THE MOST IMPORTANT AND REVEALING BOOK EVER WRITTEN
ON THE LIFE OF ELVIS PRESLEY
Who was this man who changed music and culture forever? It’s easy to see him as larger than life, a man of excessive talent and beauty and of excessive weakness. What you see isn’t always what you get. The Elvis Presley I knew, the private Elvis, was an intelligent, thoughtful man who embarked on a lifelong quest for meaning and enlightenment. I was privileged to share that journey with him. It’s a journey he wanted me to share with you.
Elvis charged me with this responsibility, empowering me and inspiring me to write this book. “The world knows Elvis Presley all right,” he said emotionally, “but they don’t know me,” poking his chest. “I want them to know me, the real person.” We were in the Detroit Hilton at the time; it was a few months before he died.
“Larry, I’ve always been misunderstood my whole life. When my career first took off, they didn’t know what to make of me; Hollywood still hasn’t figured me out, and there’s a lot of people who still don’t have a clue to what I’m really all about. There’s more to me than that guy up there on the stage: You know, Elvis the image. And that’s where you come in. I wouldn’t ask anyone but you; it’s our special mission together. I know my story’s been told before in a lotta different ways, but working together, let’s write a true book about my life, everything. What my fans and everyone else need to know is that I’m a spiritual person. If they don’t know that, they’ll never really know who I am, and what makes me tick. They need to know all about the books I read—you know, about the path. And what about my baby girl? How is Lisa Marie going to know the most important thing about her daddy when she grows up? Man, you know as well as I do that a half truth can be a distortion, even a lie, and if my spiritual life isn’t known then my real story won’t ever come out.”
Elvis looked me squarely in the eyes. “Larry, I’m counting on you. If even one person can be led to God because of me, it will be worth it. I’m the first to admit I’m not perfect, and I’ve done things I’m not proud of. I’ve got a long way to go—we all do. We’re all on Jacob’s ladder somewhere. And like it says in the Bible, ‘and though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am nothing.’ God is love, Larry, that’s what it’s all about. So I’m asking: are you with me?”
I have written the story of my years with Elvis before, in If I Can Dream (Simon & Schuster, 1989). I participated in the writing of two more books about Elvis and made small contributions to others. All of these works spoke of Elvis’ spiritual life as part of the story. So why now? Why do I feel the time is right to go into the depths of that essential, all-important aspect of this man, to fully honor the promise I made to Elvis so many years ago?
Since Elvis died, I have spoken before thousands of fans around the world; I’ve been interviewed on television, in print, and in documentaries; I receive e-mails every day from people all over the world. While most express an interest in the work I did for Elvis as his hair stylist and what it was like to be part of his world, they always come to the same place. What did Elvis believe? Was he a Christian? What were his favorite books and philosophers? What did you and Elvis talk about during all those hours you spent together? Did he pray? Did he meditate? Did he believe in reincarnation and karma? Some of the e-mails tell me about spiritual connections that the writer has to Elvis, or how Elvis changed or even saved the person’s life.
Another impetus for me to write this book is the growing public interest in Elvis’ spiritual life, which has led to a plethora of misinformation and misunderstanding. For most of us, our spiritual life is a private matter, shared only with those with whom we are most intimate. It is, after all, the window to our soul, the reflection of our deepest self that reveals the depth of all our dimensions. Privacy, however, is a luxury not granted to the famous, not even after they’ve passed away, and certainly not to Elvis.
Perhaps the biblical saying applies here: “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” We are living through the most exciting, challenging, and critical time in human history. Never before has so much been possible, and never before has so much been at stake. This time of uncertainty and global angst has led to a spiritual awakening; people who never before looked beyond the physical world are seeking answers in religion and philosophy; belief in God and angels is growing among formerly pragmatic doubters.
