Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day Elvis Style

One afternoon upstairs in Elvis’ bedroom at Graceland, he and I were talking about his mother’s passing in 1958. It was the most turbulent, disoriented and confusing time in his life: drafted into the Army, leaving the career that had exploded two years earlier, uncertain what the future would bring.
“Man, you can’t believe what I was goin’ through back then. I mean everything was just crashing in on me at once, every dream I ever had. Just when everything was going my way, the Army calls me. My career came to a screeching halt; all the movies I was starring in, TV, my records, everything. I actually thought that nobody would remember me after I served my time, that I’d be a flash–in–the pan. You know, people would say, “hey, remember that guy, the one that used to shake his body, what’s his name?”
Then the first thing they do when I’m inducted is buzz my hair off!” Elvis shook his head incredulously. “Can you imagine that, Larry, my hair? Then, when I’m struggling to deal with everything, my mom suddenly died! My mom was the light of my life, my best friend; I mean, she’s the one I could always go, no matter what. That’s a blow you can never really get over.”
“But not matter what happened and all that, I’m glad I served my country, Larry. I love America; where else can you dream the impossible dream? Believe me, no one knows better than I do. I’ve lived that dream. My mom kept tellin’ me, even when we had nothing, that I could be anything I wanted to be, if I tried hard enough.”
And I’ll tell you this; I didn’t have to go into the army like the way all the other guys did.  They told me that if I wanted to I could be in a special service unit; you know, represent the army and tour the other bases in the world, talk to the guys, maybe entertain and sing.  I didn’t even have to think about it.  I flat turned their offer down.  I wanted to be a role model, and let everyone know that I was just like every other guy.”
Elvis had a strong sense of history and was proud of his Southerner’s traditional love of country. He drew his energy and strength from the American soil and its people. “Sure, America’s not perfect, but it’s the best hope we have for this world. I mean, who else is as free as we are? People will do anything to get here; some even die. America represents hope for this world. I’m proud to be an American and I’m proud that I served my country.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Elvis and the Volcano

Elvis and the Volcano

John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
And plans we did have. Shira and I had been looking forward to our visit to the UK for many months. As the plane began its descent to Heathrow airport our anticipation grew stronger. We had left Los Angeles the day before; and even though the flight was long and tedious, we were energized by the prospect of touring England for the coming week and connecting with Elvis fans.
We were greeted at the airport by our host Mark Summers, a young talented ETA who was to perform at all the venues. I had only seen Mark’s act on the Internet; from what I had seen he looked very promising, and even emanated a quality I hadn’t really seen before. As it turned out, my expectations were exceeded the moment Mark stepped out on the stage and opened his mouth to sing. Immediately it became crystal clear that not only did he sound very much like Elvis when singing, but his speaking voice as he interacted with the audience was spot on. He was a Southern boy with every word he spoke, with no sign of his native English accent, making the whole experience even better.
We were having a great time, staying at a lovely old hotel in Clacton-On-Sea, a small resort on the English Channel. We had a view of the sea and the delightful pier and arcade just across the road. About halfway through our visit, however, we became anxious about something we never thought would have an impact on our travels. Within hours after we landed, all airports in the entire UK had been grounded, as well as tens of thousands of travelers, because of the volcanic ash cloud spreading from Iceland. By the next day the ash had spread throughout Europe, and all airspace was closed; which meant no planes in or out of virtually anywhere. Now millions of people became stranded. Oh, the plans of mice and men.
At first we thought we wouldn’t be affected; surely it would pass in a few days. But as time wore on, it became clear that the disaster was becoming ever more ominous. Hourly the BBC, Sky News and CNN issued updates; we could barely turn away from the TV and the Internet, and Shira kept checking her Blackberry for news. At one point we were told that we might have to remain in England for weeks - even months; no one seemed sure. We even thought of flying out of Spain, one of the few countries whose airspace was clear. One small problem: We were on an island, with no way off in the foreseeable future. Well, you can only imagine what we were facing. The only bright light in all of this was Mark’s performance, and my being able to interact with the fans. I told stories, answered questions from audiences whose appetite was immense. What I really appreciated was that the majority of questions asked really had some meat on them, questions that were centered upon Elvis the man, the inner Elvis.
Then, out of the blue a minor miracle happened. Shira and I were able to get on the very first flight out of England flying directly to California; our original reservation at that! It didn’t hurt that we had many, many friends around the world praying for our safe and timely return home.
Barely recovered from our anxiety overload and jetlag, we left a few days later for Palm Springs, where we participated in a weekend event at Elvis’ “Honeymoon House.”
The memories flooded me the moment I stepped into the house I knew so well. I remember the very first time Elvis and the group came there back in 1966. At first Elvis didn’t even want to visit Palm Springs, but the moment we arrived for the weekend, he fell in love with the climate and the town.
All in all, tired or not, I quickly became energized, re-connecting with Elvis fans and speaking to new ones. Kari, Cat and Darlene of Pink Caddy Entertainment helped with arrangements that weekend, and as usual did a great job. Their reputation in the Elvis world has grown leaps and bounds over the past few years; everyone who knows these special ladies falls in love with them. Their dedication to Elvis is exemplary and their energetic enthusiasm is contagious.
I thought perhaps after Palm Springs I might be able to rest for awhile. Not so. No sooner did we arrive back in LA than Shira and I hit the trail again, this time to Las Vegas to film for a Canadian documentary. I thought Palm Springs held a lot of memories, but staying at the Hilton in Las Vegas was major déjà vu. Although Las Vegas and the Hilton have changed in so many ways, it felt to me like yesterday that Elvis performed there for the very last time. So many dramatic things happened in December of 1976…but that’s for another time, another blog.

