two weeks of rehearsals and then for the opening. And he sent me to a store called Suzy Cream Cheese and she made all these outrageous gowns. And, you know, I had my collegiate clothes, my little pleats and, you know, my little innocent clothes. And he sent me over to Suzy Cream Cheese and she outfitted me appropriately.
KING: This maybe hard to deal with, but what was the first night like with Elvis?
THOMPSON: How do you mean?
THOMPSON: Well, it was a long time...
KING: I mean, here's this young girl who's a fan of his, who's smitten with him, is obviously in love or certainly something's going on, right? Infatuation might be a better word. You can't be in love, you don't know him that well, right, or were you in love?
KING: He obviously with you. He's pursuing you. He's trying -- OK, what was it like?
THOMPSON: You know, when I first arrived in Las Vegas and he said here's our room, and I said, you know, I really would prefer to have my own room. And he said, honey, you can trust me. We can be here together. We can get to know each other very well, so don't worry about intimacy too quickly.
KING: And you bought that?
THOMPSON: And rightly so because he was a man of his word.
KING: He was not intimate right away?
THOMPSON: No. Months. It was months before we became intimate.
KING: What? So, where did you -- how did you sleep that night?
THOMPSON: Together, but, you know, cuddling. And, you know, he was just -- he was a man of his word.
KING: So it took, really?
THOMPSON: It took months. It took a few months before we...
KING: Did you begin to wonder?
THOMPSON: No, not at all. I just knew it was up to me, whenever I said I was ready. And I wanted to establish his feelings for me because that was important to me. I had obviously maintained my virginity for as many years as I had. And it was important to me... KING: So you were still a virgin?
THOMPSON: Yes. So it was important to me to make it right.
KING: Where did it happen?
THOMPSON: Larry, you're getting awfully personal.
KING: Was it in Vegas? No, I'm not going to get a description.
THOMPSON: A presidential suite at the Las Vegas Hilton.
KING: Still in -- you had gone back to Vegas or you were still there?
THOMPSON: I was still there.
KING: Did you go watch his show every night?
THOMPSON: Every night, yes. Every night.
KING: Weren't a lot of people, paparazzi, wondering who you were?
THOMPSON: You know, he dedicated songs to me and...
KING: Oh, so he went public with it?
THOMPSON: Yes, right away.
KING: What was it like to be Elvis' girlfriend?
THOMPSON: It was like being with Prince Charming on many levels, because he was like Santa Claus every day. He was inordinately generous of spirit.
KING: I have heard that.
THOMPSON: And also of material wealth. He...
KING: He was a big giver, right?
THOMPSON: A big giver. He derived much more pleasure from giving than receiving. You know, his life was lived very biblically. You know, he really followed the bible and he also was on a spiritual quest to find out how other people of other faiths lived their lives. And he used to wear an Egyptian ankh, a star of David and a crucifix around his neck. And when people would say are you confused, he would say, no, not at all. I just don't want to miss heaven on a technicality.
So, he embraced all faiths and he was extraordinarily generous. So, in some ways, it was like living with a saint and being with Prince Charming and Santa Claus every day.
KING: As I told you during the break, I never met anyone -- I never met Elvis, but I knew Colonel Parker. I never met anyone in the business who knew him who didn't like him.
THOMPSON: And the key there is who knew him. You know, there are a lot of people to say disparaging things about him who didn't really know him, and they might have known just, you know, just a little minuscule little modicum of knowledge about him. And they expound upon that and make it sound as if they did know him. But people who truly knew him and knew his spirit and knew his heart won't have anything bad to say because he was well intended.
KING: We'll be right back with more of Linda -- I thought you were going to say something else -- we'll be right back with Linda Thompson. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "BLUE HAWAII")
PRESLEY: I was always, baby I was always, well almost always true to you. Met a pretty mademoiselle, her papa owned a small hotel.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mademoiselle, small hotel?
PRESLEY: I was almost always true to you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CYBILL SHEPHERD, ACTRESS: The Elvis that I got to know in Memphis was very different than the Elvis that I got to know later, like in Las Vegas. I just noticed that he was unavailable in a way. And then later on, and years, years later, I wound read and find out that he had like two other women there at the same time. Elvis always had like three different women...
