Interview with Linda Thompson
was born May 23, 1950 in Memphis, Tennessee. Linda won several beauty pageants, including the 1972 Miss Tennessee USA title. In July of that year she began a relationship with the recently separated Elvis Presley and immediately moved in with him at Graceland for roughly three and a half years.
In 1981, Linda Thompson married former Olympic Games Gold Medalist, Bruce Jenner with whom she had two children. Bruce divorced Linda in 1983 and she appeared in a few motion pictures and made a number of guest appearances on different television series. In 1991 she married composer David Foster.
With her new husband's help, she began writing lyrics for some of his compositions, notably the song 'No Explanation' for the 1990 film, Pretty Woman. In 1992 they were nominated for a Grammy Award and an Academy Award for Best Song for their composition of the song 'I Have Nothing' sung by Whitney Houston in the 1992 motion picture, The Bodyguard. [Linda wrote poems during her time with Elvis and offered to hsave them put to music for him but he refused, thus sadly missing out on some good song contibutions.]
Interview with Linda Thompson
Linda Thompson: I have been very judicious about the interviews that I have agreed to do through the years. So it is a little bit difficult for me.
Larry King: But you know me.
Linda Thompson: I know you and I completely respect you.
Larry King: So, married to Bruce Jenner and now married to David Foster. Were not married before Bruce?
Linda Thompson: No, no.
Larry King: And you have two children with Bruce, right?
Linda Thompson: That's right. I have good taste in men, don't I?
[Linda and Elvis were watching the 1976 Olympics on TV while Elvis was in hospital in '76 and they both watched Bruce cross the finish line. Linda said, 'Wow, look at that guy. I'd like to marry that guy'. And Elvis said, 'Over my dead body'. So, you know, truth is stranger than fiction. What can I say. See Friends Remember Elvis Presley]
In our ortiicle Friend Remead how, where and with whom Linda was with when she first saw Bruce cross the finish line at the Olympics]
Larry King: Obviously do. So you were how old when you met Elvis? And how did you -- give me the story. How did you...
Linda Thompson: Well, you know that Elvis liked them young, so I was very young.
Larry King: Under 20?
Linda Thompson: No. I was 22. I had just turned 22. But chronologically, I was older than I was emotionally, having grown up in the South in a kind of a very sequestered environment, you know, very traditional, very conservative. Twenty-two going on, you know, 13.
Larry King: What was the occasion?
Linda Thompson: I was Miss Tennessee. I was Miss Tennessee Universe in 1972, and Elvis was Elvis. I lived in Memphis. And I was invited to go to the Memphian Theater by Bill Browder who later became known as TG Shepard (and was a successfull country artist), which Elvis rented out after midnight to screen films. That was prior to screening rooms.
What was he like? What was your first impression of him?
Well, I was in the lobby talking to some of the guys and a few of the people who were hanging around there and the door burst open and there was this vision. It was the middle of July in Memphis and it was very humid, just sweltering. He had on this black cape with a high collar and a red satin lining and I said 'dressed a little like Dracula aren't we?' so you see, we both shared a sense of humor that was very much like the other. We just hit it off immediately because we grew up in Memphis, we had the same religious beliefs, the same love for our family, devotion to mother and father. We had the same sense of loyalty, we enjoyed the same cuisine because we were both Southerners.
It sounds like it was almost inevitable Linda?
Oh, it was. We shared a real kinship. I mean, we became kindred souls. So much so that he said, 'where have you been?' and I said 'Growing up!'
Elvis Presley and Linda Thompson.
Larry King: You mean, he couldn't go to a regular movie?
Linda Thompson: Oh, no. He could never go to a regular movie. So he rented the Memphian Theater out after closing hours, and they would screen new movies.
There was one time were walking into the Memphian Theater and he was slightly ahead of me and someone came up to him and said, 'Oh my God, look, it's Elvis. You're Elvis aren't you?' He said, 'Well, yes, I am Elvis' and they went crazy. They wanted an autograph and a picture. As I walked up I said, 'Charlie, you're not using that Elvis bit again are you? Come on, you're not telling these people that you're Elvis again are you?' I told the fans, 'He gets it all the time and he's always messing with people'. The fans said, 'We knew you couldn't really be Elvis' and he replied, 'But I am, tell 'em honey!' I replied', Come on Charlie, we're late'.
Larry King: And they would send new movies and he'd watch him.
Linda Thompson: Yes, and some old movies, a lot of karate movies.
Larry King: He liked karate?
Linda Thompson: Yes, he loved karate. And he loved action movies like that. So, I was invited to go to the theater. And Miss Rhode Island, Jeannie LaMay, was my roommate in the Miss USA pageant. She was living in Memphis. And she and I went to the theater and were introduced to him properly.
Larry King: Just hello, this is...
Linda Thompson: Hello, this is Miss Tennessee. Hello, honey, where have you been all my life.
Larry King: Did he come on like that?
Linda Thompson: Oh, yes. Well, in the beginning, you know, he was a little smitten, you know, physically.