Friday, April 16, 2010

April 2010

Over the years I’ve been asked many probing questions concerning Elvis’ spiritual life. One I received recently from a fan named Janet is a big question that relates to all our lives, and so I would like to answer it in some depth. Janet asked, “How much do you think you helped Elvis on his spiritual quest? Do you think he died at peace”?
To begin with, we should all understand as clearly as possible what being spiritual means. Basically, it’s an awakening of our very core, the essence beyond our mind, intellect and ego. When we have even a partial glimpse of the sacred we experience joy, insight, intuition and creativity. In addition, there is the awakening of love, kindness, compassion and happiness. It isn’t just a side of our personality – it’s who were are, an attitude, a way of being.
The first time I styled Elvis’ hair, I became acutely aware that he was basically a spiritual man; he was born with that quality, and fame and fortune never tarnished nor corrupted the shining soul quality that animated his life. Elvis throughout his life Elvis was a vibrantly spiritual person. But it was the afternoon of April 30, 1964 that defined the moment in time when he consciously embarked on a lifelong quest for meaning and enlightenment. For the rest of his life he lived in constant pursuit of that elusive “something else” that gives life real, true meaning.

I was cutting hair at our salon when my phone rang, one of Elvis’ aides asked if I would like to come over to his Bel-Air home and style his hair.

After I blow-dried his hair we became engaged in a profound three-hour conversation that changed both of our lives. At first I answered some personal questions about my background, my interest in reading books on religion and spiritual growth, health, meditation and yoga. Then our conversation quickly turned to even deeper realities of both our lives. Do we really have an immortal soul? Is there life after death? What is the meaning and purpose of our lives? Are fate and destiny pre-ordained? And many other subjects we all think about.

Then Elvis revealed,”This is exactly the kind of stuff I secretly think about all the time, especially late at night when I’m in bed. But I don’t have anyone around me to talk about these things. And I’ll let you in on something. I’ve always felt that there had to be some purpose for my life. I mean, ever since I was a little kid an’ growin’ up, I felt this unseen hand behind me, guiding my life, getting me to the point where I’m at now. Why me…why me?
Elvis leaned forward, his fingers delicately picking something invisible from the air. “Why was I plucked from all the millions of lives in the world; there’s gotta be a purpose in all this, a reason why I was chosen to be Elvis Presley.”

