THE INSIDE STORY OF ELVIS AND THE COLONEL
During the seventies Colonel Parker’s gambling became compulsive and he played to play. Winning ceased to be the object for him. He simply could not walk away from a game, which made him the kind of customer no casino would turn away, provided, of course, he could make good on his debts. And the Colonel could, because not only was he wealthy, but his “collatateral” was Elvis Presley, who generated money for Vegas just by being there. Aside from the business Elvis drew to Las Vegas during his concert appearances, there were other perks for the hotel, such as the considerable bills Elvis and our entourage, including singers, musicians and staff, ran up. Rooms, meals and drinks for ninety to a hundred people came to a substantial sum.
It was December 13, 1976 at the Hilton International Hotel in Las Vegas Nevada when I left Elvis’ suite and went downstairs to the casino. As I scanned the large gambling room, there was a group circled around one of the tables. I approached and saw Colonel Parker sitting at the table wheel the game “The Wheel of Fortune” was being played. The curious who gathered to see the famed Colonel were blocked off for the Colonel’s safety and convenience.
I stood watching Colonel Parker steadily lose huge piles of chips. The Colonel-smoking his perennial large cigar, and with enormous bravado, blowing out large smoke rings as if he were winning millions-called me out, “Larry, come over here and sit with the Colonel and bring me some luck; I need it. He steadily lost. He was losing so badly that not even the Midas touch would help him out of the hole he was in. I politely excused myself and left.
I took another stroll into the gambling casino a few hours later. I looked over at the Colonel’s table, where he sat, still with a cigar in his mouth that was being chewed upon furiously. As I walked behind the outskirts of the crowd, I overheard that his losses ranged from one to one and a half million dollars.
When Elvis received the news he became furious. Many repressed and hidden feelings of anger and frustration emerged that were brewing for years. He began formulating a plan to extricate himself from the man he felt so indebted to. “I should’ve left him years ago. What really pisses me off is that the people who pay their hard earned money to see me perform will never see that kind of money in their whole lives. Hey, believe me, I know how hard is out there. One and a-half million dollars! Man, that’s obscene. Look I’m grateful to the Colonel for everything he’s done, but he’s lost touch, he just doesn’t get it. All he cares about is the almighty dollar. I’ve got to find a new manager, someone who understands what I’m really all about.”
May 21, 1977, Louisville, Kentucky. The next show was that evening, and I was alone in the afternoon in the living room of Elvis’ suite. Elvis’ doctor was in the bedroom with him. Suddenly I heard a loud knocking on the front door. I jumped up and quickly went to see what was happening. Our floor was securely patrolled by security officers; no one would be admitted onto our floor unless they were checked by them. I looked through the peephole and saw the Colonel. As I opened the door and greeted him the Colonel charged into the room. With both hands firmly grasping his cane, he leaned his stocky frame over it and, looking around, demanded, “Where is he?”
I started toward the bedroom door, saying, “Just a minute, Colonel, I’ll let him know you’re here.”
Parker brushed by me. “No!” he said forcefully, “I’m goin’ in.”
He threw open the door, and in the instant before it closed behind him I caught a glimpse of the painful scene inside. There was the doctor kneeling next to the bed, cradling a semi-conscious Elvis, working to revive him. He was dunking Elvis’ head into a bucket of ice water. Eyes closed, jaw slack, Elvis looked helpless, as if he were in a coma. I could hear him moaning faintly. The door slammed shut.
Less than two minutes later the Colonel emerged, quickly closing the door behind him. He stalked over to me, pointed his cane heavenward, looked coldly into my eyes and declared, “The only thing that’s important is that that man is on that stage tonight. You hear me? Nothing else matters! Nothing!” With that, he was gone.
I couldn’t believe what I just saw and heard. Naively, perhaps, I expected the Colonel to take some action, to react in some human way to the sight of “his boy” in that condition. Was his only fear for Elvis that he might not be able to perform? What about Elvis?
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