Larry King: Was he married at the time?
Linda Thompson: No, he wasn't. I met him July 6, 1972 and he had been separated since January. But I didn't know. It hadn't been released to the press. So I was pretty standoffish, because, you know, I was a good Southern Baptist girl.
Larry King: I know, but would you consider that a first date?
Linda Thompson: I would consider that our first date, yes, because that's when we...
Larry King: You sat next to him?
Linda Thompson: He sat next to me. He came and sat next to me during -- he just got up during the film and came back and plopped down next to me.
Linda Thompson and Elvis Presley.
Larry King: You were sitting next to Miss Rhode Island?
Linda Thompson: I was.
Larry King: What did she say to you?
Linda Thompson: She bruised my ribs. She kept poking me in the ribs with her elbow. And Elvis pulled the old yawn and stretched the arm over the back of the seat next to me.
Larry King: What did you think, being 13?
Linda Thompson: I thought he was -- you know, being 13 emotionally, I thought he was still married and I was very standoffish. And he finally, during one of his nuzzles, he said, 'honey, you know I'm not married any more', to which I responded, 'no, I didn't. But, you know, I'm sorry that it didn't work out for you, but you should have married a southern girl'.
Larry King: You said that?
Linda Thompson: I said that, and he always remembered my saying that, because he said you have no idea how honest that was and how truthful and how right on that was, because only if you grow up in the South do you understand that culture completely. And he was very southern. And so I think we had an immediate kinship. We were like kindred souls right away.
Larry King: Were there a lot of people in the theater all night long?
Linda Thompson: There were probably 25 people there.
Larry King: Friends of his.
Linda Thompson: Friends of his, all friends and acquaintances.
Larry King: Do you remember the movie?
Linda Thompson: No, I don't. It's funny because I didn't remember it the next day.
Larry King: So, what happened at the end? Did he take you home?
Linda Thompson: No. I left -- I was staying at my aunt's house, my Aunt Betty. So I went back to her house. And at 4:00 a.m., the phone rang.
Larry King: You gave him your number?
Linda Thompson: He said, I'd like to get your number. And I said, well, I don't have a pen and I don't have piece of paper. So I made him do the work. And he went and got some paper and pen and he wrote down my number on a matchbook. And then I got home and I was kicking myself. I thought, oh, he'll never call me. I should have been a little more attentive than that.
Larry King: You wanted to see him?
Linda Thompson: Of course.
Larry King: You liked his looks?
Linda Thompson: He was an amazing -- well, I grew up on him. You know, I grew up in Memphis and I grew up listening to his music and going to his movies.
Larry King: He was how old at this time?
Linda Thompson: He was 35, 36.
Larry King: So he calls at 4:00.
Linda Thompson: Called at 4:00 in the morning, and my Aunt Betty, you know, very southern gracious lady, 'hello'. And I hear her saying 'why, yes, she is. Just a moment, please'. Then she goes, 'oh, my God. It's Elvis Presley on the phone'. So, I said, hi, you know, it's kind of late to call. He said I just want you to know how happy that I met you this evening, and, you know, I want to know where you've been and don't disappear on me. I want to see you again. Can you come over tomorrow? I'd like to introduce you to my father, Vernon, and I'd like you to see Graceland.
Larry King: Very proper.
Linda Thompson and Elvis Presley.
Linda Thompson: Very proper. Very much the gentleman. I went right over the next day, yes. Jeannie and I went over and...
Larry King: Oh, you took her -- you got a little chaperone there.
Linda Thompson: Yes, I did. I said, you know, I'd like to bring my friend because I was still, you know, very much an innocent and kind of naive. And I said, I'd like to bring my friend. And he said, certainly, she's more than welcome.
Larry King: And so what happened that day?
Linda Thompson: He was sitting in the Jungle Room. The Jungle Room, what became known as the Jungle Room, which was the TV room. There was a big waterfall in this room. And he was waiting for me there. And I met his father. I met a lot of the men who worked for him, Red West and Sonny West and Joe Esposito, and, you know, a lot of the guys. And we just ended up riding the golf cart together. He had golf carts on the property, and you know, when you went riding on these little golf carts. It was a thrill ride.
Larry King: Was he forward on that trip?
Linda Thompson: Not at all. He was a very respectful...
Larry King: Did he kiss you yet?
Linda Thompson: He kissed me the first night.
Larry King: In the movie theater.
Linda Thompson: In the movie theater, yes. It was fun. He was very respectful and very much the southern gentleman. He was a very dichotimous human being, very paradoxical. On the one hand, you know, he had this raucous image, and he did have a raucous sense of humor, irreverent sense of humor. But he was very pious on another level and very puritanical...
Larry King: A lot of southerners are, aren't they?
Linda Thompson: A lot of southerners are. We're -- yes.
Larry King: All right. So, from day two, how did this get wind? Did you have to go to the Miss USA pageant?
Linda Thompson: I had already been. And Jeannie was my roommate, so she had moved to Memphis. I didn't want to go back to school, and I lacked 12 credits graduating from University of Memphis. And I decided I wasn't going to go back and get my degree. And we were kind of contemplating what we were going to do, maybe move to New York, maybe start modeling, yes.