His eyes took on a faraway look. “Larry, I want to tell you something about myself. Listen, I grew up in the heart of the Deep South. Man, we were so poor you wouldn’t believe where I’ve been, and what I’ve seen in this life boggles my mind. I mean, from pain and tragedy to the very heights of glory—way, way beyond my wildest dreams. But deep down, I always felt there had to be real answers to why this all came to me and not some other guy.”
Several hours into this remarkable conversation Elvis told me about his stillborn twin brother Jesse Garon, his experiences growing up going in the church, and many other intimate memories and impressions of his earliest days. Then I stole a glance at my watch and started to pack my hair cutting tools, but in my heart I truly felt something really clicked here. “It’s getting late, Elvis, and I need to get back to my salon. Hey, it’s great meeting you; I really enjoyed our conversation. Look, if you ever need me to do your hair again, I’d love to come back and we could talk some more.”
Elvis studied my face for a moment. “I’ve got a better idea. I don’t know what your working situation is, but why don’t you go back and tell them you’re gonna quit there and work for me full time. Because Larry, I sure as hell don’t believe in coincidences. You came here for a reason more than just doing my hair. Just meet me at Paramount Studios tomorrow morning at eight o’clock. Your name will be with the guard at the gate. And Larry…don’t forget you gotta bring me a few of those books you’ve been talking about.”
The next morning as I was driving to Paramount Studios, my head was spinning. I realized that the responsibility I agreed to wasn’t only for my services as Elvis’ personal hairdresser, which was obviously monumental in its own right. Even more significantly, Elvis was asking me to nurture and mentor his mind, and his deep spiritual urge.

As it turned out, that first conversation served as a model for what was to become a daily experience for Elvis and me. In the following years we spent several hours a day talking about just about everything under the sun. Whether in the privacy of his home, his trailer dressing room in Hollywood, at Graceland, on tour or aboard “The Lisa Marie,” inevitably our conversation drifted into the more philosophical and spiritual aspects of life.

Elvis was a voracious reader. Over the years he amassed an impressive library of books that I selected and brought to him. Man, did he love his books. Two large trunks filled with his favorites went with him wherever he went; his own portable library.
Elvis was a very private person whose spiritual life was shared only with very few of his most intimate friends.
“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. 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. 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.”
Elvis’ search for meaning and purpose in his life was to understand what was asked of him, what he was called upon to give to the world. He knew his God-given talent and the music he created were a great gift he offered to his fans, and most people in his position would have thought that’s enough, that’s what I’m here for. But it wasn’t enough for Elvis; he believed he was chosen at birth and he suffered in his longing to do more, to give more.
My life has been so enriched and blessed knowing and serving Elvis. I was deeply connected to his life, as his hairdresser and friend, plus more vitally and importantly attending to his most profound spiritual needs.
The essence and soul of all things is spiritual – the spiritual is truly real because it is the life of all there is. Spiritual power is the power that lies at the heart of all things; it’s the soul of the universe. Elvis knew this only so well.
Elvis’ life, and the aftermath of his passing, attest to the fact that he knew, and attempted to convey to the world his depth, sensitivity and abiding faith in God. His music and his spirit live on as testaments to his life on earth, like no other entertainer in history. Yes, Janet, I do believe absolutely that Elvis died at peace.

Monday, March 1, 2010

2/25/10 - Viva ELVIS by Cirque du Soleil

Hal Wallis once said “An Elvis picture is the only sure thing in Hollywood.” The same might be said of “Viva ELVIS Cirque du Soleil,” one of the few sure bets in a struggling Las Vegas today.