KING: In the hotel?
SHEPHERD: Oh, yes! Like on different floors, maybe on the same floor.
KING: You mean, he'd be with you, and then he'd be with another one? And that didn't bother you...
SHEPHERD: He wedged me in between -- I think it was Linda Thompson and some other...
KING: That didn't bother you when you learned...
SHEPHERD: Did it bother me?
KING: You didn't know it at the time.
SHEPHERD: It kind of made it more sense, I guess, that he was sort of less available. (MUSIC)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Linda Thompson, former girlfriend of Elvis Presley. They went together for four years.
THOMPSON: Four-and-a-half, but who's counting.
KING: Did you live together? You lived together?
THOMPSON: We lived together for four-and-a-half years.
KING: Now, you're a good Southern girl.
KING: This is your first relationship, your first sexual, your first affair, you're in love. Why didn't you get married?
THOMPSON: By the time I reconciled in my mind that this was something that I didn't want to do, he was ready. I was ready more in the beginning.
KING: You wanted to get married earlier? He didn't -- why, because he had been shell shocked?
THOMPSON: I think when he was going through a divorce. He had been separated for seven months when I met him.
KING: Did you get to see his daughter?
THOMPSON: Oh, yes. I met Lisa right away. I have known Lisa since she was four years old.
KING: Still know her?
THOMPSON: Still know her very well, and she's...
KING: Did you meet Priscilla, too?
THOMPSON: Met Priscilla. But only a couple of times. Priscilla was really not on the scene as much as people might assume.
KING: But Lisa Marie was.
THOMPSON: Lisa Marie was. Elvis would send his bodyguards to pick her up.
KING: Was he a good father?
THOMPSON: Great father. He adored his little girl. If love is any measure, and I believe that it is, I believe that's all there is...
KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) song. You wanted to get married, he didn't.
THOMPSON: In the beginning.
KING: And then when he wanted to get married, why didn't you?
THOMPSON: Because I realized that I didn't want to live my life as a vampire. We were awake all night, sleeping all day. I didn't want to bring more children into the world who would have to compromise their hours and the way they lived.
KING: You're smart enough to know that, even though you're smitten?
THOMPSON: Well, this is after a few years. Yes.
KING: But up all night?
THOMPSON: Literally up all night.
KING: When he did a second show, he couldn't go to sleep?
THOMPSON: Well, not just when he was doing shows. This was back at Graceland. Wherever we were, Palm Springs.
KING: Why is it -- what would he do all night?
THOMPSON: Well, he lived his life out of the public eye, so when everybody else was up going to work and doing whatever they did in the daytime, we were sleeping. And then we would wake up at 9:00 p.m. at night and -- 9:00 p.m. at night. And after a few years...
KING: Have breakfast at 9:00 p.m.?
THOMPSON: Oh, have breakfast at 9:00 p.m., 10:00 p.m. at night. Be up all night, rent movie theaters, watch movies, do whatever we did all night. And the next morning...
KING: He was loyal to his friends right?
THOMPSON: Very loyal, yes.
KING: Was he going through weight cycles then?
THOMPSON: Yes, he always battled his weight. I mean, even...
KING: Because he liked to go out.
THOMPSON: Loved to eat. What Southerner doesn't? We structure our social life around that.
KING: Did it bother him when he got heavy?
THOMPSON: It did bother him. And the criticism bothered him. He was a very sensitive, acutely sensitive person to other people's perceptions of him. And, you know, he just -- it did hurt his feelings a lot. KING: Were you inseparable those four years? Would you say you didn't see other guys, he didn't see other girls?
THOMPSON: I certainly didn't see any other guys.
KING: Do you think he saw other girls?
THOMPSON: I know he saw other girls. Not the first year. The first year we were together, I think he broke his world record for having been faithful.
KING: How do you know he did after that?
THOMPSON: I know that he didn't because we were together the first year 365 days for that first year, 24 hours a day.
And after that, you know, word -- he couldn't do much without it being public knowledge. And certainly I was no dummy.
KING: Did you have fights?