I had had some contact with an Agency back then. So, I was doing some modeling locally. And we thought about maybe going to New York. But then Elvis came along and swept me off my feet.
Larry King: By swept you, what happened in the ensuing days?
Linda Thompson: Well, interestingly enough, I disappeared for two weeks. I went on vacation with my aunt and uncle to Golf Shores, Alabama.
Larry King: Did you tell him you were going?
Linda Thompson: I told them I was going, but it didn't quite register. And I didn't leave him a forwarding number. And so I literally disappeared for two weeks after having met him those two nights in Memphis, and having connected as intensely as we did. I left his house. I left Graceland and said, I'm going on vacation, I'll be back and hopefully I'll see you again. And when I returned two weeks later and, you know, I agonized when I was away.
Larry King: Did you think of him a lot?
Linda Thompson: All the time. And I played his music, and, you know, I was saying, Aunt Betty, do you think he'll call, and maybe he'll forget about me.
Larry King: Why didn't you try to call him?
Linda Thompson: I don't think I even had the number. I mean, it was like -- you know, I would have never asked him for his number. And he had my number.
Linda Thompson at Graceland.
Larry King: And southern girls don't do that?
Linda Thompson: The moment I walked into my Aunt Betty's house, he was calling on the phone. It was Joe Esposito actually. He said, 'I have memorized your number. We've looked high and low. We've looked everywhere for you. Where have you been? Elvis wants you here tomorrow'. I had just arrived in the evening.
Larry King: He had to have a guy call to say this?
Linda Thompson: Joe Esposito. No, Joe said, you know, he wants to talk to you right away.
Larry King: Did he get on the phone?
Linda Thompson: Oh, yes. And he said, you know, I have been looking for you and I have been desperate for you. I want you to be here tomorrow. I'm going to Las Vegas. And this was in August. And I said, well, I don't know if I can pull it together in time. I just got back from vacation. And he said, just bring a toothbrush or don't even worry.
Larry King: He invited you to go to Vegas with him?
Linda Thompson: Yes.
Larry King: So you knew then that you were about to begin a relationship if you get on a plane?
Linda Thompson: It certainly looked that way. Yes, it certainly looked that way.
Larry King: I mean, you were going to go -- did you take separate rooms in Vegas?
Linda Thompson: No, we didn't. As a matter of fact, Larry.
Larry King: You knew something was going to happen?
Linda Thompson: I figured something was amiss. But, you know, he was still a gentleman.
Larry King: We'll get to that. What was the Presley plane like?
Linda Thompson: Well, I flew commercially at that point. He was in Los Angeles. So, he flew me to Los Angeles, and then we took a Lear jet to Las Vegas that evening.
Larry King: And go to his opening?
Linda Thompson: Went to his opening. Well, he was there for rehearsal, so I was there for two weeks of rehearsals and then for the opening. And he sent me to a store called Suzy Cream Cheese and she made all these outrageous gowns. And, you know, I had my college clothes, my little pleats and, you know, my little innocent clothes. And he sent me over to Suzy Cream Cheese and she outfitted me appropriately.
Larry King: This maybe hard to deal with, but what was the first night like with Elvis? Romantically?
Linda Thompson: Well, it was a long time...
Larry King: I mean, here's this young girl who's a fan of his, who's smitten with him, is obviously in love or certainly something's going on, right? Infatuation might be a better word. You can't be in love, you don't know him that well, right, or were you in love? He obviously with you. He's pursuing you. He's trying -- OK, what was it like?
Linda Thompson: You know, when I first arrived in Las Vegas and he said here's our room, and I said, you know, I really would prefer to have my own room. And he said, honey, you can trust me. We can be here together. We can get to know each other very well, so don't worry about intimacy too quickly.
Larry King: And you bought that?
Linda Thompson: And rightly so because he was a man of his word.
Larry King: He was not intimate right away?
Linda Thompson: No. Months. It was months before we became intimate.
Larry King: What? So, where did you -- how did you sleep that night?
Linda Thompson: Together, but, you know, cuddling. And, you know, he was just -- he was a man of his word. It took months. It took a few months before we...
Larry King: Did you begin to wonder?
Linda Thompson: No, not at all. I just knew it was up to me, whenever I said I was ready. And I wanted to establish his feelings for me because that was important to me. I had obviously maintained my virginity for as many years as I had. And it was important to me...
Larry King: So you were still a virgin?
Linda Thompson: Yes. So it was important to me to make it right.
Larry King: Where did it happen?
Linda Thompson: Larry, you're getting awfully personal.
Larry King: Was it in Vegas? No, I'm not going to get a description.
Linda Thompson: A presidential suite at the Las Vegas Hilton.
Larry King: Did you go watch his show every night?
Linda Thompson: Every night, yes. Every night.
Larry King: Weren't a lot of people, paparazzi, wondering who you were?
Linda Thompson: You know, he dedicated songs to me and...