I had the great pleasure of attending the world premiere of this highly-anticipated show in Vegas last Friday night. Waiting for the show to begin, I have to admit I was skeptical and even a bit apprehensive; I’ve been disappointed so many times in the past thirty-two years. But then, this was Cirque du Soleil, known for their creativity and professionalism, so perhaps they would surprise me. Yet how could anyone or any show possibly capture and convey the magic of Elvis? The set designer for the show, Mark Fisher, acknowledged the challenge they faced in creating this show when he said, “Elvis has transcended reality and become a kind of mythic figure.”

Look, we all know only too well that Elvis has left the building and no one can truly bring him back. But to my utter amazement and great joy I soon realized that – in a unique and spectacular way - I was experiencing Elvis once more, sitting there in the Elvis Theater at the Aria Resort and Casino. In an eye-popping extravaganza, he dances, laughs, sings and goofs as he explodes on a massive screen. What a brilliant move, bypassing the use of any male singers for live renditions of his songs. Elvis plays Elvis, coming to life as never before. His image on the huge screen above the stage is so compelling, I had to force my eyes to look at the stage to watch the amazing performers. And they are truly amazing dancers, gymnastic-acrobats and singers, all united in Cirque du Soleil’s celebration of Elvis’ remarkable legacy.

The show hits the highlights in Elvis’ life and career, taking us on a journey that includes his musical roots in the southern church, his youthful fascination with comic superheroes, his army years, his love affair with Hollywood and his own movie career, culminating in his record-setting Las Vegas triumph.

On a personal level his relationship with Priscilla and their wedding are beautifully and gracefully portrayed. I loved the aerial ballet of two couples floating above the stage in wedding rings.

One of the most poignant and intimate moments was when “Viva ELVIS” soars into metaphor in a tender rendition of the ballad “One Night With You”. Two young men that we recognize as Elvis and Jesse Garon execute soulful acrobatics, alone and together, on a guitar-shaped apparatus suspended in front of a starry night.

“Viva ELVIS” is truly a spectacle, theatrically and dramatically chronicling Elvis’ musical biography. Rockin’ good music, breathtaking acrobats and dancers, dazzling sets and costumes play off stunning archival footage and iconic images of Elvis, making this the perfect experience. I left the theater feeling totally satisfied…yet wanting more.


I just completed filming an interview for the BBC1 special that will air in the UK in January, for Elvis’ birthday. I was also interviewed for a six-part BBC Radio series “The Elvis Presley Trail,” which will air around the same time – but this one will also be available for all of us on the Internet. I’ll let you know when I have more details.

All this interest in Elvis coming from another part of the world got me thinking. Elvis was so completely and essentially American, yet his appeal is universal. In a way, he represents this country and what is great and good about it.

Elvis lived the American dream. He rose from the most desperate poverty of the Depression to unprecedented fame and fortune that never diminished. He also embodied the American spirit; he was optimistic, brash, daring and certainly a pioneer. Just like America, Elvis embraced everyone; whether it was a President, an office worker or a janitor, everyone was treated equally by him.

After all these years Elvis still inspires and touches millions of lives around the world. Many who weren’t even born when he left us. Elvis’ image, his music and the force of his personality continue as a vibrant, living presence.

Elvis goes beyond being a legend; he’s an historic icon. Yet one of the great ironies of his extraordinary life can be revealed in a comment he once made, “I wonder,” he said quietly…”I wonder if I’ll ever be remembered?”

I think it’s safe to say that we all remember him, and love him for the great human being he was – uniquely American, yet belonging to the world.


No matter where I’ve lived over the years, Memphis has always been like a second home to me. I have so many wonderful memories of time spent there with Elvis: talking, reading, playing, doing his hair, going to the movies in the middle of the night…all good stuff. Yet I also have the saddest, most painful memory of all: preparing his hair for the funeral and saying my last goodbye. Lots of emotion connected with that city.

I always look forward to Elvis Week in Memphis. It’s a whirlwind of re-connecting with many fans and friends, meeting new ones and reliving cherished memories that emerge so vividly and freely; the past and the present seamlessly and flawlessly woven together.

