A Big Hunk Of Burning Love : Sandi Pichon writes about her life as an Elvis fan
April 14, 2004 - 12:08:00 PM
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Pichon, who now lives in the Bayou Liberty community near Slidell, is keeping her love for the King alive by writing a book, 'Raised on Elvis', that details how her teen and adult years were impacted by Elvis. Pichon is president of an Internet-based fan club that is holding an event Saturday in Slidell to honor Elvis and his generous heart. 'He made a difference. He changed music. And once he touched your life, you were never the same', Pichon said. Pichon's relationship with Elvis began during that summer visit in 1956, just as his rocket rise to international stardom was launching. It was the briefest of encounters in Elvis' backyard, Pichon recalled, but before he roared off on his motorcycle he told Pichon and her best friend to come back whenever they wished. That invitation was taken to heart and the girls visited every chance they could, Pichon said.
After her family moved from Memphis the following year, it wouldn't be until 1972 that Pichon saw Elvis again. Serendipitous meetings and crossing paths for several years finally resulted in a chance for Pichon to tell Elvis she was that same little girl from all those years ago in Memphis.
She went to a few concerts and before she knew it, she and a good friend started becoming regulars at both the performances and the get-togethers after the concerts -- thanks to getting reacquainted with several of the people she'd met as a young girl and who were still working for Elvis. 'We became more friends than anything', she said of her relationship with Elvis staffers, known within the inner circle as the 'Memphis Mafia'. They seemed to enjoy that Pichon and her friend, while fans, were not of the screaming variety. They were more and more accepted into the fringes of the inner circle. For the last five years of Elvis' life, Pichon and her girlfriend devoted themselves to attending his concerts, eventually seeing more than 150 performances.
'I didn't think he could sing without me in the audience', she joked.
She still marvels at the continual polish of his performances, and in her book she describes her feelings as she watched the drugs and health problems affect her music idol and friend. Her perspective on the more controversial aspects of his lifestyle at the time, she said, is tempered knowing that 'he was sick and we could see it was a sickness and he was taking pills to help the pain' of bone cancer. While Pichon said she was told in 1974 that Elvis had the disease, it 'only came out probably last year to the general public that he had bone cancer'. 'It broke my heart to see him going down', she said.
The last time she spent time with him was in 1976. Shortly after that, she moved from Georgia to Covington, where she had moved to be near a friend and open a shop with her in Metairie. A few months later, she went to see an Elvis concert in Baton Rouge. The change in the King was more than just physical; none of the Memphis Mafia she knew so well and who had been with him for so long were working for him anymore.
It was the first time in five years that she had no inside connections, no front-row seat, no special invitation to visit before or after the show. She sat in her seat, watched him perform and knew something was wrong. 'I was crying because he looked terrible', she said. She contacted several former inside people she knew but no one felt there was anything they could do. Not long after that, she was in her shop in Metairie when she heard Elvis had died. She flew to Memphis, was admitted inside Graceland by Elvis' uncle to pay her final respects and was able to say a private farewell at his open casket.
When she returned home and the impact settled in on her, she packed up all the things she'd gathered over the years -- scarves Elvis had given her at concerts, autographed pictures, pictures of concerts, pictures of her and Elvis, guitar picks he used -- and never told anyone about her connection to the superstar. Even her husband, Stanley, whom she met a few years later, didn't know about her and Elvis until they'd been married more than a year. She didn't return to Graceland until about five years ago, when she did so at her husband's suggestion. While there, a chance meeting with the owner of an Elvis gift shop who recognized her name led to her desire to start writing a journal to record her memories. She also again got involved in the life of Elvis fan clubs and reclaimed past friendships with former staffers, including backup singer Kathy Westmoreland, she said. They encouraged her to share her journal, telling her that it was a rare look inside from a fan's perspective. Once she decided to do it, it didn't take her long to find a publisher interested in the book she could write from the journal. As she was putting it together, a friend and fellow Elvis fan helped by filling in with details of the concerts and other historical perspectives, she said.
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