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|A PERSONAL MEMOIR
March 11, 2016 - Chris Hutchins / Elvis Express Radio
CHRIS HUTCHINS knew The King and his wife well. Now he reveals the disturbing truth about their split.
...Priscilla told Chris Hutchins how she was fearful of ex-husband Elvis
...The King ordered a hitman to be hired to murder her boyfriend Mike Stone
...Elvis described as 'kind, gentle and always attentive' but 'things changed'
...Priscilla said 'Graceland was a carnival' where she was just another 'act'
When it came to preparing for an evening of passion, Elvis Presley’s ex-wife, Priscilla, was a woman who liked to take her time.
During a brief fling she had with the celebrated British photographer Terry O’Neill in 1975, he told me that she always spent at least an hour dressing seductively for bed.
Then a close friend of mine, Terry spared no detail about how a night with Priscilla Presley was always worth the wait.
As she stretched out in her four-poster bed, her beauty reflected in the mirrored ceiling above, she liked to wear exactly the kind of black negligee with which she had once tempted
She never looked anything less than sensational but, as Terry recalled, there was one problem. Their love-making was frequently interrupted by phone calls from Elvis who,
although they had been divorced for two years, still rang her at all hours of the day and night.
Terry’s relationship with Priscilla lasted only two months, ending when he returned to England, later to begin dating his future wife, the actress Faye Dunaway.
He never discovered what Elvis said to Priscilla in those many phone calls, but by then I had gained my own insight into the couple’s broken relationship, witnessing at first hand
Elvis’s physical and emotional decline in the years following their break-up.
At the time I was handling public relations for Tom Jones who, in March 1968, had begun playing to packed houses in Las Vegas. His success would inspire Elvis to make his own
stage comeback there.
As always, it was a decision that had much to do with his manager Colonel Tom Parker, a controlling, manipulative man who was also an inveterate gambler.
Taking a sizeable proportion of Elvis’s earnings, it was said that he frittered away today’s equivalent of £5 million a year in the resort’s casinos. Such was his addiction to winning
that he often played all the roulette table numbers at once.
While the Colonel was busy gambling, Elvis and Tom were frequently to be found partying in the Imperial Suite on the 30th floor of the Hilton, Elvis’s home whenever he was in town.
With four bedrooms, six bathrooms, a sauna, a dining room and a sunken living room, it was the scene of many legendary drinking sessions, but the friendship between Tom and
Elvis was always tinged with more than a hint of professional rivalry.
According to his bodyguard and friend Sonny West, Elvis often made quips about Tom’s trademark skin-tight trousers. ‘Does he stick a sock down there?’ he was fond of asking.
Whenever he was in the audience for one of Tom’s shows, he’d jump on stage and join him for a spot of playful banter. This delighted the fans who got two superstars for the price
of one, but Tom had no intention of letting Elvis share his limelight in an impromptu duet.
More than once, I heard him tell his stage crew: ‘Hide the microphone. Presley’s in.’
Tom could also be disparaging about his friend’s vocals.
One night, we were watching Elvis perform at the Hilton. No longer able to hit all the high notes, he’d told us he sometimes just mimed the words while his backing group filled for
him, and Tom was clearly unimpressed, saying: ‘He’s like a big chorus girl up there.’
Jibes aside, Elvis liked the fact that he could talk to Tom man-to-man. If he was spouting gibberish, Tom would tell him, but equally Elvis felt able to open up in front of him, as I saw
one night backstage with my then wife Jan.
While Elvis chatted to Tom in his dressing room, she and Priscilla compared baby pictures of our respective daughters, Lisa Marie and Joanne. This prompted an emotional
response from Elvis, who had always grieved for his stillborn twin Jesse, and his mother Gladys who died in 1958.
‘Mama would be so proud if she could see me now, a married man with a baby,’ he told us. ‘She’d be a grandmother and that would go a long way to making up for the loss of
‘It wasn’t always like this,’ Priscilla told me that afternoon. ‘Elvis used to be kind, gentle and always attentive. But things changed long before our wedding day. I should have
realised I was marrying an entourage and only had a share in its leader. It had to end.
‘Graceland was the worst. It wasn’t a home, it was a carnival and I was one of the acts. I had to get out and become a woman in my own right.’
She explained that Mike ‘just happened to be there at the right time and was the right man’.
Our conversation was interrupted by the arrival in the room of Lisa Marie, then aged seven. She sat at the table and started to write a letter, pausing occasionally to ask me how to
spell certain words. It began: ‘Dear Daddy, Yesterday I went to a birthday party . . . ’ and ended: ‘I miss you very much and Mummy sends her love.’
Priscilla had mistakenly believed that fatherhood would change Elvis and make him more responsible.
Above all, she had prayed that it would help him to stop taking the drugs that controlled his personality, and that, she freely admitted, he had persuaded her to try.
Mother and father had joint custody of Lisa Marie, but it was Elvis who indulged her. When she asked to see a film, he rented the cinema; when she wanted a merry-go-round, he
hired the amusement park. Elvis bought her a mink coat and a diamond ring, both of which Priscilla made him return.
