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Friends Remember Elvis Presley

Aired August 12, 2005 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Elvis. An intimate look inside the rise and fall of an American legend with close friends who saw it all. From the happy times to the dark days of drug addiction to the final, tragic end 28 years ago. With us, Linda Thompson, the King's one-time girlfriend was the only woman other than Priscilla Presley to live with Elvis at Graceland.
Joe Esposito, Elvis' closest friend. Bodyguard, robe manager, best man at his wedding. And from Graceland, Jerry Schilling, close friend of the Presleys. He rarely does interviews because he finds it hard to talk about those 20 years of private memories. And George Klein, childhood friend of Elvis, introduced him to Linda Thompson. And Elvis was best man at his wedding. They're all next on LARRY KING LIVE.

On August 18th, Elvis Presley will have been gone -- August 16th, rather, Elvis Presley will have been gone 28 years. With us, Linda Thompson, Joe Esposito, Jerry Schilling, and George Klein. Jerry Schilling, at Graceland, is in the Jungle Room.

Jerry, what is the Jungle Room?

JERRY SCHILLING, FRIEND OF ELVIS PRESLEY: Well, you know, Larry, when I first went to work for Elvis back in '64, it was a screened-in porch. And Elvis had it converted to like a den, where we used to watch football games. And one day, Vernon Presley, his father, came back and said, "Elvis, I just saw the ugliest furniture in the world at the goldsmith's (ph), or somewhere." Elvis went and bought it and here we are, the Jungle Room.

KING: And George Klein, you are in the living room at Graceland, is that correct? Tell me about -- any history to that room.

GEORGE KLEIN, FRIEND OF ELVIS PRESLEY: Yes, Larry, there's a lot of history in this room. This is the room where Elvis would receive his guests. This is the room where I met Jim brown, number 32. It's the room where James Brown came to pay his respects when Elvis passed away.

Carolyn Kennedy came, when Elvis passed away, to this room. Elvis would always receive his guests here. One of the greatest nights I ever witnessed happened right in this room. It was a jam session with Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis on the piano behind me. This is a very historic room at Graceland.

KING: Now, George, Linda Thompson, he introduced you to Elvis? Tell me what happened.


KLEIN: Thank you, Linda.

THOMPSON: Back in 1972, I was Miss Tennessee at the time and George was, and still is, a very popular D.J. in Memphis. And he asked if I'd like to come to the Memphian Theater to meet Elvis. And my girlfriend, Miss Rhode Island, was with me and she quickly said yes. Otherwise I probably wouldn't have met him.

KING: Wouldn't have wanted to go?

THOMPSON: I probably wouldn't have. I was a little stultified, I think, in my approach to life.

KING: And what was it like? George said, "Elvis, this is Linda."

THOMPSON: Yes, actually, George kind of facilitated the meeting. And we hit it off right away. We were very much kindred spirits. You know, I'm from Memphis as well and we grew up very much the same way, with the same religious fervor, the same appreciation of the same cuisine.

KING: How soon before you were living with him?

THOMPSON: Not until about -- I met him in July and we were fairly inseparable. Joe memorized my number because he kept trying to reach me, I went out of town for a couple of weeks. And I guess we began living together about in September.

KING: Joe, you met him in the army, right?

JOE ESPOSITO, FRIEND OF ELVIS PRESLEY: Yes, I was fortunate enough to be drafted the same time he was. And became friends in Germany and just...

KING: What made you go to work for him after that?

ESPOSITO: He invited me to go to work for him. He asked what I was going to do when I got out of the service. And I said, "Well, I'm go back to Chicago and go back to my little job I had."

And he said, "No, come to work for me." And that was it.

KING: And your job was?

ESPOSITO: I was more or less the right-hand man, his right-hand man, took care of everything, made sure everything was taken care of and done. And then, back on the road, I became his road manager.

KING: Jerry, what was it like to be part of the entourage? You lived and traveled everywhere with him. What was your role? SCHILLING: Well, you know, I started off Larry -- well I met Elvis actually in '54, the same week he recorded his first record. And I was in grade school. And for ten years, because he didn't have enough people -- he was so unpopular, Larry, that he couldn't get up six people to play football. So they let the grade school guy play.

And within two or three weeks, the record came out. You couldn't get on the football field. And I think he kind of remembered I thought he was cool before he was popular. So for ten years, I'm going to high school and hanging out here and you know, going to college.

And then my senior year, he asked me to go to work and it was like -- you know, I left north Memphis and we take a bus trip, and I wind up in Bel Air with swimming pools, we're on movie sets and it's every dream that I could ever thought of Elvis made possible for me.

KING: What was your job?

SCHILLING: Well, you know, Elvis, I think, Joe will tell you, and George, you know, he didn't hire people necessarily for specific jobs. He hired people that he trusted because you lived with him in the same house. I started out, certainly security. Then I did some standing in and some personal public relations later on. And it just kind of evolved over the years.

KING: George, what was your job?

