Interview with Joe Esposito

By: Larry King / John Mackie
Source: CNN / Vancouver Sun
July 4, 2021

Joe Esposito first met Elvis Presley in the Army in 1958 and began working for him soon after they were both released from the service in 1960 until literally the day he died seventeen years later. Joe was Elvis Presley's right hand man and head of the Memphis Mafia.

Larry King: How did you meet Elvis?

Joe Esposito: I met him in Germany. I was in the Army with him.

Larry King: You didn't meet him at Fort Hood?

Joe Esposito: No. Saw him around; never met him, though.

Larry King: Did basic training there.

Joe Esposito: Yes, basic training.

Larry King: He was the most famous soldier in the Army, right?

Joe Esposito: Absolutely.

Larry King: So how did you meet in Germany?

Joe Esposito: Well what happened, one of the base photographers, the Army was told they could take a lot of pictures of him to promote the Army. But there was a friend of mine. And one weekend he said, listen Joe, we play touch football on the weekend with Elvis and the guys. We need some more players, do you want to play? And that's how it all started. I went to his house, he took me over there. Walked up to Elvis, Elvis walked up to me and introduced himself to me.

Elvis Aaron Presley In the U.S. Army 1958-1960
Elvis Presley In the U.S. Army 1958-1960.

Larry King: Hit it off right away?

Joe Esposito: It was just a click.

There was just something I liked about him and, apparently, he liked about me too.

Larry King: And nou -- during his show business career, coming back, you spent time with him. Were vow involved in his career?

Joe Esposito: Well, what happened, before we left the service he asked what I was going to do when I got out of the service. And I just had an office job in Chicago. He said, why don't you come to work for me? And I said, of course, yes, absolutely. And that's how my career started with Elvis.

Larry: King: OK, in Germany, what were those touch football games like?

Joe Esposito: They were great; right by the house he had rented off- base. And it was just a regular field. It wasn't a football field. Just a field, and all -- a bunch of the guys just having touch football, having a great time.

Larry King: Could he be a regular soldier? I mean, did he get up at 5:00 a.m.?

Joe Esposito: He worked a lot harder than I did.

Larry King: Really?

Joe Esposito: They weren't watching me. I worked in an office. He was out there in the mud like everybody else was. He worked as any other GI, and he did it on purpose because he really didn't want people to say, oh, he had an easy time in the service. He really worked harder than anything.

Larry King: As I've said to others, I've never heard a bad word about him.

Joe Esposito: That's true. People that know him, have met him will never say a bad word about him. Only people that don't know him.

Larry King: I want to find out what's on it. But he was a regular guy, right?

Joe Esposito: Oh yes, very much so.

Larry King: Were you there when he met Priscilla?

Joe Esposito: Yes I was.

Larry King: Where was that?

Joe Esposito: ... house. It was in Germany.

Larry King: She was what, the daughter of...

Joe Esposito: She was the daughter of a captain in the Air Force, and they were stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany...

Larry King: She was only 14, right?

Joe Esposito: Yes. We didn't know it at the time. She looked 16.

Larry King: She did look a little old?

Joe Esposito: Yes she did. Well, you know, she's an Army brat, and they...

Larry King: So what was the occasion of their meeting?

Joe Esposito: Well, this guy in the Air Force was a friend of ours. And he brought Priscilla to the house to meet Elvis because she wanted to meet Elvis. Well, she come over, he brought her in the door. We were all there, a bunch of guys, and other ladies too. And she walked in the door, this cute, beautiful little girl in this little Navy dress. I'll never forget that day when she walked in. Elvis walked over to her immediately, introduced himself to her, and they just started talking. And that was the start of it.

Larry King: When did he find out her age?

Joe Esposito: Probably that night.

Larry King: Why didn't that scare him off?

Joe Esposito: Well, you know, because...

Larry King: He was what? He was 24?

Joe Esposito: He was, yes, 24 at the time. Because, you know, there was nothing going on at the time. They didn't do anything. So, you know, they were friendly, just getting to know or talk to each other. And you know, I don't know why, it never scared him. It never frightened...

Larry King: How about her parents?

Joe Esposito: Well, I think that scared them a little bit, especially the father. You know, a nice man, but an Air Force gentleman. So he had a lot of questions about him. He talked told Elvis, and they got along great. And he promised his daughter, don't worry about it, she's great, I will not harm her in any way, and he didn't.

Larry King: Did you like Priscilla?

Joe Esposito: Yes, very much so.