Larry King: Oh, so he went public with it?
Linda Thompson: Yes, right away.
Larry King: What was it like to be Elvis' girlfriend?
Linda Thompson: It was like being with Prince Charming on many levels, because he was like Santa Claus every day. He was inordinately generous of spirit.
Larry King: I have heard that.
Linda Thompson: And also of material wealth. He...
Larry King: He was a big giver, right?
Linda Thompson: A big giver. He derived much more pleasure from giving than receiving. You know, his life was lived very biblically. You know, he really followed the bible and he also was on a spiritual quest to find out how other people of other faiths lived their lives. And he used to wear an Egyptian ankh, a star of David and a crucifix around his neck. And when people would say are you confused, he would say, no, not at all. I just don't want to miss heaven on a technicality.
So, he embraced all faiths and he was extraordinarily generous. So, in some ways, it was like living with a saint and being with Prince Charming and Santa Claus every day.
Larry King: As I told you during the break, I never met anyone -- I never met Elvis, but I knew Colonel Parker. I never met anyone in the business who knew him who didn't like him.
Linda Thompson: And the key there is who knew him. You know, there are a lot of people to say disparaging things about him who didn't really know him, and they might have known just, you know, just a little minuscule little modicum of knowledge about him. And they expound upon that and make it sound as if they did know him. But people who truly knew him and knew his spirit and knew his heart won't have anything bad to say because he was well intended.
Larry King: Did you live together? You lived together?
Linda Thompson: We lived together for four-and-a-half years.
Larry King: Now, you're a good Southern girl.
Linda Thompson: Yes.
Larry King: This is your first relationship, your first sexual, your first affair, you're in love. Why didn't you get married?
Linda Thompson: We talked about marriage often. We talked about having children too. By the time I reconciled in my mind that this was something that I didn't want to do, he was ready. I was ready more in the beginning.
Larry King: You wanted to get married earlier? He didn't -- why, because he had been shell shocked?
Linda Thompson: I think when he was going through a divorce. He had been separated for seven months when I met him.
Larry King: Did you get to see his daughter?
Linda Thompson: Oh, yes. I met Lisa right away. I have known Lisa since she was four years old. She was a wonderful little girl. She was very embracing and a little shy but I've always loved children and we got on really well. The first time I ever saw her was at the Monovale house and I was out by the pool. She kind of timidly came around and said hi. We started talking and we became really close. I loved being with her. You know, Elvis had a real childlike spirit and I have too. I like to do childlike things and to sometimes get down to a child's level. She and I became very close.
Larry King: Still know her?
Linda Thompson: Still know her very well, and she's...
Larry King: Did you meet Priscilla, too?
Linda Thompson: Met Priscilla. But only a couple of times. Priscilla was really not on the scene as much as people might assume.
Larry King: But Lisa Marie was.
Linda Thompson: Lisa Marie was. Elvis would send his bodyguards to pick her up.
Larry King: Was he a good father?
Linda Thompson: Great father. He adored his little girl. If love is any measure, and I believe that it is, I believe that's all there is...
Larry King: You wanted to get married?.
Linda Thompson: In the beginning.
Larry King: And then when he wanted to get married, why didn't you?
Linda Thompson: Because I realized that I didn't want to live my life as a vampire. We were awake all night, sleeping all day. I didn't want to bring more children into the world who would have to compromise their hours and the way they lived.
Larry King: You're smart enough to know that, even though you're smitten?
Linda Thompson: Well, this is after a few years. Yes.
Larry King: But up all night?
Linda Thompson: Literally up all night. Well, not just when he was doing shows. This was back at Graceland. Wherever we were, Palm Springs.
Larry King: Why is it -- what would he do all night?
Linda Thompson: Well, he lived his life out of the public eye, so when everybody else was up going to work and doing whatever they did in the daytime, we were sleeping. And then we would wake up at 9:00 p.m. at night and -- 9:00 p.m. at night. And after a few years...
Larry King: Have breakfast at 9:00 p.m.?
Linda Thompson: Oh, have breakfast at 9:00 p.m., 10:00 p.m. at night. Be up all night, rent movie theaters, watch movies, do whatever we did all night. And the next morning...
Larry King: He was loyal to his friends right?
Linda Thompson: Very loyal, yes.
Larry King: Was he going through weight cycles then?
Linda Thompson: Yes, he always battled his weight. I mean, he loved to eat. What Southerner doesn't? We structure our social life around that.
Larry King: Did it bother him when he got heavy?
Linda Thompson: It did bother him. And the criticism bothered him. He was a very sensitive, acutely sensitive person to other people's perceptions of him. And, you know, he just -- it did hurt his feelings a lot.
Larry King: Were you inseparable those four years? Would you say you didn't see other guys, he didn't see other girls?
Linda Thompson: I certainly didn't see any other guys.
Larry King: Do you think he saw other girls?
Linda Thompson: I know he saw other girls. Not the first year. The first year we were together, I think he broke his world record for having been faithful.
Larry King: How do you know he did after that?