KLEIN: Well, early on, Larry, you know, I met Elvis in high school, 1948. And when I was in radio, I got fired once because they told me they didn't think Rock and Roll was going to last. The next day, I bump into Elvis, he says, "You're going with me." I said, "Where are we going." He said, "We're going to Canada, we're going to Hawaii, we're going to Hollywood to make a movie called "Jailhouse Rock."

So I signed on as merely a traveling companion. I traveled with Elvis for about a year when he went into the army. When he goes into the army, I went back into radio and television in Memphis. And then when he got out of the army, he wanted me to go back to work with him.

But I said, "Elvis, I'm too well established at this very moment." He said, "Don't worry about it. You have carte blanche. You can travel with me, you can be with me any time." So I went to Hollywood with him, hung with him when he was shooting pictures. I'd go to Vegas with him when he was playing there in Vegas, or I'd go on the road with him. I just sort of had a carte blanche thing with him.

KING: And he paid you?

KLEIN: Well, the only time he paid me, Larry, was the year I worked for him before he went in the army. They paid us $50 a week. And I said, "Elvis, we don't need the money. You're taking care of all the expenses." And he said, "Well, Colonel Parker says I got to pay you something for tax purposes." So I accepted the money. The other times, I wouldn't accept anything from him. KING: No, you did it gratis. What was he like as a boyfriend, Linda? What kind of boyfriend was he?

THOMPSON: He was an amazing boyfriend. He was inordinately affectionate and generous and kind and thoughtful, passionate. He was really a wonderful person. I never felt more loved than when I was with Elvis.

KING: But he saw other women?

THOMPSON: He was not monogamous. He was the first year we were together.

KING: How did you take that?

THOMPSON: You know, one little flaw and you got to jump on it, right? No, he was not the most monogamous of men, but he really was very loving.

KING: Did you get mad?

THOMPSON: You know, I took into consideration that it was Elvis, and given the opportunity...

KING: Everyone says that.

THOMPSON: Given the opportunities he had, he did pretty well. He showed a lot of restraint and he was very loyal in his own way. I never doubted how much he loved me and how special I was to him. And, you know, I reconciled that somehow in my mind.

KING: How do you explain it? He played around more than you, right? You had to be his beard.

ESPOSITO: Well, yes, many times. But we all did. That's the thing about it. You know, it was really terrible, but...

THOMPSON: I've been meaning to talk to you about that.

ESPOSITO: That's why I got divorced, too. Because all of us guys were single and our wives were all married. So Elvis was -- you know, Elvis loved women. He always did. He related more to women than he did to guys, so he liked to be around -- not necessarily just for sex or anything like that. He just liked to -- he could relate, talk to them, and he could talk more about his problems to women than he could talk to guys.

KING: But he had a lot of guys around him.

ESPOSITO: Oh yes. He has friend. He liked loyal friends, that was very important to him. He like people that he could trust and know and they were going to be there for him.

THOMPSON: And he was so sequestered with the same people around him all the time that, in an intellectual way, I tried to reconcile it in my mind. And he wanted the stimulation of conversation with other people.

KING: Last time you told me, when you went with Elvis, you went to 9:00 in the morning and got up at 6:00 at night.

THOMPSON: Yes, we lived like vampires, very much like vampires.

KING: You didn't see daylight, much.

THOMPSON: Didn't see daylight. And when you're young and malleable you it's not such a big deal. But when I started to fill myself up with my own self, and with my own ideas of how I wanted to my life to be, then, you know, it was more difficult for me to kind of adjust to that lifestyle.

KING: We might have a satellite problem. We'll correct it and come right back with more of LARRY KING LIVE. We will include your phone calls. August 16, 1977, the day Elvis died. Don't go away.


THOMPSON: He was as good a husband as the king of rock and roll could be. You know, he was also...

KING: Given that?

THOMPSON: Yes. You have to remember, our life wasn't the normal life. We had, you know, all the guys that were around all of us. You know, he had already developed a lifestyle, you know, with guys hanging...

KING: Friends were important to him.

THOMPSON: Friends were very important. People around him were very important. You know, he created his own life with all the guys around him and the guys' wives. We'd go everywhere together.

KING: By the way, some of the movies you're seeing clips from tonight are available on DVD from Warner Brothers Home Video and Paramount Home Entertainment. Joe Esposito is now a casino host at Las Vegas's newest hotel, the Wynn.

Jerry Schilling, what are you doing now?

SCHILLING: Well, the last year, Larry, I worked on a project for CBS, "Elvis by the Presleys." It's an inside family view of Elvis. And it was a BMG DVD. And it was totally a family viewpoint of Elvis from his in-laws, the Beaulieus, his in-laws, Priscilla, Lisa, Michelle Hovey, Gary Hovey.

It was a real inside look of him, both professionally and personally. And I conducted the interviews and was part of the show as well. The show is out there now. So that's what I've been doing the last year.