Larry King: Did he then send for her after he came home from Germany?

Joe Esposito: Yes, when he got back from Germany he kept in communication, calling her on the telephone, back and forth like that. And in about 1962 she came over to visit. He promised her dad, listen, you know, we'll take her around Hollywood, see Hollywood and see the place like that. And she came over. And I was there the day she showed up for that. I picked her up at the airport, took her to the house. And she was so excited, you know, it's her first time in Hollywood, especially with a big star like Elvis.

Larry King: What was your job?

Joe Esposito: My job?

Larry King: With Elvis?

Joe Esposito: I was more or less -- in the early years, the movie years, I was his right-hand man. I did all the detail work. Made sure -- I used to go over the script with him during makeup and make...

Larry King: You'd read the other part to him?

Joe Esposito: Right, back and forth. And then a lot of times, you know, I made sure he got up to go early in the morning to get to the studio. And just every little detail you can think of.

Larry King: His assistant.

Joe Esposito: Right; his right hand.

Larry King: ... other things?

Joe Esposito: Road manager.

Larry King: Big job.

Joe Esposito: Oh yes, yes.

Larry King: When you got back from Germany, he started going out. Where was the first place he worked?

Joe Esposito: OK, the first thing we did, we went to do the Frank Sinatra TV special on Miami Beach. So it was very exciting. I mean, Elvis was very nervous, as you can tell. When he first walked out, you could see he was nervous because...

Larry King: He looked great...

Joe Esposito: ... well, being in the Army, you know, you get in good shape.

Larry King: Remember that show.

Joe Esposito: Welcome Home Elvis.

Larry King: And he sang Frank's songs and Frank sang his songs. Frank sang 'Love Me Tender'.

Joe Esposito: That's right. That's right. I just -- I was so excited for me because this was my first big...

Larry King: Elvis sang 'Witchcraft'.

Joe Esposito: That's right. You're right. Good for you, that's right.

Larry King: I was in Miami.

Joe Esposito: You were there at the time? It was exciting. We had a great time. He loved doing it. And, you know because at one time, you know -- it was great about this. At one time Frank, when Elvis first came out, Frank said bad things about him.

Larry King: Put him down on his knees.

Joe Esposito: Right.But then once you meet Elvis, there's the big difference. And all of a sudden you're going to like him because there's a difference in what people say about somebody and what...

Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley with Joe Esposito and Vernon Presley in background
Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley with Joe Esposito and Vernon Presley in background.

Larry King: Frank liked him a lot.

Joe Esposito: Oh yes.

Larry King: And got to like his music.

Joe Esposito: Absolutely. Definitely.

John Mackie: Was he frustrated with doing movies for so long and not having the time to play live gigs?

Joe Esposito: Pretty much. Plus he got tired of doing the same old movies over and over again in different locations, with different girls and different dogs and animals. He wanted to get away from the travelogues.

Elvis Presley & Joe Esposito during filming of Flaming Star
Elvis Presley & Joe Esposito during filming of Flaming Star.

When he got out of the Army, he had big contracts for three movies a year for different studios. The only performances before he went back on the road in '69, he did a couple of charity events.

He did one in Memphis. So in '69 when the Colonel made the deal with the International Hotel to start playing there, that's what brought everything back. That's what Elvis loved to do more than anything, perform on stage in front of a live audience.

Larry King: How did you get the name 'Diamond Joe'?

Joe Esposito: Well, what happened, there was a newspaper article that hit the papers out of Chicago one time. There was a guy by the name of Diamond Joe Esposito in Chicago. He was a mob guy. And it was an article about the biggest mob funeral in the history of Chicago, and it was for this gentleman. He was a union man. So they -- I used to wear diamond rings a little bit. So they said, hey, you're Diamond Joe.

Larry King: Did Elvis call you Diamond Joe?

Joe Esposito: Yes, a little bit, for awhile. But after a while I stopped wearing diamonds.

He didn't call me that anymore.

Larry King: He had some relationships with famous people, Ann Margaret, one. Ann has admitted to that. She was in love with him, right? He loved her?

Joe Esposito: Yes, they had a very strong love affair, very much so for about a year-and-a-half. And they would just -- they were just so much alike, the two of them. They were so fun. They laughed a lot, they had a great time. But, you know, it wouldn't work. He wanted -- didn't want a wife in show business, he wanted a wife at home taking care of the kids.

Larry King: You mean they might have married if she said, I'd quit?

Joe Esposito: I never thought about that, but maybe. Who knows? We'll never know.