THOMPSON: We had arguments about it. And again, I tried to reconcile in my mind, this is Elvis Presley. I understand that he is secluded from the rest of the world, and it's not all about sex. It's not all about being physically unfaithful to me. He wanted to be surrounded with other people who might bring different ideas into his life.
KING: Did he defend it or...
THOMPSON: No. He apologized for it when he was caught. Most of the time he denied it. And...
KING: But if you had him dead to rights, he apologized?
THOMPSON: Then he apologized profusely and said, you're the only person I love and nobody ever compares to you. And every time I have an indiscretion, it just makes me realize how much more you mean to me.
KING: And you forgave him?
THOMPSON: And I would always forgive him.
KING: First television show he ever did was Tommy Dorsey's summer show, the Jackie Gleason replacement. Gleason told him, you are going to be a major star. Don't hide. Go out to restaurants. Walk the streets. Go public, because if you hide, you gonna be the loneliest guy.
THOMPSON: Wow. I never knew that.
KING: Was he right?
THOMPSON: I never knew that. Intrinsically lonely at heart. That's interesting. Because, yes, he was. And he used to always say, I'm intensely lonely at heart.
KING: Like Vegas. He wouldn't go out of his room, right?
THOMPSON: No, we never went out. I mean, the world came to him, literally. He didn't go out.
KING: The Beatles came to him.
THOMPSON: The Beatles, everybody came to him. You know, everyone came to him. Barbra Streisand came to him, everybody who wanted to have an audience with him came to him. He didn't go out.
KING: He always gave the public everything, right? He gave a performance. He never threw away shows.
THOMPSON: He never meant to throw away a show. There might have been times when he didn't give all he had because he wasn't feeling well, but absolutely he put his heart and soul into it, and he loved his fans, loved his fans.
KING: What about the drugs?
THOMPSON: You know, Elvis fooled himself into thinking he didn't have a drug problem because everything that he took was by prescription.
KING: You mean he never did cocaine?
THOMPSON: Never did. No. Not when he was with me. Nothing illegal.
KING: So like he would take what?
THOMPSON: He didn't even drink, Larry. He didn't even drink alcohol. So everything that he took was by prescription.
KING: And did you know that doctor eventually got indicted, didn't he?
THOMPSON: Dr. Nicopolous (ph), yes. I believe so. And, again, it was very difficult for people around him, because there wasn't just one doctor. He certainly couldn't control everything that Elvis...
KING: Couldn't refuse Elvis, right?
So these were legal drugs like uppers and downers and...
THOMPSON: Sleeping medication, pain medication, diet pills, uppers, downers.
THOMPSON: A lot of pain killers.
KING: How did you live with that?
THOMPSON: It was very difficult, because I'm very -- have always been anti-drug and was never...
KING: So you never got hooked on any of it?
THOMPSON: You know what's interesting, because people say how could you avoid taking drugs. And I said what was the seduction to watch someone self-destruct was a great lesson in life as to -- I'd never want to do that. I would never have any...
KING: Did he ever try to stop?
THOMPSON: He did a few times.
KING: Did he ever go anywhere to get help?
THOMPSON: Yes. We went to the Baptist Hospital together, and there were a couple of doctors there who actually intervened and they actually helped him tremendously, helped him to withdraw from some of the more addictive drugs.
KING: Was that a tough period? (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
THOMPSON: I stayed in the hospital with him. I had a hospital bed right next to him. He was in the hospital twice when I was with him.
KING: Under different names?
THOMPSON: No. He was under his own name. He got calls from Frank Sinatra and President Nixon. He would have me go to the phone and say, is this really President Nixon? Is this really Frank Sinatra? How do I know it's really you? Because he doesn't want to talk unless it's really you.
Then when we called President Nixon back at the White House and I said, Elvis Presley is calling, they said, how do we really know it's really Elvis Presley? So we had some interesting moments. But he insisted that I have a hospital bed right next to him, and would raise it and lower it as he did his.
KING: Talk about his generosity and other things. We'll be right back with Linda Thompson, of course we'll find out where she was when he died, how they broke up and all the rest. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). What was that meeting like?
PAUL MCCARTNEY: It was great. I loved it. The thing is, it was so long ago...
KING: You met with him.
MCCARTNEY: Yeah, we met with him in Los Angeles.