KING: George Klein, what are you doing? KLEIN: Well, Larry, I'm wearing a lot of hats. I'm also an executive host at the Horseshoe Casino, which is about 30 minutes south of Graceland. But also, I have a new TV show in Memphis called "Memphis Sounds," with George Klein focusing on Memphis music entertainers.

And two, I do a radio show for Sirius Satellite Radio on the Elvis channel, channel 13 every Friday afternoon, all across America. And I do a one-hour show all across America called "The Elvis Hour." It focuses on Elvis' career, interviews, and things of that nature.

KING: And Linda Thompson, I know you're getting divorced, right?

THOMPSON: Yes. Nice segue. Yes.


That's currently what I'm involved in, yes.

KING: Get off my back. I'm dealing with facts.

THOMPSON: I know. Me too, Larry.

KING: You're also married to Bruce Jenner. You told the story before we went...

THOMPSON: And I have a career, oddly enough. I'm a song writer, a lyricist.

KING: A tremendous lyricist with some great songs. And your son has got some music out.

THOMPSON: Yes, "Big Dume" is out now, in stores. My two sons are the guest models and my son Brandon Jenner has a great record out, "Big Dume." And it's being sold in guest (ph) stores in Tower Records and all that. I would show it if I had a copy.

KING: Tell them about being in a hospital with Elvis and seeing Bruce Jenner on television.

THOMPSON: Oh, that's a funny story. Yes, Elvis was hospitalized with pneumonia. And being the good companion that I was, I stayed with him the entire two weeks he was in the hospital. I had my own little hospital bed.

KING: They put my bed next to his?

THOMPSON: They put a bed right next to his and we were tandem. I mean, if he lowered, I lowered. If he raised, I raised. Joe remembers. And the Olympics were airing and we watched Bruce cross the finish line. And, you know, Bruce was this incredible specimen of a human being, and an incredible athlete, gorgeous.

And I said, "Wow, look at that guy. I'd like to marry that guy." And Elvis said, "Over my dead body." So, you know, truth is stranger than fiction. What can I say. KING: You wound up marrying Bruce.

THOMPSON: I did. I wound up marrying Bruce and had two wonderful sons with him.

KING: Why'd you break up with Elvis.

THOMPSON: Why did I break up with Elvis? It was difficult to watch his slow demise. I loved him deeply, and to watch someone that you love that immeasurably slowly self-destruct.

KING: You mean the drugs?

THOMPSON: Absolutely, and just, you know, -- I just knew that he probably wouldn't be around much longer. I didn't want to be the one to find him.

KING: How long you been at the Wynn? Since they opened?

ESPOSITO: I've been there four months now, Larry. It's a great place.

KING: Why did you let -- and you had a lot of influence, I assume -- let Elvis self-destruct?

ESPOSITO: Well, we all tried to help Elvis. But you've got to remember, Elvis is a very stubborn person, very hard-headed. You could talk to him about it and he'd agree with you at times. Other times he'd get mad and tell you to get the hell out of the room. But we all tried it. But, you know, Larry. You know that. If he doesn't want to do it himself, it ain't going to happen. He had to be the one to make the decision to change his life and he didn't.

KING: Do you know why he did it?

ESPOSITO: No, he was a very addictive person anyhow. And anything he ever did in his life, he was very addictive. You know, a lot of you people don't realize, under his mother's side, the Smith side, they were all drinkers, drug takers, all died at young ages.

KING: Jerry, you wanted to say something?

SCHILLING: Well, you know, Larry, I do think there's an underlying -- and we've all talked about this before. I always thought that the drugs were the band-aids. You know, Elvis was not just a good looking guy with a great voice. He was very intelligent. When he started, he was on the leading edge. And I think he became so successful with that package that when he wanted to grow, business and everybody just wanted to keep him in the same -- "Let's do another song, another movie with ten songs," and whatever.

And, you know, Elvis is wanting to do "Becket." And, you know, one day he went to Hal Wallis and said, who was producing a lot of his films, "Mr. Wallis, when do I get my 'Becket'?" Because he read in the trade papers that, you know, Wallis said, you know, "Elvis's films are great. I actually can finance my big movies with him." So I think we would all agree that it wasn't just -- I think when you take a genius, and you give them mediocracy, there becomes boredom and I think that started, you know, the real downer unfortunate prescribed drug situation.

KING: We'll take a break and be back with more. We'll be including your phone calls, don't go away.


KING: You want to jump, don't you? This is the CD from the Foster end, from Linda, from the Jenner end and Linda Thompson. Now, what is this?

THOMPSON: This is Brandon's new CD that's in the stores right now, it just was released. "Big Dume" is Brandon's band. He started his own record label, Chartless Records. He just got off tour and he's going back on tour again, driving the big Winnebago. So it's kind of boot camp for rock stars.

KING: How loyal was Elvis to his people, Joe?

SCHILLING: Oh, very loyal. Definitely. He was very -- if anybody had any problems, he was always there for you. I don't care what it was, a personal problem, a financial problem, or anything. He was very loyal to his friends.

KING: George, Jerry said he was brilliant. Would you call him that?