Larry King: What was the meeting with the Beatles like?

Joe Esposito: Meeting The Beatles was great. It was 1965.

Larry King: They didn't talk for awhile?

Joe Esposito: No, because when they -- we brought the Beatles into the house and Elvis introduced himself to everybody and all the guys were there, we're all sitting around talking to everybody, going to the den, sit down. John Lennon and Paul McCartney were sitting there and Ringo Starr was walking around and George Harrison was someplace else. They just didn't say anything. They kept looking at him. Elvis kept looking around. He didn't know what to say. So, well, I guess I better go to sleep because we're not going to talk. So he stood up, and they said, no, no, no. We didn't know what to say to him.

Larry King: They wanted to know about guitar, right?

Joe Esposito: Yes, and Elvis would say get out a few guitars. And they sat around and played guitar. They played some old '50s songs.

Larry King: Well, they told me they were in awe of him.

Joe Esposito: Of course. I had met big stars, I didn't know what to say because of Elvis. It happens.

He loved their music. He recorded three of their songs. He thought they were great songwriters.

Elvis Presley Meets The Beatles August, 27, 1965
Elvis Presley Meets The Beatles August, 27, 1965.

Larry King: Did he have a favorite record?

Joe Esposito: No. Different ones at different times.

Larry King: He loved 'In the Ghetto'.

Joe Esposito: Oh, yes.

Larry King: What a treat.

Larry King: Where was the wedding?

Joe Esposito: The wedding was in Las Vegas, the Aladdin Hotel.

Larry King: What was the wedding like?

Joe Esposito: The wedding was great. It really was. I was very honored to be one of the co-best men at his wedding. And we tried to keep it from the press.

Larry King: Could you?

Joe Esposito: We did pretty well. Because Rona Barrett was down in Palm Springs. We all went to Palm Springs to fake everybody off. But that evening at night we jumped over the back fence, got to the plane, drove to the airport, got a jet, Sinatra's jet, flew into Las Vegas, went down to City Hall in Las Vegas, got the license, went right to the Aladdin Hotel and got married that morning, and the press was still in Palm Springs.

Larry King: Palm Springs. Boy, that was sharp doing. So Frank helped.

Joe Esposito: Frank helped. Oh, yes. Very much so. We used his plane. Colonel Parker, the people that owned the Aladdin Hotel were friends with the Colonel's, so they kept it all quiet. It was all set up there.

Larry King: Was that a happy marriage for awhile?

Joe Esposito: Oh, I think so. Yes. Very much so.

Larry King: Did the age, her youth, make it a problem?

Joe Esposito: Well, I don't think it was much the age. We were not good boys.

Larry King: He had a lot of guy friends.

Joe Esposito: Oh, yes. Loved his buddies around. Because he didn't have any friends when he was a kid, either. Because he was the weird kid. He had very few friends.

Larry King: Really, in Mississippi?

Joe Esposito: Oh, in Mississippi. Yes, definitely. Even in Memphis in high school.

Larry King: Were you a Memphis Mafia guy?

Joe Esposito: Yes, I was one.

Larry King: They considered you that. Even though you're not from Memphis and not Southern?

Joe Esposito: Right. I was the only Yankee in the group.

Larry King: Did he try to explain, for want of a better term, the cheating to you?

Joe Esposito: No, he didn't explain it. He just did it. The problem is we all did it, too.

Larry King: You were cheating on your wife?

Joe Esposito: Oh, yes. I got divorced, too, about the same time he did.

Larry King: Why did Priscilla put up with it?

Joe Esposito: You know, we all say she must know what's going on, but probably never admitted it. She probably didn't want to admit it, to realize it. But she put up for a long time, and then she stopped putting up with it. That's why they got divorced.

Larry King: The daughter was born how soon after the marriage?

Joe Esposito: Nine months to the day. Nine months to the day!

Priscilla, Lisa Marie & Elvis Presley
Priscilla, Lisa Marie & Elvis Presley.

Larry King: That's right to the Aladdin.

Joe Esposito: That's it! Nine months to the day she was born, yes.

Larry King: So they probably didn't have relations before the wedding?

Joe Esposito: Absolutely not. No relations.

Larry King: Respect for her father.

Joe Esposito: That's right. 21 years old when you get married.

Larry King: What kind of dad was he?

Joe Esposito: He was a good dad. Elvis always loved kids and animals. Even when I had my two young girls, Debby and Cindy, he used to play with them all the time. And then when he had Lisa, he was just the doting father. He just loved to spoil his daughter.