Linda Thompson: I know that he didn't because we were together the first year 365 days for that first year, 24 hours a day.
And after that, you know, word -- he couldn't do much without it being public knowledge. And certainly I was no dummy.
Larry King: Did you have fights?
Linda Thompson: We had arguments about it. And again, I tried to reconcile in my mind, this is Elvis Presley. I understand that he is secluded from the rest of the world, and it's not all about sex. It's not all about being physically unfaithful to me. He wanted to be surrounded with other people who might bring different ideas into his life.
Larry King: Did he defend it or...
Linda Thompson: No. He apologized for it when he was caught. Most of the time he denied it. Then he apologized profusely and said, you're the only person I love and nobody ever compares to you. And every time I have an indiscretion, it just makes me realize how much more you mean to me.
Larry King: And you forgave him?
Linda Thompson: And I would always forgive him.
Larry King: First television show he ever did was Tommy Dorsey's summer show, the Jackie Gleason replacement. Gleason told him, you are going to be a major star. Don't hide. Go out to restaurants. Walk the streets. Go public, because if you hide, you gonna be the loneliest guy.
Linda Thompson: Wow. I never knew that.
Larry King: Was he right?
Linda Thompson: I never knew that. Intrinsically lonely at heart. That's interesting. Because, yes, he was. And he used to always say, I'm intensely lonely at heart.
Larry King: Like Vegas. He wouldn't go out of his room, right?
Linda Thompson: No, we never went out. I mean, the world came to him, literally. He didn't go out.
Larry King: The Beatles came to him.
Larry King: He always gave the public everything, right? He gave a performance. He never threw away shows.
Linda Thompson: He never meant to throw away a show. There might have been times when he didn't give all he had because he wasn't feeling well, but absolutely he put his heart and soul into it, and he loved his fans, loved his fans.
Larry King: What about the drugs?
Linda Thompson: You know, Elvis fooled himself into thinking he didn't have a drug problem because everything that he took was by prescription.
Larry King: You mean he never did cocaine?
Linda Thompson: Never did. No. Not when he was with me. Nothing illegal.
Larry King: So like he would take what?
Linda Thompson: He didn't even drink, Larry. He didn't even drink alcohol. So everything that he took was by prescription.
Larry King: How did you live with that?
Linda Thompson: It was very difficult, because I'm very -- have always been anti-drug and was never...
Larry King: So you never got hooked on any of it?
Linda Thompson: You know what's interesting, because people say how could you avoid taking drugs. And I said what was the seduction to watch someone self-destruct was a great lesson in life as to -- I'd never want to do that. I would never have any...
Larry King: Did he ever try to stop?
Linda Thompson: He did a few times.
Larry King: Did he ever go anywhere to get help?
Linda Thompson: Yes. We went to the Baptist Hospital together, and there were a couple of doctors there who actually intervened and they actually helped him tremendously, helped him to withdraw from some of the more addictive drugs. I stayed in the hospital with him. I had a hospital bed right next to him. He was in the hospital twice when I was with him.
Larry King: Under different names?
Linda Thompson: No. He was under his own name. He got calls from Frank Sinatra and President Nixon. He would have me go to the phone and say, 'is this really President Nixon?'Is this really Frank Sinatra? How do I know it's really you? Because he doesn't want to talk unless it's really you.
Then when we called President Nixon back at the White House and I said, Elvis Presley is calling, they said, 'how do we really know it's really Elvis Presley?' So we had some interesting moments. But he insisted that I have a hospital bed right next to him, and would raise it and lower it as he did his.
Larry King: What was life like with someone -- how many cars did he have?
Linda Thompson: Who could count.
Larry King: Did he drive a lot?
Linda Thompson: He loved Cadillacs and Lincoln... He did like to drive.
Larry King: Late at night, though, right?
Linda Thompson: Yeah, at night. You know, he would drive late at night. Once we tried to go to a Pier One Imports, I remember, when it first opened in Memphis. He said, let's drive down to the Pier One Imports on Elvis Presley Boulevard. OK. So we drove down and, you know, didn't make it from the car even halfway across the parking lot before people were chasing us.
Larry King: What was his greatness?
Linda Thompson: Oh, he revolutionized music. You know, he was this young kid from abject poverty who grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi and Memphis, Tennessee, and you know, was an amalgamation of lots of different styles of music, from black gospel to, you know, hillbilly.
Larry King: A lot of people when they heard him thought he was black.
Linda Thompson: They thought he was black, and with a name like Elvis, they said, oh, it must be a black guy. And...
Larry King: He also had a great deal of respect for black performers and -- in fact, the song 'In the Ghetto'...
Linda Thompson: Yeah, he grew up with black people. In fact, in Tupelo, Mississippi, you know, he was impoverished. And so he had a tremendous kinship, you know.
Larry King: Also, the Colonel told me he donated money to Martin Luther King.
Linda Thompson: Oh, he was a tremendous fan of Martin Luther King. We used to listen to his speeches over and over. And the cadence and the mellifluous tone of Martin Luther King's voice was so inspirational that we would literally -- because we were up all night, I told you, we looked for things to do.