KLEIN: Yes, I've known three geniuses in my time, Larry. Sam Phillips, who started Sun Records, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis was a genius in his own right. Immensely talented guy, had a great ear for music, had a great take about what went on the stage. He knew how to go on stage, how to work out on stage. Knew how to get off stage. He knew when the timing was right. He had impeccable time, he had fantastic rhythm in his voice. He was a genius in his own way.

KING: But he lived a life, Linda, almost like a hermit, right?

THOMPSON: He did, but he read voraciously. You know, he was a self-taught man. He finished high school but didn't go to college. And he was incredibly intelligent and had intellectual curiosity which, I think, defines a genius or an intellectual person.

KING: And he was interested in, like, the civil rights movement?

THOMPSON: He was interested in everything.

KING: In the ghetto, he performed over the Colonel's objection.

THOMPSON: Right. And Sammy Davis said he couldn't sing that song because he hadn't lived it. But Elvis had lived it. He lived in abject poverty in Tupelo, Mississippi, and he really understood what the lyrics meant and was able to translate it to the public.

KING: Jerry, how do you account for this continuing fascination with him worldwide?

SCHILLING: You know, Larry, Elvis had a way of getting to people on a personal level, whether it was the same language, or it was a different language, a different country, whatever. Elvis has this -- you feel when you watch him or listen to his music, that he's talking just to you.

I mean, this group of people right here, every one of us in our own way felt we were the most important person in the world to Elvis. And he had a way of doing that with the world, Larry.

KING: Do you agree, Joe?

ESPOSITO: I agree 100 percent.

THOMPSON: And the sincerity, as well. Elvis was sincere and he was, he was so loyal. And he was so homespun. He loved his mother, he loved America. You know, he loved his fellow man. He had a great humanitarian philanthropic sense.

ESPOSITO: I think he's so popular still today because of his music. His music's great music. It makes people feel good when you hear his music. It's not like the music you hear today.

THOMPSON: It didn't hurt that he looked like a Greek god.

KING: George, there are those worrying that Graceland is going to undergo changes with the sale. Are you worried?

KLEIN: Me? I'm not worried, no, Larry. I think it's all for the best. I think Mr. Sillerman can probably take it to the next level. Graceland had reached a peak and this guy Sillerman knows what he's doing. And I think it's going to be really great. I think you'll see a lot more Elvis everywhere as opposed just to regional areas and different parts of the United States. I think you'll see him worldwide. I think it's a good deal for everyone concerned.

KING: Do you think, Joe, he'd be surprised at this, 28 years later?

ESPOSITO: No, he definitely would be surprised. I don't think Elvis realized how much power he had. We didn't, even among ourselves. You know, when Elvis passed away, we could not believe the amount of people that came to that funeral and how it affected him.

KING: Where were you when he died, Jerry?

SCHILLING: Well, when he died, Larry, I was getting ready to do my first tour as the Beach Boys manager. And I got a call -- and Joe called and sent the plane back for Priscilla, his wife, me. I came back and I was one of the pallbearers with Joe and George.

KING: Were you totally shocked?

SCHILLING: More so, Larry, than any shock I've ever had in my life. As long as Elvis was around, since I was a young teenager, I always felt nothing could happen to me. And when that happened -- and things were going great for me, but that was the biggest shock and the biggest disappointment I've ever had in my life.

KING: George, where were you?

KLEIN: Larry, I was working in Memphis in an office doing some public relations work and freelance work. And I get a call from my morning disc jockey and he says, "G.K., there's a bulletin that just came across the wire, Elvis passed away."

I said "Oh, man, that happens all the time. It happened three weeks ago." He said, "Well, could you check on it?" I said, "I'll check on it and I'll call you back." Well, I hung up the phone. The next line lit up. It was another station in Memphis calling me. Then the third line lit up, it was CBS television calling me.

They said, "George, I knew the guy." They said, "We got it from a reliable source." I said, "Well, wait a minute, let me call Graceland." So I got on the next phone and I called Graceland. And Vernon Presley's girlfriend, Sandy, answered the phone. And I said, "Sandy, this is George. Is it true?" And she says, "George, it's very true and you need to get out here as fast as you can."

So I jumped in my car and I drove about 100 miles an hour to Graceland and I busted in the house. And Larry, it was the saddest scene I've ever seen in my entire lifetime. Everybody was crying. Mr. Presley, Elvis's father, went up and grabbed me. He says, "George, we've lost him. We've lost him. I've lost my son."

I felt so horrible, like Jerry. It felt like someone just stuck me with a hot iron or something. Little Lisa was walking around, she wasn't aware of what was going on. But everybody in the house was in turmoil. Everybody was breaking up, everybody was crying. It was a tremendously sad scene and I was in shock myself, somewhat.

KING: We'll ask Linda and Joe their experiences and then we'll take your phone calls. We'll be right back.



KING: What was the funeral like?