Larry King: Where did he vacation?

Joe Esposito: Hawaii, very much Hawaii. Aspen a couple of times. But Hawaii was his favorite place. He would just relax when he got there. I fact, his last vacation, he cleaned up his act. He was great. We were on the beach playing a little football. He was a little overweight, but he was doing great.

Larry King: Most of the people with him, the band, the back-up singers, were they always with him?

Joe Esposito: Pretty much.

Larry King: People stayed with him a long time.

Joe Esposito: Oh, yes. They all -- pretty much all the guys from the band and the Sweet Inspirations and J.D. Sumner's Stamps Quartet, they were all pretty well as much as they could be.

John Mackie: So who besides Priscilla did Elvis really deeply care about?

Joe Esposito: Very much for Linda Thompson, the last lady that he dated for a long, long time, for five years in the early 70s. He had a great affair with Ann Margaret, they were very very close. Always were, even until he passed away. Naturally Priscilla, Sheila Ryan Caan. Barbara Lee. He was very very close to a lot of women. And none of them really hated him for what he did, having these dates and going out with other girls. They still loved this man.

He liked Ginger Aldren very much, but her mother pretty much controlled her and wanted to be around Elvis all the time. I don't think he was going to marry her. He may have told her that he wanted to marry her and stuff like that, so she would stay around, but after a while he started to date her, he started to date other women too. I don't think he was ever going to marry her.

Larry King: How did he handle money?

Joe Esposito: Terrible. Terrible, money...

Larry King: Buy a lot of cars?

Joe Esposito: Buy 13 cars for somebody. He bought a ranch one time. He ended up buying 34 pickup trucks because he was a rancher now. We were buying some Cadillacs one time at the Cadillac dealership in Memphis. We were standing inside the dealership and Elvis looks outside and there's this elderly black lady looking in the window at this yellow two-door Coupe de Ville.

Elvis sees her, and she's looking at it and looking at it. He goes outside and starts talking to her. He says 'You like that car, huh?' 'Oh, yes, yes, that beautiful car'. He says 'Would you like to have one of those?' 'Oh I could never afford one of those cars'. He said 'Just a minute'.

He goes back inside the dealership, goes to the sales manager and says 'Give me the keys to that car'. Gives him the keys, he goes out and says 'Ma'am, the car is yours'. She just couldn't believe that Elvis just gave her that car. She was just in awe. Just couldn't believe it. He said 'It's yours, enjoy it'.

That's the kind of guy he was. He liked to give people things he knew people couldn't afford on their own.

John Mackie: Because he grew up poor he never really forgot it.

Joe Esposito: No.

Larry King: He tipped a guy once, a limo driver, a limo. He tipped him a limo.

Joe Esposito: That's the way he was. I mean, we were in Denver, Colorado one time. We bought a few cars in Denver. And a disc jockey heard about this the next day and he said, Elvis if you're still out there, I'd like to have a new car too. Elvis told him to go get him a car. We got him a new Cadillac Seville the next day.

Larry King: How would he pay this? They'd bill him?

Joe Esposito: They'd bill us. I'd write the check. I had the checkbook with me. I'd write the checks out.

Larry King: And he never was broke, right?

Joe Esposito: Not that I know of.

Larry King: He always had a source of making money.

Joe Esposito: Always had a source -- as we always said before, and his father complained to him, he said, 'Dad, don't worry about it. If we need more money, I'll make more'. And that was his reasoning.

Larry King: The relationship with his parents. First the mother.

Joe Esposito: Well, he was very close to his mother. Once -- when he was born a twin and his brother was born stillborn, so his mother really hovered over him, very much so, because she couldn't have any more kids, either. So she more or less took care of him and wouldn't let him go out and play a lot.

Larry King: She died at what age?

Joe Esposito: Forty-four. Liver problem.

Larry King: How did he take that?

Joe Esposito: Horrible. He was in the Army at the time. I think it destroyed him for a long time. You see pictures of him. Elvis was very...

Larry King: Emotional?

Joe Esposito: Very emotional person. He was devastated.

In fact he hardly talked about her after she passed away.

Larry King: Relationship with his father? Good. Good. Very close. He loved his dad. But he was closer to his mother, definitely.

Larry King: Graceland.

Elvis Presley's Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee
Elvis Presley's Graceland, Memphis, Tennessee.

Joe Esposito: Graceland. He always told me he bought it for his mother. That was very important to him. Beautiful place. Nice place. He loved being there.

Larry King: It was already built, right?

