Afterlives of the Rich and Famous

Elvis Presley

On January 8, 1935, in a two-room house in Tupelo, Mississippi, built by Vernon Elvis Presley, his wife, Gladys Smith Presley, gave birth to identical twin boys. The first, Jessie Garon, was stillborn. Thirty-five minutes after Jessie’s sad arrival, the second twin, Elvis Aron, was born, healthy, thriving, and, as the saying goes, “ready to rock and roll.” The Presleys were a close-knit family, surrounded by aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins in Tupelo, and Vernon worked odd jobs to keep his wife and son above the poverty line as best he could. But when he was incarcerated for eight months for check fraud, Gladys lost their house, and she and Elvis moved in with relatives. Elvis was first exposed to gospel music at the Assembly of God Church he attended with relatives, and it resonated in him throughout his life, as did his family’s favorite country music radio station and the blues sung on the porches and street corners of the predominantly black neighborhood where the Presleys briefly lived.

Elvis was ten years old when he gave his first professional performance. Standing on a chair so that he could reach the microphone, he sang a song called “Old Shep” for a talent contest at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show and won the $5 fifth-place prize. On his eleventh birthday he was disappointed to learn that instead of the bicycle he was hoping for, his parents presented him with a more affordable $12.95 guitar. His pastor and two of his uncles gave him his first guitar lessons, and the somewhat shy loner found a good, reliable friend in the guitar he began bringing to school to practice with during lunch and recess.

In November 1948 Vernon and Gladys and their son moved to Memphis, Tennessee, hoping for better job opportunities. They settled into low-income housing, and all three of them worked where they could while Elvis attended L. C. Humes High School. He was rarely seen without his guitar and began spending as much time as possible on Beale Street, the heart of blues music in Memphis. He loved the music and the clothing, just as he continued to love all the gospel and country performers he sought out. Not only was his musical style taking shape, but his personal style was evolving as well, with flashy clothing, sideburns, and long slicked-back hair that set him apart from his high-school classmates and offered a glimpse into the singular legend he would become.

In August 1953, two months after getting his high-school diploma, Elvis walked into Sun Records in Memphis, wanting to buy enough studio time to record two songs: “My Happiness” and “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin.” Sam Phillips, who owned Sun Records, made a note after the session that read, “Elvis Presley. Good ballad singer. Hold.”

From there, after some rejections, failed auditions, a truck-driving job, assurances that he’d never make it as a singer, and accusations of being a “danger to the security of the United States” because of the way he kept time to the music with his hips when he performed, by the end of 1956 Elvis Presley had a manager (music promoter “Colonel” Tom Parker), a contract with RCA Records, his first number-one hit record (“Heartbreak Hotel”), and a string of national television appearances that culminated in three triumphant appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. At the end of his third appearance, Ed Sullivan informed his audience and the country that Elvis was “a real decent, fine boy,” giving his coveted blessing for the superstardom that was well on its way.

In 1957 Elvis bought Graceland, a gated mansion on 13.8 acres of land in Memphis, and proudly moved there with his parents. Graceland continued to be his home for the rest of his life, and it was at Graceland in 1958, while Elvis was serving in the army, that his beloved mother, Gladys, died.

It was also while serving in the army, stationed in Germany from 1958 until March 1960, that Elvis was introduced to karate, amphet amines, and a beautiful fourteen-year-old girl named Priscilla Beaulieu, whom he brought home to Graceland when his army service ended in 1960 and married in Las Vegas on May 1, 1967. Exactly nine months later Priscilla gave birth to their only child, a daughter named Lisa Marie. The marriage ended in divorce on August 18, 1972, with Elvis and Priscilla agreeing to share custody of Lisa Marie.

Contrary to Elvis’s fears, his popularity hadn’t diminished during his absence in the military, and he recorded some of his greatest hits in the early 1960s. Unfortunately, a barrage of ill-conceived, thrown-together movies that Elvis found embarrassing—twenty-seven of them between 1961 and 1970—compromised his credibility and his popularity. But in 1968 Elvis starred in what came to be called his “Comeback Special,” a brilliantly conceived and executed TV hour featuring his first “live” appearance since 1961. It was NBC’s highest-rated show of the season, it was magic, Elvis Presley never looked or sounded better, and it triggered an unprecedented career resurrection as requests for live performances poured in from around the world.

By the early 1970s, despite spectacularly successful tours and recording sessions, Elvis’s health began to decline as he battled both a weight problem and dangerous prescription drug addictions. His performances became increasingly unreliable, sometimes bordering on incoherent, and he often seemed nervous and self-conscious, aware of his ballooning weight and in visible emotional pain. When he wasn’t onstage, he would isolate himself in his room with a handful of insiders, where he was paranoid, germophobic, and obsessive.