PRISCILLA PRESLEY: My gosh, I don't think I've ever seen witnessed a funeral like that. It was -- it was unbelievable. I mean, people were all dazed, first of all, in disbelief. But to see the public, I mean, come to Graceland and line the streets. It was unbelievable the lineup of people. It was paths and paths of people.


KING: We're back. Elvis Presley died August 16th, 1977.

Our guests are Linda Thompson, Elvis's girlfriend for five years, who lived with him at Graceland. Joe Esposito, his bodyguard, road manager, best man at the wedding to Priscilla, member of the so-called Memphis Mafia. In the Jungle Room at Graceland is Jerry Schilling, a close family friend, also considered a member of that group, one of the least outspoken members of Elvis' renowned entourage. He lived and traveled everywhere with Elvis for 20 years. And in the living room at Graceland is George Klein, another Elvis member of that group, and grew up and went to school with Elvis, introduced Elvis to Linda Thompson, was George's best man -- Elvis was George's best man, and George was in Elvis' wedding party and was a pallbearer at his funeral.

Where were you, Linda, when you learned?

THOMPSON: I was in my apartment in Los Angeles, and Lisa Marie called me.

KING: She was what, 9 years old?

THOMPSON: Nine years old, and had the presence of mind to pick up the phone and call me. And she just said, "Linda," and she was breathless, and she would call me once in a while anyway. We were very close. And I said, "hi, honey." And she said, "it's Lisa." I said, "I know who you are, little goobernickel." And she said, "my daddy's dead, my daddy's dead." And I said no -- and I remember throwing the phone across the room. I just said "no," then I looked at the phone lying on the floor and I thought, you know, this little girl has the presence of mind and the care for me to call me to share this with me.

So I reached for the phone and I said, "honey, are you absolutely certain?" And she said, "yes." And I said, "he's not just sick, they didn't just take him?" She said, "no, no, he's dead, he's dead."

And I just tried to comfort her by saying, you know, how much her father loved you and, you know, his love will never die and he'll always be with us.

In the meantime, I was devastated. So many strange things happened that day. All the lights went out in my apartment, inexplicably only in my apartment. You know, Elvis was a keen believer in phenomenon like that, and it was very, very strange, that all the lights in my apartment went out and stayed out for the duration of that day.

KING: Lisa, did she also call her mother, or was her mother there?

THOMPSON: I'm not certain. Her mother was not there. I'm sure she probably did call her mother.

KING: Joe, how did you learn?

ESPOSITO: Well, I was there when it happened.

KING: That's right, I remember.

ESPOSITO: I was there. KING: You went up to the body, right?

ESPOSITO: I went upstairs, yeah.

KING: Who called you upstairs?

ESPOSITO: Al Strada. Our wardrobe guy, he went upstairs, because Ginger, the girl he was dating at the time, called him and said, "Elvis fainted in the bathroom." So he ran upstairs. Then Al called downstairs, he asked me to come upstairs. "I need your help," he says. So I ran up there, and I found him on the floor in the bathroom. Turned him over, and...

KING: Did you know he was dead?

ESPOSITO: The minute I touched him, I knew he was dead. I didn't want to believe it, but yes, I did know it, and I picked the phone up and called the ambulance, and they came out. And I jumped in the back of the car with him to go to the hospital.

KING: What was that like for you?

ESPOSITO: It was tough, it was tough, but you know, I just clicked into a gear, I knew we had to get something done here real quick. And Dr. Nick showed up, he jumped in the back of the limousine -- of the ambulance, and we went, Charlie Hodgway (ph) and me, we went too the hospital, and took him into the hospital, and took about 30 minutes, they came out and told us that he had gone.

KING: Did you go to the funeral?

THOMPSON: Oh, yes. My whole family was there. We were about the third car back.

KING: Wyandotte, Michigan, as we go to calls, hello.

CALLER: Hi. I got a question and maybe Joe would know this best. Did...

KING: Lower your television...


KING: Lower your television, dear. What's the question?

CALLER: Did he -- was he wanting...

KING: Lower your television.

CALLER: ... more kids?

ESPOSITO: Would he -- would Elvis have wanted more kids? Yeah, I think so. Elvis loved kids. Kids and animals. And he really related to them very much. I know I have two daughters that he used to play around with them, have a good time. And yeah, I think if he would have gotten married again, he probably would have had more kids. KING: Campbellsville, Kentucky, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry, thanks for taking my call. My question is for Linda. Linda, if you had to do it all over again, would you have stayed with Elvis?

THOMPSON: Oh, absolutely. You know, I cherish those years that I shared with him. He taught me a lot about life and about love and about compassion, and about tolerance and patience, and about loving. You know, he was really an incredible human being.

KING: Why did you break up?

THOMPSON: And the final fiber was a very good one. We broke up because it got to be too painful for me to watch his self-destruction. And you know, there were the other women. There was the convoluted lifestyle that I didn't want to choose to live that way for the rest of my life. So there were a myriad of reasons.

KING: And when you told him about it, what did he say?