Joe Esposito: Yes, it was built already. It was his home. That's where he loved to go.

Larry King: Says a lot about it. Some Elvis stories. He bought a chimp.

Joe Esposito: Yes, he got a chimp. Elvis loved animals. There was this little baby chimp that this TV guy at the station in Memphis had a show. One of the guys told him, Elvis, this guy wants to sell this little chimp. So he brought it out to the house and Elvis fell in love with it. Little chimp, his name was Scatter.

Larry King: What did he do with it? He just kept it at the house?

Joe Esposito: Kept it around the house, yes. We had a cage for it but Scatter was just not use to being caged and when released would play havoc with the ladies. Attacking maids at hotels. As much of a terror as Scatter was he was also capable of behaving like a gentleman, Alan Fortes used to love taking him for a drive in the Rolls Royce and buying him little suits and try to teach him how to drive.

After Scatter had bitten several of the Memphis Mafia member and no one was able to put him back into his cage Elvis decided have a face to face with the chimp. Elvis looked Scatter in the eye and trying to keep a straight face, and yelled, 'You coconut head you'd better get downstairs in your cage, And you'd better not bite anybody anymore you hear' With his hand folded in front of him Scatter slowly walked down the stairs marched to the basement and into his cage. Elvis fell on the floor laughing..

Elvis would wait until the den was filled with girls and everyone was real comfortable then yell, 'Okay boys let him out' At about four foot tall Scatter loved the girls. Alan had taught Scatter to look up the girls dresses.

On the first night Pat Parry was a guest and she didn't know about Scatter who made a b-line for her. His arms waving and screaming and trying to look up her dress. She told him to stop. But Scatter was determined to get his way with Pat. She told Scatter 'You do that one more time and I'm going to knock the hell out of you' Well naturally Scatter did it again. And Pat got on her knees and hit the Chimp under his chin.

Scatter did a back flip and landed on the couch - dazed. He looked at in disbelief and ended up with a bump on his head the size of the golf ball.

Larry King: Did he have dogs and cats?

Joe Esposito: Dogs, cats, ducks, chickens, horses. Jack-asses, everything. He loved animals.

Larry King: What about a kiss from Don Ho?

Joe Esposito: Oh, now, that was a picture.

Don Ho & Elvis Presley

Larry King: Tiny bubbles.

Joe Esposito: We were seeing Don's show. Don would do this trick to a lot of people.

Larry King: Don Ho is Hawaii.

Joe Esposito: That's right. That's for sure. He was on stage playing the international hotel. Elvis got -- he said, Elvis, come up, visit me. He goes up on stage. Don had this trick. He'd say, Elvis, give me a little kiss right here on the cheek as I'm singing this song. So he'd be singing, and he turns his mouth toward him, and the photographer takes that picture. Well, I went and got the negative away from the photographer.

Larry King: Jackie Gleason told me once that he told Elvis, when Elvis did his summer show...

Joe Esposito: Yes.

Larry King:'re going to be a big star. Go out, don't hide. Go to restaurants. Go out in the public. Because if you hide, you will be the loneliest man in the world. But he hid.

Joe Esposito: Yes, Elvis did hide. Yes, he did.

Larry King: Now, his career had ebbed a little, hadn't it?

Joe Esposito: Oh, yes. In the '60s, because he was doing all those soundtracks for all movies, so his hit records weren't doing as well. You know, then the Beatle invasion, the British invasion came along.

Larry King: Now when he started with the personal appearances, the crowds, what were they like?

Joe Esposito: Unbelievable. I mean, this was all new to me, too, because I never saw the big crowds like this. It was just like you see it on television. People were screaming and yelling, passing out, fainting.

Larry King: What did he make of it?

Joe Esposito: He couldn't figure it out.

He didn't understand why. He goes, I don't understand why? Why are they doing this to me?

I think no big star can ever understand, why are they having this effect on people? Elvis had an effect on people because he had a great voice, he sang with feeling and they felt what he was singing. And any person that ever saw him live on stage, they all felt that he was singing only to them, not 20,000 people, just to them.

Larry King: He opened the hotel?

Joe Esposito: No, he didn't open the hotel; that was a smart move. Barbra Streisand opened the hotel. We were the second group, because let her get all the kinks out.

Larry King: But he was always working whenever...

Joe Esposito: Oh, always.