On June 26, 1977, Elvis Presley gave what was to be his final performance at the Market Square Arena in Indianapolis. He was scheduled to leave Memphis again to begin another tour on the night of August 16. But that afternoon, his fiancée, Ginger Alden, found him unresponsive on the floor of his Graceland bathroom. He was pronounced dead at 3:30 p.m. at Baptist Memorial Hospital. While a sanitized autopsy listed the cause of death as cardiac arrhythmia, it was later established during a criminal investigation of Elvis’s primary physician, Dr. Nichopoulos, a.k.a. Dr. Nick, that, even though Dr. Nick was ultimately exonerated for criminal liability in Elvis’s death, “in the first eight months of 1977 alone he had prescribed more than
10,000 doses of sedatives, amphetamines and narcotics, all in Elvis’s name.” Dr. Nichopoulos’s license was permanently revoked during the 1990s.

Elvis Presley and his cherished mother, Gladys, are buried side by side at Graceland’s Meditation Garden, and today the only house in America visited by more tourists per year than Graceland is the White House.

From Sylvia

You could have knocked me over with a feather when, less than twenty-four hours after Elvis Presley died, the San Francisco Chronicle called to ask if Francine could possibly contact his spirit and give them the results of her interview with him. I was hardly the only psychic interviewed by the press on the subject of Elvis that day, but I wasn’t particularly famous in 1977, and I certainly wasn’t a renowned Elvis Presley fan. In fact, all I really knew about him was that he was a rock-and-roll singer, he had a beautiful voice when he sang ballads, and he was drop-dead gorgeous in his prime. But if the San Francisco Chronicle wanted comments from Francine about him, I was happy to oblige if she was. As it turned out, she was so cooperative that we made the front page of the Chronicle, which announced that a psychic named Sylvia Brown (I hadn’t added the e yet) “through her spiritual guide, an Aztec-Inca spirit named Francine,” had contacted him less than twenty-four hours after his death.

I was “absent,” of course, during the trance with Francine, but I’m happy to pass along the information I heard on the tapes of that interview. It’s worth adding, by the way, that he was able to go into this much detail precisely because she was talking to him so soon after he’d arrived back on the Other Side, when his memories of his just-ended lifetime on earth were so fresh. It’s not surprising that the more settled we get again into our blissful lives at Home, the less we think about all but the most essential parts of the lives we left behind.

Elvis died in a very, very small room, he told Francine, and he was immediately aware that he’d passed over. He’d had a headache earlier that day, and his back hurt, and he went into this small room with a book. He’d had problems with his lower intestine for the previous two and a half years, problems he’d mentioned to a few friends, particularly a “John” and a “Charlie,” and he was on medication and steroids. His death, though, was unintentional and accidental, and he had a quick, easy trip Home, which was no surprise to him thanks to his devout lifelong faith in God.

He was met on the Other Side by his mother, Gladys, whom he affectionately nicknamed “Gladiola” here on earth, his twin brother, Jesse, and a friend named Chuck. His life at Home was filled with music. His voice was even richer than it was on earth, and he and countless other transcended musicians loved giving grand, celebrated concerts. He said that although he was best known as a rock-and-roll singer, his real musical passion and inspiration was gospel music, but his favorite of all the songs he ever recorded was “Heartbreak Hotel.”

He regretted that he wasn’t as skilled at loving individual people as he was at loving large anonymous groups of them, although the greatest pride, joy, and accomplishment in his lifetime was his daughter, Lisa Marie. As much as he loved Priscilla, and he did, he felt their marriage was doomed, because his lifestyle didn’t allow them to spend enough private, “normal” time together.

Because he was aware of sixteen separate attempts on his life, he spent many years feeling paranoid and fearful. Relaxation and sleep seemed impossible without medication. He said he had a premonition of his death six months before it happened, and he thought of his last performances of “My Way” as his way of saying farewell to his fans.

He passed along a few personal messages to his father, Vernon. One was the name “Ruta May.” Another was a game they played when Elvis was a child, in which one of them would start a nursery rhyme and the other one would finish it.

I don’t mind telling you that I couldn’t have been more flattered when, a few weeks after the Chronicle article appeared, both Vernon Presley and Elvis’s friend Charlie Hodge called to validate the information Francine passed along.

In preparation for this book, I asked Francine about one more piece of information she shared in that article, that she said Elvis had already planned his next incarnation. He was going to be a singer again, this time with light hair and light eyes, and he would be born in 2004. What follows is her 2010 update.

From Francine

Elvis began his new incarnation in late November 2004. His hair is blond, although it will darken as he gets older, and his eyes are blue, as he chose them to be. He was born in France and lives on a vineyard there with his parents and his two brothers.
The family travels to Italy a few times a year to visit relatives there.

He will grow up to have a very beautiful singing voice, but he will not be a famous singer or recording artist again. He will devote his voice and his talent as a composer to his devout Catholicism, writing hymns and performing them solely for church services and special events. He feels that he sacrificed depth and introspection for fame and wealth in his last life, and in this new life he intends to contribute to this world in quiet, thoughtful, charitable anonymity by becoming a monk and working with the poor throughout the French countryside.

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