THOMPSON: Well, you know, he was who he was, and as Joe pointed out earlier, he was very set on his path of self-destruction. And he was very set in his ways. And you know, I was just this young girl that, you know, couldn't have that much influence on him.

KING: West Seneca, New York, hello.

CALLER: Hello, Larry and the panel.


CALLER: I think that the panel can vouch for me when I say that we get so much inspiration from Elvis' music. Actually, Larry, I don't have a question for you, but I do have a little bit of a request. Instead of "Viva Las Vegas" and some of these other things that you play on here, we were wondering if you could play something like "Stand By Me." And I think Joe and Mr. Klein and Jerry, they know what his music means to us people. And when I listen to "Stand By Me" and some of his gospel music, I mean, it's incredible. I'm going to play it at my funeral. I want it played at my funeral. That's how I feel. Songs like this are just fantastic. It keeps us -- this is what -- this is what Elvis is all about to all of us.

KING: Jerry, how do you relate to that, him as a gospel singer?

SCHILLING: Well, you know, it's really interesting. I was a real rock n' roller as a kid, but walking into this house tonight, his gospel group, the Imperials, were in the piano room, singing for the Webcast for the vigil light service on the 16th, and boy, Joe and George and Linda will say so many times we heard the piano in this house, and the gospel guys, the Stamps, the Imperials, and singing. There was -- I've never felt a camaraderie like I felt here at Graceland or when you were with Elvis, and you know what? It was a big part. Back at that time, Larry, whether it was Sam Cooke, all popular singers came from gospel groups, and Elvis wanted to be one of the Blackwood Brothers. They went into rhythm and blues, and it came out rock 'n' roll and whatever, but gospel music was a huge part of Elvis Presley. And I know what the gentleman was saying who called.

KING: George, would you agree?

KLEIN: Yeah, Larry. Elvis' legacy was his music. That's what has perpetuated his lasting 28 years here. His music lives on. The greatest, most versatile singer that ever lived, Larry, because Elvis could sing gospel, he could sing pop, he could sing country, he could sing blues, he could sing rock 'n' roll. I don't know any singer living today that could hit a high note like Elvis hit in the song called "Surrender" or "Now or Never," a tremendous singer in his own right. And his first love was gospel music, like they alluded to earlier, but I do think, once again, that his legacy is his music.

KING: Do you agree, Joe?

ESPOSITO: Absolutely. Definitely. That's what I say. I talk to these young kids, little girls 10, 12 years old. I say, how did you get hooked onto Elvis? Well, my mom played an album for me, and there was something about him. I just love him. They play his albums over and over again, so he's getting new fans every year.

KING: You still get asked a lot about him?

THOMPSON: Oh, all the time. And he had an interesting philosophy when it came to gospel music, because so many Christian people would say, why don't you just become a Christian artist, why don't you just do exclusively gospel music? And Elvis' idea was that if he interjected one gospel song in a rock n' roll concert, he reached more people that way in trying to spread spirituality, not just Christianity but spirituality and a sense of God, you know...

KING: Would you describe him as spiritual?

THOMPSON: Oh, he was keenly spiritual.

ESPOSITO: Oh, definitely. Absolutely.

THOMPSON: He was on a spiritual quest in his life, absolutely.

KING: We'll be back with more on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Tomorrow night, we'll repeat our tribute to Peter Jennings, and Sunday night, we'll replay the last interview Jennings did on this show. And next week, we're on vacation, and Bob Costas will host LARRY KING LIVE.

And we'll be right back.


KING: Was Elvis very much into religion?

P. PRESLEY: Oh, my gosh, yes. You know, from the time he was a very young child, he was, you know...

KING: Was he a believer?

P. PRESLEY: A believer in?

KING: Did he believe in God?

P. PRESLEY: Oh, yes. That was really the foundation that he had in our family. His mother and father would go to church, the Assembly of God Church, and they would sing. It was just a -- it was a part of his life.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because he has been almost completely away from sipping and acting in the Army, reporters have plenty of questions about the future to ask Sergeant Elvis Presley.

E. PRESLEY: We are not only soldiers, but goodwill ambassadors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you feel about that it?

E. PRESLEY: Well, it stands to reason because we are in a foreign country. And what we do here will reflect on American and our way of life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Photographers move in to get that one last picture. An attractive girl reporter gets a kiss. And then an encore as the flash bulbs pop. Elvis has only one day of processing before leaving Yusirer (ph). He takes with him many good memories and pride in his military service.


KING: Looked good.

THOMPSON: He looked great.

KING: Mary Esther, Florida, hello.

CALLER: Hi. This is Rosie and Jessie. And we have a question. What happened to Ginger Alden, the young lady that Elvis was dating when he passed away?

KING: Jerry, do you know? Jerry Schilling?

SCHILLING: George would know.

KING: George would know -- George.

SCHILLING: George would know, yeah.

KING: George.