Joe Esposito: Yes, when he worked he felt like he worked. We had a lot of people up there all the time. We had 15, 30, 50 people a night up in the suite. But it was hard for him, because when he was in town people were always looking for him. But the thing about it, see, we used to go down 4:00 a.m., 5:00 a.m. in the morning just to play cards a little bit in the casino when it wasn't as crowded. But then all of a sudden it got crowded, bothered him, we had to go back upstairs.

Larry King: In Vegas, he was the biggest act in Vegas.

Joe Esposito: Oh, absolutely. Nobody will ever beat Elvis' record in Las Vegas as far as attendance.

Larry King: Always the Hilton?

Joe Esposito: It was the International Hotel at first. Kerkorian built that, then he ended up selling it to Baron Hilton. So it was always the same hotel from the time we played there in 1969 until he passed away.

He loved Vegas.

Larry King: Loved working too, right?

Joe Esposito: He loved to be on stage. That where -- he felt the happiest on stage because he got the love from the audience. And he loved to sing. I mean, that's what he loved to do. He'd sit in his house on hours on end by himself at the piano and just play songs and sing.

Larry King: Did you go watch every show?

I never missed one concert in the 17 years I was with him, I never missed one concert. I was with him every show. It was great, it was unbelievable. Because they weren't the same concerts every night. He'd always do little fun things, had a great time, enjoyed himself. Changed right in the middle of the set, add different songs. It was always a different concert.

Larry King: Never got tired of it?

Joe Esposito: No.

Larry King: How good an entertainer was he?

Joe Esposito: The best. The absolute best. He had no set show. He had an opening number and closing number. What he did between was up to him. There were certain routines he had, but he would change right in the middle of the show. Let's do this song, let's do that song. Whatever. He just was so at ease on stage.

He loved performing.

Larry King: He played piano, too, huh?

Joe Esposito: Loved to play piano. Not a great...

Larry King: ... guitar.

Joe Esposito: Yes, he loved -- he'd play any instrument, but not good. He could figure it out real easy. He was one of those people that had that talent.

Larry King: What was he like hanging around?

Joe Esposito: Just another guy. Watched a lot of football, boxing.

Larry King: Sports fan?

Joe Esposito: Sports fan, yes. Mostly boxing and football.

Larry King: Did he do karate and stuff?

Joe Esposito: He did a lot of karate. He learned that in the Army -- not from the Army, but he saw a story about it and he started taking it while he was in there. He did a lot of karate

Larry King: And also incredibly generous.

Joe Esposito: Oh, yes. Definitely very generous man. He always said he wanted to share his wealth with friends and even strangers.

Larry King: Paid people well?

Joe Esposito: Paid people decent, but a lot of bonuses. After every tour you got a bonus. We toured like 10 times a year. I had an apartment in Los Angeles that I was renting. And he and Priscilla came by and they came to the apartment and we started talk. And he said, 'You need a house, you don't need an apartment'. And I said, 'well, one of these days'. He said 'Not one of these days, lets going to get one right now!'. And were in sort of a chock. There was a real state lady waiting for us outside and we went around, looking for some places and found a house and he bought me a house! For me and my family. And it was so hard, what can we say to somebody that buys you a house? All I could say was 'Elvis I Love You and thank you very, very much for doing this for me'. You see, he loved to see the expression on people's faces when he gave them something that they could never get. He loved it, he was a very big giver.

Larry King: Colonel wasn't as giving?

Joe Esposito: Wasn't as giving, but he was, actually. People don't realize he gave to a lot of charity organizations. They never publicized it. But he was a businessman and money was very important to him.

Larry King: Did he lose touch a little with the outside world, Elvis?

Joe Esposito: Yes, definitely. I think we all did, even around him. Being around him we lost touch. That's one of the problems with somebody like that and you don't see it from the outside the way it is on the outside. We had our own little group.

Larry King: Did he watch television a lot?

Joe Esposito: Yes. A lot of TV. Listened to a lot of music.

John Mackie: There's this legend that he wasn't so fond of Robert Goulet, and used to shoot the TV set whenever Robert Goulet was on TV. Is that true?

Joe Esposito: Yeah, once. But not because of Robert Goulet, no no. He just did it for effect.

He liked to shock people, that's all.

John Mackie: Were you there when he did it?

Joe Esposito: Oh yeah.

John Mackie: Did it shock you?

Joe Esposito: Oh yes, absolutely. A gun shot in a house? There wasn't a lot of people there, just a few people. It was 'What the hell was that for?' He said 'Well, I just wanted to wake everybody up'.

John Mackie: Who was on TV?