Elvis most certainly would have welcomed this spiritual resurgence and would have been an eager participant in its expression. He was a man ahead of his time, in his awareness and interest in the metaphysical as much as in the vanguard of a new kind of musical expression. He spoke to me often of developing charities in his name, writing books on the spiritual journey we shared, contributing even more to the world than his God-given talent. He wanted to change the world, not as a prophet or a leader, but as a man who could make his voice heard and his presence felt on behalf of great causes.
So the question remains: what was the root meaning of Elvis’ life? Is it even possible to wrap words around a whole life, to attempt to grasp the essence of its truth, especially one as rich and as complicated as the life of Elvis Presley? That is the mystery at the heart of this work, and it will take us through a grand sweep of Elvis’ spiritual quest. We will explore his hopes and dreams, struggles and frustrations, and his private thoughts and feelings about that quest for ultimate meaning and wholeness.
Psychologist and philosopher Dr. Viktor Frankl suggests in his best-selling book Man’s Search For Meaning that man’s primary motivation in life is his search for purpose and fulfillment.
Elvis and I read many hundreds of books together. We studied and discussed, searched and probed, always looking for answers to the unanswerable, each looking for his own purpose and helping the other along the way. I’ve been called a guru and other, less flattering, epithets. Yes, I was for the most part the mentor and guide; I placed my feet on the spiritual path long before Elvis and I met and discovered our kindred souls. I had read all the books I brought him, and hundreds more. But the sobriquet “guru” suggests a master or cultish leader, and that I was not. I learned many things from Elvis, as together we studied ancient wisdom and philosophy, religions of both East and West, exoteric and esoteric. Nothing was off bounds for our inquiring minds. We practiced meditation and spiritual healing. We loved to play with numbers and words, creating new ways of finding mystical meaning in the ordinary. Mysticism spoke directly to Elvis’ fundamental desire to know what life was about, and thus it emerged naturally from the very marrow of his being.
This book had to be written. How could I allow what is contained within these pages to be lost forever? That would have been a gross injustice. The planning and actual writing have been years in the making, since I realized early on that previously I had only touched upon the most essential portal into Elvis’ story.
We are nothing but our stories after we’re gone. Our identities over time dissolve and fragment into loose collections of anecdotes and yarns. For Elvis, these stories have grown into legends and myths. Knowing what I know, I was compelled to convey the more meaningful threads, to provide a unique view that shines through a pastiche of fact and fable, innocent or purposeful distortions.
In the past I’ve written with talented and creative collaborators; the experience was rewarding in many ways, and I learned quite a lot from them. This time is different; this is my book.
Working in my favor is the very good memory with which I have been blessed, especially concerning those incredible, historical years with Elvis. I made a deliberate effort to remember everything I could, and thus many conversations and memories are still fresh, deeply etched in my consciousness. Additionally, during the last year of Elvis’ life, with events unfolding so quickly, I jotted down copious notes. I always had writing material at hand then, as I was writing a health book, and Elvis and I had discussed writing a book about his life.
In the years since Elvis’ death, I’ve compiled volumes of notes, meticulously reconstructing actual conversations, always relying upon my ability to recall tone, texture, and context. I can honestly and comfortably say that this book hits the mark. You will see this reflected in the passages and ideas found in pages of Elvis’ own books, notes he wrote in the margins, and phrases and thoughts he underlined.
In these pages you will travel with Elvis on his journey from a man with hidden, unexpressed longings, searching alone for meaning to a life that seemed in many ways to be charmed to a more fully realized spiritual seeker, well read, conversant in an eclectic range of religious and Gnostic philosophies. You will come to understand the intelligence and depth of this man.
Since Elvis’ passing I’ve continued my own journey, deepening and discovering new levels of understanding. I can’t give over in this book what I don’t have myself: all the answers to all the questions. What I can share with you is what I learned before I met Elvis, in the time I shared with him, and in the years since he’s gone. If you find answers in the leaves of this book, I’m grateful; at the very least you’ll learn more about the inner life of Elvis Presley and his very personal, very spiritual journey.
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“This beautifully written book introduced me to the Elvis I never knew.”