Larry King: These are things generally not known. Elvis was like a civil rights person at heart.
Linda Thompson: Yeah. Oh, absolutely.
Larry King: His greatness musically was? Why did the Beatles love him so much? Was he...
Linda Thompson: Because he was an innovator. You know, he... changed not only music but fashion, sexual morass, just the thrust of the whole music industry.
Larry King: He was in the Country Hall of Fame and the Rock Hall of Fame.
Linda Thompson: Absolutely. And R&B. He loved R&B. You know, he had gospel groups like the Harmonizing Four and...
Larry King: How good a guitarist was he?
Linda Thompson: He was a good guitarist. Not a great guitarist, but a good guitarist. He was a great natural musician. He played guitar, he played piano. We used to sit around at Graceland, the two of us, and he would play piano.
Larry King: Did he ever sing standards?
Linda Thompson: He sang standards. And he would sing my old sorority songs. I told him a lot of my sorority songs. He'd sing harmony with me, he'd allow me to sing lead.
Larry King: How good an entertainer?
Linda Thompson: The best. And I saw everybody in the years that I was with him. He was the best entertainer I ever saw on stage.
Larry King: Better than Sammy Davis?
Linda Thompson: Better than Sammy Davis. And I love Sammy Davis.
Larry King: And Frank Sinatra?
Linda Thompson: And Frank Sinatra. He had an electricity. You know, when Elvis came out on stage, it became electric. And the way people responded to him was such that, you know, I never saw that kind of response toward any other performer.
Larry King: And what was it like for you if you're there for the 33rd straight night?
Linda Thompson: You know, I went to every show, and he used to say to me, honey, you don't have to go to every show. You know, you can sit this one out or you can go see Tom Jones, or you could go see this or that. I said, no, I don't want to miss anything.
And we were so connected. We were just so viscerally connected that I would sit -- no matter how many shows I saw, I would sit and pull for him to make every note and just respond as if it were the first time I had seen the show. I really, really loved it.
Larry King: Did you ever write for him?
Linda Thompson: You know, I wrote poetry for him all the time. And in my ignorance, I never would allow him to let anyone put it to music and record it, because my aspiration then was not to be a songwriter. It was maybe to publish a book of poetry one day, coupled with photographs that I had taken. And so I was very naive and ignorant about publishing and royalties and residuals, which is kind of sweet. He probably loved me for it. But I wish I hadn't been so ignorant, Larry.
Do you remember Elvis' poem 'Ode To A Robin' that he told at your house on Old Hickory in Memphis in 1974?
RCA tried to buy that from me and I said no. I'd love to hear it. My children were asking about it just the other day and I was looking for my tape. I have it on a little cassette tape somewhere. As I awoke this Morning, when all sweet things are born, A robin perched upon my windowsill to greet the coming morn...
He sang his song so sweetly, and paused for a moment's lull. I gently raised the window, and crushing his 'bleeping' skull (laughs). That was his favorite poem.
The poem 'Ode To A Robin' was released on the Crazy : The Funny Side Of Elvis Presley CD. You can listen to it on our EP Music website on the Elvis The Man And His Music 1973-1974 page.
Larry King: How much of a sense of humor did he have?
Linda Thompson: Raucous, rowdy, irreverent, inane. Great sense of humor. Laughed from his toenails.
Larry King: What about loyalty with the Mafia, the Elvis?
Linda Thompson: He was loyal to everyone that he loved. And earlier, you asked me about his being unfaithful to me. And ironically enough, and oddly enough, I never felt that he was unfaithful to me emotionally. I felt that he loved me deeply and was never unfaithful to that love. He might have been physically unfaithful a few times, but I always, always felt loved by him. So he was a very faithful, loyal human being. And I mean, he'd get in the trench with you if he were your friend.
Larry King: What did that group around him, he needed them? All these guys.
Linda Thompson: Yeah. He needed them and they needed him, absolutely. And they were loyal to him for many, many years. And they loved Elvis. And they had a great camaraderie and a boyish kind of antic, you know, went on all the time when they were together. They used to set off fireworks.
Larry King: Were they friends from childhood?
Linda Thompson: Some of them were. Red West, he were friends from childhood. Red defended him in a near bathroom brawl where some guys -- some bullies came in and were going to cut Elvis' hair and beat him up. And Red defended him.
Larry King: How did they get that close to him?
Linda Thompson: Well, this was early on. This was in his high school days. This was before he was Elvis Presley on the marquis.
Larry King: He almost shot you once?
Linda Thompson: Well, accidents happen. No. He was a gun aficionado, and he had a collection of guns always around him. And we were in the Las Vegas Hilton and he was just lying down across the sofa and there was this big bullseye that they used to promote his concerts.
And he just decided he would try to hit the bullseye, and he was a good marksman, so he did. But he forgot that my dressing area was just behind this bullseye. And I'm just getting out of the shower and I hear ping, ping, ping, crash.