KLEIN: Yeah. Ginger Alden married -- Ginger married an advertising executive in New York City. She's living up there. She got off into modeling, tried the actress route. It didn't work for her. So she got married up in New York, married an ad exec. And she has a child, raising a family, living in the eastern part of the United States these days.

Lovely young lady. Actually, she came into the group kind of young. A lot of the guys in the group, Larry, didn't understand Ginger. I understood her, because I introduced her to Elvis. And I could relate to Ginger.

She was very beautiful, very gorgeous, but she was quite a bit younger than us. And some of the guys in the group didn't understand why she couldn't understand what was going on. But I think she was a lovely lady.

KING: Memphis, Tennessee, hello.

CALLER: Hi, Larry. Hi, everybody.


CALLER: You know, you don't grow up in Memphis, and of course not hear, or know anything about Elvis. He's done so many -- he did so many things in his life and everything, but I was wondering if someone on the panel could just touch a little bit on the different charities that he gave to every year. Because I took a friend to Graceland a few years ago and the one thing they came out impressed the most about was all of the charities that he donated to each and every year. And I was wondering if somebody could touch on that.

KING: Jerry, you want to take it?

SCHILLING: Yes, you know, right here in this house, where George is sitting, actually, in that room, every Christmas, Elvis would come and Joe would have the checks and Elvis would write checks to like 50 charities, every year.

And what was interesting about it, Larry, he didn't just write checks. He wanted to know about each one. And they were not just for one type of charity, but they were for various religious denominations, various walks of life. And you know, what's great to see that his daughter is still doing that here in Memphis with a thing for homeless people called Presley's Place.

But you know, the Presleys never were ones to brag about their charity work. But Elvis is probably one of the biggest philanthropists of all times.

KING: Linda?

THOMPSON: He was, yes. And one of his favorite charity was the Good Fellows in Memphis. And one of the reasons it was one of his favorites is because he actually was the recipient of their goodwill when he was a little boy. Their family was so poor that he grew up in abject poverty, they didn't have Santa Claus, so the Good Fellows provided Santa Claus for him when he was a little boy. He never forgot that.

He was fiercely loyal. And did remember when someone was good to him and repaid in kind.

KING: And last time we did a Presley show, I told a story of the time -- a limo driver told me the story that Elvis worked the Miami Beach Convention Center, he landed at Miami International Airport, a helicopter flew him over to the helipad in Miami Beach. The limo driver drove him 11 blocks. He performed. The limo driver drove him back.

He asked the limo driver if he worked for the company or owned the car. He said he worked for the company. So Elvis tipped him the car. He bought the car. He bought the limo and gave it to him, told him he should be in business for himself.

We'll be back with more after this.


KING: By the way, some of the movies that you're seeing clips of from tonight are available on DVD from Warner Brothers Home Video and Paramount Home Entertainment.

Daphne, Alabama, hello.

CALLER: Hey, Larry. I would like to know of all of the tours and the concerts that Elvis did, what was his favorite? And his favorite city that he went to?

KING: Joe?

ESPOSITO: I got news for you, he didn't know what city he was in. He just got on stage. He loved singing and performing. I don't care what it was. There was no one specific, special place. But I got admit one time when we played Madison Square Garden he was really concerned, because let's face it, New York audiences are very tough. And he had never played New York City like that, especially Madison Square Garden. So he was really worried about it.

But when he walked out on that stage, forget it.

KING: Jerry, did he play Memphis a lot?

SCHILLING: You know, he did play Memphis quite a bit. You know, he originally, you know, his first concert was in Memphis. It wasn't a concert, it was at his show (ph). And he was scared to death. This was back in 1954.

And then between '54, between when he was 19-years-old and by the time he was 21, he was doing three "Ed Sullivan Shows," he was doing a movie he was doing Milton Berle and Steve Allen. So, he moved really fast. But he loved playing Memphis. And he always loved Memphis. This was -- you know, here is a guy, Larry, who could leave anywhere in the world he wanted to. When he was finished with movies, when he finished with tours, this was his home.

And you know, I could -- it's still, you know, you think of it as a rock 'n' roll home. It's one of the most peaceful places I think any of us have ever been. It's a real home here.

THOMPSON: It was a church before it was a home.

KING: Oh, was it?

THOMPSON: Yes, it was a church converted to a home.

KING: To Surrey, British...

I'm sorry.

Surrey British on that.

KLEIN: You're wrong on that.

Who's saying that, George?

THOMPSON: I must have been mistaken.

KLEIN: I'm saying it never was a church, Larry. What happened was, a famous doctor in this area had this home, and it was named after his wife, Grace, that's how it got the name Graceland.

But downstairs, what they did on Wednesday nights, they had church meetings. It was a church meeting downstairs in the basement. But the house -- the home, sorry, it never was really a church per se.

THOMPSON: Elvis referred to it as a church.

SCHILLING: There was church next door which is now the executive offices of Elvis Presley Enterprises.

KING: Surrey, British Columbia, hello.

SCHILLING: So this was like a church grounds.

KING: Surrey.

CALLER: Yes. I love your show, Larry.