KING: I hear not much was said initially.
MCCARTNEY: Well, my memories were that it was really quite straight forward, that we loved him. We were a little in awe of him.
MCCARTNEY: Well, he was the man, you know. We had grown up with him. We were just kids. We were just that little bit younger. But I remember him having the first remote control for a TV we had ever seen.
KING: Really? That's a great story.
MCCARTNEY: He was just going -- it's changing. It seems like ancient history now, but it was very modern now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Linda Thompson. By the way, you'll be seeing throughout the program tonight video clips -- that's courtesy of "Elvis: His Best Friend Remembers" by "Diamond" Joe Esposito. It's available on VHS and DVD from Universal Studios Home Video. Songs you're hearing courtesy of RCA Records. The promotion some of the footage tonight was from the 25th anniversary box set "Elvis: The Definitive Collection." That's from Passport International. And we also thank Paramount Home Entertainment. A lot of the movies you're seeing tonight are available through Paramount on DVD and VHS.
What was life like with someone -- how many cars did he have?
THOMPSON: Who could count. He had (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
KING: Did he drive a lot?
THOMPSON: He loved Cadillacs and Lincoln...
KING: Did he drive a lot?
THOMPSON: He did like to drive.
KING: Late at night, though, right?
THOMPSON: Yeah, at night. You know, he would drive late at night. Once we tried to go to a Peer One Imports, I remember, when it first opened in Memphis. He said, let's drive down to the Pier One Imports on Elvis Presley Boulevard. OK. So we drove down and, you know, didn't make it from the car even halfway across the parking lot before people were chasing us. KING: What was his greatness?
THOMPSON: Oh, he revolutionized music. You know, he was this young kid from abject poverty who grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi and Memphis, Tennessee, and you know, was an amalgamation of lots of different styles of music, from black gospel to, you know, hillbilly.
KING: A lot of people when they heard him thought he was black.
THOMPSON: They thought he was black, and with a name like Elvis, they said, oh, it must be a black guy. And...
KING: He also had a great deal of respect for black performers and -- in fact, the song "In the Ghetto"...
THOMPSON: Yeah, he grew up with black people. In fact, in Tupelo, Mississippi, you know, he was impoverished. And so he had a tremendous kinship, you know.
KING: Also, the Colonel told me he donated money to Martin Luther King.
THOMPSON: Oh, he was a tremendous fan of Martin Luther King. We used to listen to his speeches over and over. And the cadence and the mellifluous tone of Martin Luther King's voice was so inspirational that we would literally -- because we were up all night, I told you, we looked for things to do.
KING: These are things generally not known. Elvis was like a civil rights person at heart.
THOMPSON: Yeah. Oh, absolutely.
KING: His greatness musically was? Why did the Beatles love him so much? Was he...
THOMPSON: Because he was an innovator. You know, he...
KING: He changed...
THOMPSON: He changed not only music but fashion, sexual morass, just the thrust of the whole music industry.
KING: He was in the Country Hall of Fame and the Rock Hall of Fame.
THOMPSON: Absolutely. And R&B. He loved R&B. You know, he had gospel groups like the Harmonizing Four and...
KING: How good a guitarist was he?
THOMPSON: He was a good guitarist.
KING: Not a great guitarist, right?
THOMPSON: Not a great guitarist, but a good guitarist. He was a great natural musician. He played guitar, he played piano. We used to sit around at Graceland, the two of us, and he would play piano.
KING: Did he ever sing standards?
THOMPSON: He sang standards. And he would sing my old sorority songs. I told him a lot of my sorority songs. He'd sing harmony with me, he'd allow me to sing lead.
KING: How good an entertainer?
THOMPSON: The best. And I saw everybody in the years that I was with him. He was the best entertainer I ever saw on stage.
KING: Better than Sammy Davis?
THOMPSON: Better than Sammy Davis. And I love Sammy Davis.
KING: And Frank?
THOMPSON: And Frank. He had an electricity. You know, when Elvis came out on stage, it became electric. And the way people responded to him was such that, you know, I never saw that kind of response toward any other performer.
KING: And what was it like for you if you're there for the 33rd straight night?