And I look and my dressing room door is shattered, and I open it and the doors outside are shattered. Then this guy who worked for him came in and said, Linda, are you OK? I said, yes. What was that? He said, Elvis was having a little target practice, and I look at the toilet paper holder and there was a hole in it in the metal like that. So I put the robe on, and I went outside, and I said, what are you doing? And he was ashen. He was -- looked horrified. And he said, honey, I'm so sorry. I had no idea.
I said, you know, it's OK. But just -- what are you doing? Think about what you're doing here. You can't just shoot inside a building. But he did it frequently. He shot out television sets. Very childlike. Part of his charm, part of his downfall.
Larry King: Yes, same at the same time. Was he career involved? In other words, was he concerned if a record didn't sell?
Linda Thompson: Not with the business of his career, no. He was concerned with the business of his fans, how they perceived him, what he was giving to them, if he was being the best he could be for them.
So he was -- and music. He lived for the music.
Larry King: But he wouldn't look at sales reports?
Linda Thompson: No. He didn't read any of his critical reviews. He would go into an absolute tirade if someone left a newspaper around critiquing his performance.
Larry King: Even if it was praise?
Linda Thompson: Even if it was praise. He didn't want to see -- he said, I don't want to believe the good press because then I'm gonna get cocky and too secure, and I don't want to read the bad press, because it's going to hurt my feelings and make me angry.
Larry King: Was he self-critical?
Linda Thompson: He was self-critical.
Larry King: In other words he would come off and say I didn't like the way I worked tonight.
Linda Thompson: Yes, yes. He was very self-critical. And self- deprecating in his humor as well.
Larry King: Yes? He made fun of his own fame?
Linda Thompson: Oh, absolutely. He would like snarl his lip and say, what is that? What are they responding to? And sometimes he would pull his pajamas up to his chest like a little old man and black his teeth out and come into the bedroom and say, ready for bed? He was just a silly man. He had a great sense of humor.
Larry King: Linda Thompson, you are a Oscar and Grammy nominated songwriter. Before we talk about the breakup, you want to tell a story about his generosity.
Linda Thompson: Yes, you know I think that sometime people forget how kind -- you know, there's so much to be said about Elvis, but he had a kindness that was unequaled by anyone I've ever met. I think he loved animals. He loved children. He loved people. And we went into a pet store one time. It was closing time. So we kind of sneaked into this little pet store in Memphis, and there were 15 puppies there. He cleaned out every cage. He bought every puppy in the store, and we kept a couple. We kept a pug and a little Pomeranian and a Maltese, and gave my parents a little poodle.
And we were in the car. It was like the most incredible sensation. We had a little army. It was like '101 Dalmations', but it was 15 puppies that Elvis bought.
Larry King: Was he good to your parents?
Linda Thompson: Very good to my parents.
Larry King: Why did you break up?
Linda Thompson: Well, after four-and-a-half years of the yo-yo back and forth of other women, up all night, sleeping all day, the drug abuse, you know, it was... I just realized that I probably was never gonna be able to help him the way I wanted to help him. There was no Betty Ford Center then. There was no place for him to go, and he kept falling back into this prescription drug dilemma.
Larry King: So what did you do? How did you handle it?
Linda Thompson: He helped me actually. Because I was in San Francisco with him and he said, honey, would you like to fly back to Memphis? I have brought the Jet Star in to take you back. And, you know, deducing that he was not going to bring the plane in just for me, I figured he brought another girl in from Memphis, and that was his way of saying, you know, there's another girl here, but you know, you want to go back to Memphis for a few days. He was playing the Cow Palace. And I said yes, that's fine. I'll go back to Memphis, but I'm sure you've brought someone else to be with.
Oh, no, honey, I would never do that. The last time I saw him alive he looked me in the eye and said, I want you to know something, honey, before you leave. No matter what you ever hear, no matter what everybody ever tells you, I just want you to know that I love you. I don't love anyone else. There's no other girl here, and you're the one I love. OK.
Larry King: Did you think there was a girl there?
Linda Thompson: I knew there was. She was on the floor below, waiting.
Larry King: That was the last time you ever saw him?
Linda Thompson: That was the last time I saw him alive. But we spoke after that.
Larry King: Did he ever try to -- oh, he did speak -- did he ever try to rekindle it?
Linda Thompson: No. I wrote him a letter. This was late November, and I wrote him a letter just before Christmas.
Larry King: What did you say?
Linda Thompson: Just that I have known the pain of too much tenderness. That he would always remain the love of my life, but I never wanted to love that fully and completely without reservation again.
Larry King: And he would die the following summer.
Linda Thompson: And he died in August. He died eight months after we broke up.
Larry King: Where were you when he died?
Linda Thompson: I was in Los Angeles at my apartment.
Larry King: How did you hear?
Linda Thompson: My phone rang, and it was Lisa Marie, who was only nine years old at the time, and she used to call me from time to time because we were very close. As I said, I loved her a lot then. I love her a lot now. And she said, Linda, it's Lisa.