What really struck such a deep cord within me this time was that after all these years, Elvis still inspires and touches millions of people around the world, many of whom weren’t even born when he left us. His image, his music and the force of his personality continue as a vibrant, living presence.

Marian Cocke’s annual banquet at the Peabody was a huge success, raising lots of money for charity. Shira and I sat with George Klein, Mark James and his wife Karen, DJ Fontana and his wife Karen. Shira and I always get a vegetarian meal. This time it was the best one yet: pasta primavera with vegetables – absolutely delicious.

The entertainment was outstanding! After the raffle and auction, Terry Mike Jeffrey took the stage and rocked on for at least an hour. Then he brought up the Jordanaires who sang their hearts out. What a special treat it was when Duke Mason came up and sang a few songs; he’s a huge talent and the audience loved him.

As usual when in Memphis (and sometimes by phone during the year) I was on Sirius Radio on George Klein’s show, this time twice. He and Jim Sykes are such professionals, and it’s a delight to work with them. I’ve never been to Memphis during Elvis Week when I didn’t speak at George’s annual Memorial for Elvis at the University of Memphis. It’s the last thing I do before leaving for the airport, and it’s a wonderful wrap-up to the week.

For me, though, as I’m sure for every fan, the emotional highlight of any Elvis Week is the candlelight vigil at Graceland. Walking up the driveway to the meditation garden was so moving, reaching deep into the soul of each person there. Elvis broke our hearts, but he filled them with joy as well.

This year held a special meaning and experience for me. It was the premiere for “At The Gates” a documentary that was made by my son Kiara Geller and his partners in Echo House Entertainment, Keith Evans and Walter Procek. They have created a great work that is very revealing and entertaining, offering a new insight into Elvis and his fans. The premiere was held on August 12th at the Memphian Theater, a place that holds many memories for me and for Elvis’ other friends, and even some privileged fans. The audience was very responsive; some wept, all cheered, and their comments after the film were uniformly enthusiastic.

I can’t finish this blog without offering kudos to the fabulous girls of Pink Caddy Entertainment: Cathy Hernandez, Kari Lugo and Darlene Perez. They handled all the promotion for the Echo House documentary, and they arranged a book signing for me at Marlowe’s, where I had the chance to meet with many more wonderful Elvis fans.


Elvis is known throughout the world as the King of Rock ‘n Roll. Yet he transcended that genre, his musical genius and his magical voice conquering gospel, rhythm and blues, country, rockabilly and even pop. As if that wasn’t enough, he was also a major movie star. Yet Elvis always shied away from that title bestowed upon him by the world: the fans and the media.

One evening in 1965, as I was styling his hair upstairs at Graceland, Elvis and I were talking about certain aspects of his career. We started discussing all the various styles and categories of music that he’s known for. All of a sudden Elvis leaned forward in his chair and said, “Ya know Larry, people call me the king, like I invented rock n’ roll or something. No way man, no way. It all goes way, way back to the days in the old Deep South when the slaves were working and slaving their lives away. I mean those poor old people knew what real pain an’ suffering was all about. They used to sing and pour out their hearts to God just to get through the day. That’s where most of our real gospel music comes from. When the sun came up to when it went down, they sang and made up the words as they went along, in the cotton fields an’ plantations. And their slave music found its way right into their churches; then white folks picked up on it and began singing the slave songs in their own way in their churches. Then music began to change and went beyond the churches and grew into honky-tonk and Dixieland. Then it spread north to St. Louis and Chicago where the blues and jazz took off; then in our times it evolved into rhythm n’ blues then rock ‘n roll. The truth is, I was just lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time - and all I did was to take their music and introduce it to a white audience.”

I remember one night in Las Vegas in December of 1976. We just gotten into the elevator that went up to Elvis’ penthouse at the Hilton International. Two girls ran up and excitedly yelled out, “Elvis you’re the king!” As the doors were closing he smiled and pointed upwards. “There’s only one King. I might be in the saddle but I’m not on the throne.”