KING: Thank you.

CALLER: Anyway, I wanted to tell you -- I wanted ask you, you always mentioned how he loved his mother. Did he not love his father? And why isn't he mentioned in the same breath?

KING: Joe. ESPOSITO: Well, I think he was very close to his mother more than his father. And I did not know his mother at all, so I can't tell you too much about that. George Klein was around him very much during that time.

KING: George, was he more -- was he closer to his mother?

KLEIN: Yes, Larry. I've never seen anything like it. If his mother asked him to do something, Larry, there was no arguments, there was no discussion, there was no debate. It was love. He said yes, ma'am. and he would do it.

A prime example was, once Elvis had rented a plane to fly to Nashville for a session. He was running late on concerts. The plane made an emergency landing in Arkansas. It was a fuel situation. Elvis called and told his mama, she said, son, please, please, don't ever fly anymore. And Larry, for those many years, we never flew.

We traveled in limousines, we traveled in buses, we traveled on trains and ships, but Elvis wouldn't fly.

As I said, he loved his mother dearly. I'd never seen anything like that. Whatever she said, that was it.

And also I'd like to clear up something, Larry. They said she used to follow him to school to make sure he didn't get into trouble. That wasn't it. Elvis moved up to Memphis from Tupelo 1948. And she wanted to make sure he went to school. He came from a very small school. We were in a school of 2,000 people. So she would follow him to school to make sure he got to school. And she always gave him everything that he wanted.

I'll never forget when she passed away, he said GK, he said, everything I've made, all of the gold records, Graceland, everything I did for my mom and now she's not here to enjoy it with me. He was devastated when his mom passed away.

KING: We'll take a break and be right back with more. Don't go away.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Local boy makes good. Elvis "the Pelvis" Presley, king of rock 'n' roll, returns to Tupelo, Mississippi. Advanced sales of his new disc topped the million, a record of the record business.

The local girls went crazy. One leapt on the stage and the cops had to stop her from jumping on his blue suede shoes. They just love him to death.

But perhaps Elvis has had too much rough adoration. For instance, his first picture is called "Love Me Tender."



KING: Joe Esposito, you have a Web site, huh?

ESPOSITO: Yes, I do. I have a good Web site, just got it going again. It's called And it's basically a lot of information for fans of Elvis'. You know, he has fans all around the world, and they go on to hear stories and see pictures that have never been seen before. And it just came online...


ESPOSITO: Taking care of business

THOMPSON: The men got TCBs, and the women got TLCs.

KING: Is this going to go on for 50 years, Linda? 50 years from today, they are going to be playing, Linda. Playing Elvis shows, Elvis songs?

THOMPSON: Probably longer. You know, he's a timeless icon. And will be remembered for all of the positive...

ESPOSITO: Maybe you'll have us back-this 50th anniversary.

THOMPSON: I'll bring my walker.

KING: Jerry, do you think so? Do you it'll be 50 years, they'll still talk about him?

SCHILLING: You know, Larry, I met him 50 years ago this July. And who thought they would be talking about him two years from then. And absolutely, Larry. He left us with such a great body of work that there's still things that people can produce. And of course, that music just doesn't get old. It stands up to time. So absolutely.

KING: He'd be 70 now, right? George, guess, what would he be doing at 70?

KLEIN: If Elvis was alive? He would be still performing in Vegas, Larry. He'd be on the road, not as much, but would be on the road. He loved live audience. He probably would be producing his own motion pictures, and maybe starring in a few now and picking the scripts.

I think he would still be in show business. He probably would be off into the business world doing something of that nature.

But I'd also, Larry, like to say, a P.S. to what I was talking about his mother, and I will say this, and I've said it many times, if Gladys Presley was alive today, Elvis Presley would be alive today.

KING: Would he have written an autobiography, Linda?

THOMPSON: I think he would, yes. He very much wanted to have his side of the story told. So, yes, he -- absolutely.

KING: And he would have laid it all out?

THOMPSON: He would have laid most of it out. He might have fudged a little bit. Not all of it.

ESPOSITO: There's certainly things you'll never hear from us.

THOMPSON: Absolutely. And you know, he's also remembered for the human being that he was, as well as what he did professionally and how he revolutionized music. He absolutely is remembered...

KING: It shows tonight in the loyalty of all of you. Thank you.

Linda Thompson, Joe Esposito at the Wynn Hotel.

ESPOSITO: Thank you, Larry.

KING: Jerry Schilling at Graceland in the Jungle Room. And Georgie Klein in the living room at Graceland.

And don't forget, this album from Linda's kids, "Big Doom."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good looking kids, too.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

KING: As we said, tomorrow night we'll repeat our tribute to Peter Jennings. And Sunday, we'll repeat an interview we did with Peter Jennings. And then Monday next week Bob Costas will host all week long as we're on vacation. And among his guests next week will be Conan O'Brien.

Right now stay tuned for a NEWSNIGHT special with Aaron Brown, "Identity Theft." Good night.


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