I said, I know who you are, little goobernickel. But she had this desperate tone in her voice, and I thought he was playing. I thought maybe she was just out of breath. She said, my daddy's dead. My daddy's dead. And I threw the phone in the air. I just threw the phone away. I said, no, no, he's not.
And then I looked at the phone on the ground and I thought, here's this little 9-year-old angel who has the presence of mind to call me long distance directly. I have got to pick up this phone. I have got to say something to her that's gonna help her. So I pick up the phone. I say, honey, are you sure he's not just going to the hospital and he's not just having an episode or a problem, a breathing problem?
No, no. They told me, he's dead. So I just started trying to say things to her to comfort her. Like your daddy loves you so much. You'll always have that love, and that doesn't die. And my brother took the phone from Lisa and said, Linda, you have to come home.
My brother was a bodyguard. My brother Sam Thompson was a bodyguard for Elvis for a few years.
Larry King: Did you go to the funeral?
Linda Thompson: Oh, I felt -- oddly enough, Larry, every light in my apartment went off. I was the only apartment in my building that had no power. And I lit candles all over the apartment just to pack, just to get ready to go back to Memphis. I went outside, and I said has everybody lost power? No, just your apartment, which I thought was a little strange. And my friends were coming over to console me, and they said, oh, you're lighting candles for Elvis. And I said, well, actually, no, I'm trying to see to pack.
Larry King: What was the funeral like for you?
Linda Thompson: Surreal. It was very difficult for me.
Larry King: Was Priscilla there?
Linda Thompson: Priscilla was there, and his last girlfriend Ginger Aldren was there, and his family members were there, and of course Lisa and my family was there and his father. Colonel Parker came.
It's kind of crazy. My mother went to the funeral. We were in the third car behind the hearse. We were there all day as the body lay in state. We were there all night. We were with the family. My family is very close to his family. And my mother saw him lying in state. My mother saw him being buried, being put in the mausoleum.
Two weeks later my mother said, you know, a lot of people think Elvis is still alive. I said, Mom.
Well, I'm just saying he could have gone off to the Bahamas. I'm saying, that could have been something. Mom! That's how desperately people wanted to believe that he was still alive. And after all these years, they still want to believe it.
Larry King: He was 42. You had to be shocked, even though you knew about the drugs and everything.
Linda Thompson: You know, I was shocked, yes. You're never ready, no matter -- even if you have an elderly parent.
Larry King: Didn't you save his life once?
Linda Thompson: Many times, yes.
Larry King: By getting him to the hospital?
Linda Thompson: Many times, yes. By just doing any number of things, Larry. It was not a surprising occurrence, because I had to reconcile that in my mind when I left. Probably no one is going to be stupid enough really to take care of him as selflessly as I did for so many years and to keep him alive at my own expense.
Larry King: We have come to a conclusion, though, Linda. You loved him.
Linda Thompson: I loved him.
Larry King: Do you often think of him?
Linda Thompson: You know, he had a tremendous impact on my life, my perception of life, my perception of love and what romance and marriage and family should be, could be. So, yes, I think of him even in subliminal terms sometimes. He influences my music and lyrics, as do all the people that I have loved in my life, from my mom and dad to other people that I have loved.
Larry King: Thank you, Linda.
Linda Thompson: Thank you, Larry.
Interview with Ginger Alden and Linda Thompson 1981
Friends Remember Elvis Presley with Linda Thompson, Joe Esposito, Jerry Schilling and George Klein.
Linda Thompson Remembers Elvis Presley + Elvis' chow, Getlow
The poem 'Ode To A Robin' was released on the Crazy : The Funny Side Of Elvis Presley CD. You can listen to it on our EP Music website on the Elvis The Man And His Music 1973-1974 page.
Interview with Larry Muhoberac
Interview with Michael Jarrett, songwriter, I'm Leavin'
Interview with James Burton
Interview with James Burton Sydney Australia 2006
James Burton : First Call For The Royalty Of Rockabilly
Interview with Ronnie Tutt
Interview with Ronnie Tutt #2
Interview with Jerry Scheff
Interview with Glen D. Hardin
Interview with Sherrill Nielsen
Interview with Terry Blackwood & Jim Murray
Interview with Tony Brown
Interview with Scotty Moore
Interview with D.J. Fontana
Interview with Charlie Hodge
Interview with Ernst Jorgensen
Elvis Presley & the TCB Band
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Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD + 16 page booklet.
Never before have we seen an Elvis Presley concert from the 1950's with sound. Until Now! The DVD Contains recently discovered unreleased film of Elvis performing 6 songs, including Heartbreak Hotel and Don't Be Cruel, live in Tupelo Mississippi 1956. Included we see a live performance of the elusive Long Tall Sally seen here for the first time ever.
This is an excellent release no fan should be without it.
The 'parade' footage is good to see as it puts you in the right context with color and b&w footage. The interviews of Elvis' Parents are well worth hearing too. The afternoon show footage is wonderful and electrifying : Here is Elvis in his prime rocking and rolling in front of 11.000 people. Highly recommended.