THOMPSON: You know, I went to every show, and he used to say to me, honey, you don't have to go to every show. You know, you can sit this one out or you can go see Tom Jones, or you could go see this or that. I said, no, I don't want to miss anything.
And we were so connected. We were just so viscerally connected that I would sit -- no matter how many shows I saw, I would sit and pull for him to make every note and just respond as if it were the first time I had seen the show. I really, really loved it.
KING: Did you ever write for him?
THOMPSON: You know, I wrote poetry for him all the time. And in my ignorance, I never would allow him to let anyone put it to music and record it, because my aspiration then was not to be a songwriter. It was maybe to publish a book of poetry one day, coupled with photographs that I had taken. And so I was very naive and ignorant about publishing and royalties and residuals, which is kind of sweet. He probably loved me for it. But I wish I hadn't been so ignorant, Larry.
KING: How much of a sense of humor did he have?
THOMPSON: Raucous, rowdy, irreverent, inane. Great sense of humor.
KING: Laughed heartily?
THOMPSON: Laughed from his toenails.
KING: What about loyalty with the Mafia, the Elvis?
THOMPSON: He was loyal to everyone that he loved. And earlier, you asked me about his being unfaithful to me. And ironically enough, and oddly enough, I never felt that he was unfaithful to me emotionally. I felt that he loved me deeply and was never unfaithful to that love. He might have been physically unfaithful a few times, but I always, always felt loved by him. So he was a very faithful, loyal human being. And I mean, he'd get in the trench with you if he were your friend.
KING: What did that group around him, he needed them? All these guys.
THOMPSON: Yeah. He needed them and they needed him, absolutely. And they were loyal to him for many, many years. And they loved Elvis. And they had a great camaraderie and a boyish kind of antic, you know, went on all the time when they were together. They used to set off fireworks.
KING: Were they friends from childhood?
THOMPSON: Some of them were. Red Weston (ph), he were friends from childhood. Red (ph) defended him in a near bathroom brawl where some guys -- some bullies came in and were going to cut Elvis' hair and beat him up.
THOMPSON: And Red (ph) defended him.
KING: How did they get that close to him?
THOMPSON: Well, this was early on. This was in his high school days. This was before he was Elvis Presley on the marquis.
KING: More with Linda Thompson. We'll talk about the breakup right after this.
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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNNY CASH, MUSICIAN: He was very charismatic from day one that I ever saw him. There wasn't a person backstage when Elvis was on stage that wasn't standing right there as close as they could get to behind the curtain to watch him.
KING: Gleason knew him early, always told me he was a very regular guy. CASH: Yes. Oh, he is. Very kind guy. You know, after all, he was 19 years old and he really loved his mother. And he was clean. People would see him on TV and say he was on dope, you know, but he was not. He never did drugs back then.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Linda Thompson, the former girlfriend of Elvis Presley, the Oscar and Grammy nominated songwriter. She was his girlfriend for 19 -- from 1972 to 1976. Before we talk about the breakup, you want to tell a story about his generosity.
THOMPSON: Yes, you know I think that sometime people forget how kind -- you know, there's so much to be said about Elvis, but he had a kindness that was unequaled by anyone I've ever met. I think he loved animals. He loved children. He loved people. And we went into a pet store one time. It was closing time. So we kind of sneaked into this little pet store in Memphis, and there were 15 puppies there. He cleaned out every cage. He bought every puppy in the store, and we kept a couple. We kept a pug and a little Pomeranian and a Maltese, and gave my parents a little poodle.
And we were in the car. It was like the most incredible sensation. We had a little army. It was like "101 Dalmations," but it was 15 puppies that Elvis bought.
KING: Was he good to your parents?
THOMPSON: Very good to my parents.
KING: Why did you break up?
THOMPSON: Well, after four-and-a-half years of the yo-yo back and forth of other women, up all night, sleeping all day, the drug abuse, you know, it was...
KING: Too much.
THOMPSON: I just realized that I probably was never gonna be able to help him the way I wanted to help him. There was no Betty Ford Center then.
KING: How did you do it?
THOMPSON: There was no place for him to go, and he kept falling back into this prescription drug dilemma.
KING: So what did you do? How did you handle it?