When Lisa Marie told him she had never seen snow, he flew from Memphis to Los Angeles in the jet that bore her name (and the call sign ‘Hound Dog I’), picked her up and flew to
the mountains of Utah so she could play in the snow for 20 minutes. The trip cost about £150,000 in today’s money, but no price was too high if it made Lisa Marie happy.
As we chatted, I began to understand why Priscilla had chosen this moment to pour out her heart. Only that morning she had been jolted by yet another of the anguished phone
calls she received constantly from Elvis.
She did not go into detail but, back in Vegas, Tom Jones and I had seen for ourselves the pressures he was under. Even five years before, an anonymous phone caller had warned
of a plot to kidnap him.
The FBI had barely had time to react before a second call was made to Colonel Parker as I was visiting him in his office at the Hilton.
As he put the receiver down, he told me the caller had advised him to treat the kidnapping as a matter of urgency, but he was clearly not easily panicked. After alerting the FBI to
the renewed threat, he calmly persuaded me into the casino to try our luck on the tables.
Soon afterwards, a third warning came, this time claiming Elvis would be shot on stage. Everywhere I went, the hotel seethed with FBI activity, fans in Elvis T-shirts bumping into the
well-padded shoulders of men in grey suits and trilby hats.
Elvis refused to cancel any shows, but went on stage with a gun tucked in the back of his trouser waistband.
If anyone fired at him, he intended to shoot back and, in the event that he was killed, he had ordered his bodyguards to shoot the assassin before the police moved in. ‘I don’t want
anyone to become famous for shooting Elvis Presley,’ he said.
All the precautions worked, and Elvis closed in Vegas without a scratch.
But his addiction to prescription medication — uppers, downers, and various narcotics — saw his behaviour becoming increasingly erratic.
One night he turned up in Tom’s dressing room with his hand heavily bandaged. It turned out that a member of his entourage had stolen a ring from his bedside table.
When he learned the suspected thief was due to fly to Memphis that day, Elvis had driven to Las Vegas airport and stood in the path of the aircraft in which he was about to travel,
holding up the shiny badge of a federal agent.
It later emerged the badge had been given to the fiercely patriotic star after he’d told President Richard Nixon that he would be a valuable ally in the fight against anti-American
elements, including communism and street drugs.
Nixon had presumably reasoned that it could do no harm to keep such a popular entertainer sweet, but Elvis took the badge very seriously and used it as his authority to stop the
His close friend George Klein was with him at the time, and told me how they’d hauled the supposed miscreant out of the airport and back to the Hilton where he was subjected to a
summary punishment by his employer.
‘Elvis slapped the guy around real good,’ said George. ‘He had a ring on and it kinda cut his head.’
So fierce was the beating that Elvis injured his own hand in the process.
But that night, as he related the story to Tom and me, we were distracted from his proudly macho account by him ploughing through a huge box of chocolates.
Once he had started he couldn’t stop, stuffing them into his mouth with his good hand and eating the lot in a frenzy which suggested to me that he was high on something.
In August 1975, when he’d cancelled several concerts and was in hospital with multiple ailments, including an enlarged liver aggravated by his drug abuse, there was an unlikely
attempt at intervention by Frank Sinatra.
They’d had their run-ins in the past. Frank once describing Elvis’s music as ‘a rancid-smelling aphrodisiac’. But late one night, Tom Jones and I met up for a drink with him in New
York and he told us that he had just been on the phone to Elvis.
‘When I called the hospital in Memphis, the girl on the switchboard asked: “Who’s calling?” and when I replied: “Frank Sinatra” I fully expected her to say: “Oh, yeah, and I’m the
Queen of England” or some such dumb line. But she must have recognised my voice because, a few seconds later, Elvis came on the line.
‘I told him he’s got to look after himself and quit fooling around. He’s too young to die, and I told him so.’
Tragically, of course, that warning
went unheeded. After Elvis’s death in 1977, the inevitable speculation began as to who or what could have saved him.
The answer was certainly not Ginger Alden, the 20-year-old Priscilla lookalike who was his girlfriend at the time, and far too young and inexperienced to exert any control over his
According to Ginger, she and Elvis had plans to marry that Christmas, a claim that astonished many of those closest to him, including Mary Jenkins, the long-time cook at
‘It really surprised me,’ she said. ‘He told me that he would never marry again unless it was to Priscilla.’
The last time Elvis spoke to his ex-wife was by telephone on the night he died.
During that call, they’d argued over travel arrangements for Lisa Marie, their little daughter who’d asked for my help writing her letter to ‘Daddy’ that afternoon in Priscilla’s garden.
It had been a tense conversation, but at least they were on speaking terms. And that had raised Mary Jenkins’ hopes of a marital reunion, which might curb some of Elvis’s
This was certainly something he had seemed to crave in the years following the divorce from Priscilla.
During her time with Terry O’Neill, she told him that Elvis had been heartbroken when she left him, and Terry was in no doubt that he wanted her back.
However, in his opinion, that was a temptation she was wise to avoid. ‘If she’d gone back to Elvis, she would have been destroyed,’ he said. ‘Instead, Elvis destroyed himself.’
Adapted from Elvis: A Personal Memoir by Chris Hutchins, published by Neville Ness House