Joe Esposito: Robert Goulet. So that's how it went along: 'He must have hated Robert Goulet, because he shot the TV'. It had nothing to do with him, it could have been anybody.

John Mackie: Did he like to play with guns?

Joe Esposito: Oh yeah, he loved guns. He loved law enforcement, he was very much into that. We used to have honorary badges, we had gun permits from the state of Tennessee.

We used to go target practicing, all kinds of stuff.

Larry King: Liked a lot of music.

Joe Esposito: Loved all music. Opera, gospel, country, rhythm and blues.

Larry King: And had a great affection for blacks.

Joe Esposito: Oh, yes.

Larry King: He supported Martin Luther King.

Joe Esposito: That's right. That's true.

Larry King: Sent money.

Joe Esposito: Yes, because he loved the way they sing. They sing with a lot of feeling. And that's the way he was raised, around gospel music.

Larry King: Right, when you first heard Elvis people thought he was black.

Joe Esposito: Yes. They didn't realize it.

Larry King: All those clothes he wore, did he pick them himself?

Joe Esposito: Yes, he pretty well did. But then what happened, the designer would draw pictures, and he'd pick this one or that one. And he'd come up with some ideas himself. Because when we did the Hawaii special he had the American eagle on it because he was very patriotic and he knew it was going to go around the world.

Larry King: What do you remember about the meeting with Nixon?

Joe Esposito: I was not there. I did not know about that meeting until after it happened. He kept it quiet from everybody except just a couple guys.

Larry King: So they made him -- they deputized him. That was funny.

Joe Esposito: Yeah, well he went there to get a badge. That's the only reason he went there. Somebody told him he could never get it, and that's something you don't tell Elvis, he can't do something. And he went and got it. Everybody said 'You'll never be able to get that. President Nixon won't do that'. And he said 'Fine, let me talk to him'. And when he left Washington, he had the badge with him.

John Mackie: Did he meet any other presidents, or just Nixon?

Joe Esposito: Just Nixon. I think he he didn't meet LBJ. The Colonel was a good friend of his. But no that was probably the only President he ever met. Well, he met President Carter before he became President. He was just a governor at the time.

Larry King: You know the -- at the Nixon museum, the Nixon Library, the number one selling picture is the picture of the two of them.

Joe Esposito: Oh, I believe it, yes. I can understand it. Just amazing.

John Mackie: Did he ever go see gigs?

Joe Esposito: Oh yeah. A lot of time in Vegas, before he opened, we'd go a couple of times a year and hang out for three, four weeks and go see all the stars, all over town. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis, Andy Williams, all kinds of stars, Fats Domino, everybody was in Vegas in those days. We'd stay there and go see two shows a night.

Larry King: All the way. OK, tell me about how the drug thing began.

Joe Esposito: Well, you know, in this business, we all get wrapped up in certain things. We were working hard, making movies, but then you -- Elvis was an insomniac, first of all. He could not sleep. I mean, he had the worst problem sleeping, so he started take sleeping pills to go to sleep. Well, he was taking...

Larry King: Also, I'm told not go to sleep until very late.

Joe Esposito: Late -- that's what I mean, real late.

Larry King: 6:00 in the morning, right?

Joe Esposito: Oh, yes, a lot of times. So, he had to go to sleep, so he could get up the next day to do a show. So, he started taking sleeping pills. And he would wake up and he'd feel groggy. And someone said, hey, take this, it will keep you awake. So he'd take something to keep you awake. We were all doing this.

Larry King: He was on amphetamines and downers and uppers.

Joe Esposito: All day. And eventually, you need more.

Larry King: Did he go for harder stuff? Did he go cocaine?

Joe Esposito: No, never ever tried cocaine that I knew of, not in front of me he didn't.

Larry King: Heroin?

Joe Esposito: No, never.

Larry King: Marijuana probably?

Joe Esposito: Marijuana, we did a little bit. Yes, we all tried that a little bit. I wish he would have stuck with just that the other stuff.

Larry King: A lot of different doctors giving him prescriptions?

Joe Esposito: That's the one thing about when you're a big star, you can get anything you want. There's no such thing as saying no to Elvis.

Larry King: So, he'd have a doctor in Memphis and he'd go into Vegas and...

Joe Esposito: Vegas, and if one doctor wouldn't give it to him, he'd get it from somebody else.

Joe Esposito and Elvis in one of his last tours, 1977
Joe Esposito and Elvis in one of his last tours, 1977.

Larry King: And he was able to perform while taking drugs?

Joe Esposito: Yes.