THOMPSON: He helped me actually. Because I was in San Francisco with him and he said, honey, would you like to fly back to Memphis? I have brought the Jet Star (ph) in to take you back. And, you know, deducing that he was not going to bring the plane in just for me, I figured he brought another girl in from Memphis, and that was his way of saying, you know, there's another girl here, but you know, you want to go back to Memphis for a few days. He was playing the Cal Palace (ph).
KING: You're supposed to say yes.
THOMPSON: And I said yes, that's fine. I'll go back to Memphis, but I'm sure you've brought someone else to be with.
Oh, no, honey, I would never do that. The last time I saw him alive he looked me in the eye and said, I want you to know something, honey, before you leave. No matter what you ever hear, no matter what everybody ever tells you, I just want you to know that I love you. I don't love anyone else. There's no other girl here, and you're the one I love. OK.
KING: Did you think there was a girl there?
THOMPSON: I knew there was. She was on the floor below, waiting.
KING: That was the last time you ever saw him?
THOMPSON: That was the last time I saw him alive. But we spoke after that.
KING: Did he ever try to -- oh, he did speak -- did he ever try to rekindle it?
THOMPSON: No. I wrote him a letter. This was late November, and I wrote him a letter just before Christmas.
KING: And he would die the following summer.
THOMPSON: And he died in August. He died eight months after we broke up.
KING: What did you say?
THOMPSON: Just that I have known the pain of too much tenderness. That he would always remain the love of my life, but I never wanted to love that fully and completely without reservation again.
KING: Where were you when he died?
THOMPSON: I was in Los Angeles at my apartment.
KING: How did you hear?
THOMPSON: My phone rang, and it was Lisa Marie, who was only nine years old at the time, and she used to call me from time to time because we were very close. As I said, I loved her a lot then. I love her a lot now. And she said, Linda, it's Lisa.
I said, I know who you are, little goobernickel. But she had this desperate tone in her voice, and I thought he was playing. I thought maybe she was just out of breath. She said, my daddy's dead. My daddy's dead. And I threw the phone in the air. I just threw the phone away. I said, no, no, he's not.
And then I looked at the phone on the ground and I thought, here's this little 9-year-old angel who has the presence of mind to call me long distance directly. I have got to pick up this phone. I have got to say something to her that's gonna help her. So I pick up the phone. I say, honey, are you sure he's not just going to the hospital and he's not just having an episode or a problem, a breathing problem?
No, no. They told me, he's dead. So I just started trying to say things to her to comfort her. Like your daddy loves you so much. You'll always have that love, and that doesn't die. And my brother took the phone from Lisa and said, Linda, you have to come home.
My brother was a bodyguard. My brother Sam Thompson was a bodyguard for Elvis for a few years.
KING: Did you go to the funeral?
THOMPSON: Oh, I felt -- oddly enough, Larry, every light in my apartment went off. I was the only apartment in my building that had no power. And I lit candles all over the apartment just to pack, just to get ready to go back to Memphis.
KING: Just yours?
THOMPSON: Just mine. I went outside, and I said has everybody lost power? No, just your apartment, which I thought was a little strange. And my friends were coming over to console me, and they said, oh, you're lighting candles for Elvis. And I said, well, actually, no, I'm trying to see to pack.
KING: What was the funeral like for you?
THOMPSON: Surreal. It was very difficult for me.
KING: Was Priscilla there?
THOMPSON: Priscilla was there, and his last girlfriend (UNINTELLIGIBLE) was there, and his family members were there, and of course Lisa and my family was there and his father. Colonel Parker came.
KING: Who do you make of all the Elvis is alive things?
THOMPSON: I said to the driver that he was picking me up so I wouldn't need him to stick around.
It's kind of crazy. My mother went to the funeral. We were in the third car behind the hearse. We were there all day as the body lay in state. We were there all night. We were with the family. My family is very close to his family. And my mother saw him lying in state. My mother saw him being buried, being put in the mausoleum.
Two weeks later my mother said, you know, a lot of people think Elvis is still alive. I said, Mom.
Well, I'm just saying he could have gone off to the Bahamas. I'm saying, that could have been something. Mom! That's how desperately people wanted to believe that he was still alive. And after all these years, they still want to believe it.
KING: He was 42. You had to be shocked, even though you knew about the drugs and everything.
THOMPSON: You know, I was shocked, yes. You're never ready, no matter -- even if you have an elderly parent.
KING: Didn't you save his life once?
THOMPSON: Many times, yes.
KING: By getting him to the hospital?
THOMPSON: Many times, yes. By just doing any number of things, Larry.
KING: You were shocked-shocked but not shock-shock-shocked?
THOMPSON: Right. It was not a surprising occurrence, because I had to reconcile that in my mind when I left. Probably no one is going to be stupid enough really to take care of him as selflessly as I did for so many years and to keep him alive at my own expense.
KING: We have come to a conclusion, though, Linda. You loved him.
THOMPSON: I loved him.
KING: We'll be back with more. Don't go away.
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ANN-MARGARET: He was a big part of my life. I knew him for 14 years. We saw each other for about a year. And it was a very strong relationship, very intense. And seeing when Elvis passed on how many negative things had been written about him, it gets me furious. It bothered me a great deal because I wanted always the best for him.
KING: We're back with Linda Thompson, former girlfriend of Elvis Presley. They went together for four years. He almost shot you once?
THOMPSON: Well, accidents happen. No. He was a gun aficionado, and he had a collection of guns always around him. And we were in the Las Vegas Hilton and he was just lying down across the sofa and there was this big bullseye that they used to promote his concerts.
And he just decided he would try to hit the bullseyes, and he was a good marksman, so he did. But he forgot that my dressing area was just behind this bullseye. And I'm just getting out of the shower and I hear ping, ping, ping, crash.
And I look and my dressing room door is shattered, and I open it and the doors outside are shattered. Then this guy who worked for him came in and said, Linda, are you OK? I said, yes. What was that? He said, Elvis was having a little target practice, and I look at the toilet paper holder and there was a hole in it in the metal like that. So I put the robe on, and I went outside, and I said, what are you doing? And he was ashen. He was -- looked horrified. And he said, honey, I'm so sorry. I had no idea.
I said, you know, it's OK. But just -- what are you doing? Think about what you're doing here. You can't just shoot inside a building. But he did it frequently. He shot out television sets.
KING: Was he childlike?
THOMPSON: Very childlike. Part of his charm, part of his downfall.
KING: Yes, same at the same time. Was he career involved? In other words, was he concerned if a record didn't sell?
THOMPSON: Not with the business of his career, no. He was concerned with the business of his fans, how they perceived him, what he was giving to them, if he was being the best he could be for them.
So he was -- and music. He lived for the music.
KING: But he wouldn't look at sales reports?
THOMPSON: No. He didn't read any of his critical reviews.
THOMPSON: He would go into an absolute tirade if someone left a newspaper around critiquing his performance.
KING: Even if it was praise?
THOMPSON: Even if it was praise. He didn't want to see -- he said, I don't want to believe the good press because then I'm gonna get cocky and too secure, and I don't want to read the bad press, because it's going to hurt my feelings and make me angry.
KING: Was he self-critical?
THOMPSON: He was self-critical.
KING: In other words he would come off and say I didn't like the way I worked tonight.
THOMPSON: Yes, yes. He was very self-critical. And self- deprecating in his humor as well.
KING: Yes? He made fun of his own fame?
THOMPSON: Oh, absolutely. He would like snarl his lip and say, what is that? What are they responding to? And sometimes he would pull his pajamas up to his chest like a little old man and black his teeth out and come into the bedroom and say, ready for bed? He was just a silly man. He had a great sense of humor.
KING: Do you often think of him?
THOMPSON: You know, it's been 25 years since his passing. He had a tremendous impact on my life, my perception of life, my perception of love and what romance and marriage and family should be, could be. So, yes, I think of him even in subliminal terms sometimes. He influences my music and lyrics, as do all the people that I have loved in my life, from my mom and dad to other people that I have loved.
KING: Thank you, Linda.
THOMPSON: Thank you, Larry.
KING: Linda Thompson, 25 years. Too young? Time goes too fast. Thanks for joining us. Stay tuned for "NEWSNIGHT" with my man Aaron, and good night.
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