Larry King: These are all prescription drugs. He never moved on illegal drugs?

Joe Esposito: No, not that I know of.

Larry King: What about the weight changes?

Joe Esposito: Well, weight changes, Elvis was a junk food eater. He was one of those guys when he got depressed, he would eat. He'd get on these kicks once in a while of eating hamburgers. He'd eat hamburgers every night for a long time. And he was always raised on fried food and southern food, and it was very fattening. And that was a problem. He just started gaining weight.

Larry King: Did he constantly talk about weight? Did he try to say, I'm going to take it off or exercise?

Joe Esposito: At different times. We'd sit and talk to him. A lot of guys sit around and talk to him, say, Elvis, you know, you got to get yourself back in shape. You're a little heavy, and this and that. And he'd listen to you, but sometimes he wouldn't. He'd get mad at you.

Larry King: Did he get depressed a lot?

Joe Esposito: Yes, toward the latter couple years of his life. Because people don't realize when you're a big star, you turn 40 years old, at that time, 40 was old. And there was a picture on a magazine, I forgot, it was 'Life' or 'Look' that said 'Fat and 40, Happy Birthday Fat and 40 Elvis'. And that's a horrible thing to say about anybody. And that gets to him. Little by little, what did you do? You know, if you get depressed, you try to take something to make you feel happy, just like a person that drinks, they'd have a drink. Well, he'd take a pill.

Larry King: That was before Zoloft and...

Joe Esposito: Oh, yes. Before, nobody was allowed to take -- there was no such thin as going to a drug clinic.

Larry King: There weren't anti-depressant. In other words, there's no Betty Ford.

Joe Esposito: No Betty Fords at all. And at that time, you got caught doing something like that, they'd tear you apart. So nowadays, it's cool.

Larry King: So, we generally as a public didn't know this?

Joe Esposito: No.

Larry King: The time of his death, says personal physician Dr. George Nickopolous, right, was charged with over prescribing, right?

Joe Esposito: Correct.

Larry King: Lost his license.

Joe Esposito: Yes, he did, for awhile. Yes, he did.

Larry King: But it was hard to turn Elvis down.

Joe Esposito: Hard to turn him down. And I got to defend him to a certain point because when he made trips, we all took the same pills. We all did it.

Larry King: So, you were taking them too?

Joe Esposito: Oh, yes. I was hooked on sleeping pills for a long time. Took sleeping pills because we were all doing the same thing together. When you're with Elvis, you're with him 24 hours a day. You do everything together, vacation, travel, everything we did together. So, we all got into the routine, too.

Larry King: What were the groupies like?

Joe Esposito: We had a lot of groupies that would hang out at the gate 24 hours a day, follow us when we would go out shopping. They'd follow us in the car. You know, that was tough. But I recall those groupies. We had a lot of other nice, great fans that were always around, that would do anything for Elvis. And just...

Larry King: Men and women, right?

Joe Esposito: Oh, yes. Definitely. Absolutely. I meet more men today that ask me about Elvis than I do women sometimes. They want to know about Elvis. It's just amazing.

Larry King: Did he ever try to lick the drug problem?

Joe Esposito: Well, you know what was amazing about him, I know if he set his mind to do it, he could have. Because there were times that he would just stop taking anything for a long time.

Larry King: So, he could have stopped?

Joe Esposito: Yes, he could if he wanted to. But, you know, we had been pressured by a lot of people saying why don't you guys do something, why don't you do something? We couldn't do a damn thing. If he didn't want to do it himself, it don't mean a thing.

Larry King: You said he always vacationed in Hawaii. His last vacation was in Hawaii.

Joe Esposito: Yes, March of 1977. Yes, had a great time there. Played football on the beach.

Larry King: He never remarried.

Joe Esposito: No, never remarried, no.

Larry King: Did he want to? Did he ever...

Joe Esposito: He never talked about it. No, he never talked about getting remarried.

Larry King: Did he say he wanted more kids?

Joe Esposito: He did like to have more kids, yes, but, you know, it never happened.

Larry King: He feared turning 40, didn't he?

Joe Esposito: Yes, he did. At that time that was the downhill point. Nowadays it's not. But in those days, when you hit 40, you're on your way down. So what do you think about when you're a big star?

Larry King: Death.

Joe Esposito: Death and old age. What am I going to look like when I'm 50? Are those young girls going to still be out there screaming for me? That's a depressing thought.

Larry King: Elvis passed away on August 16. Where were you that day?

Joe Esposito: I was there August 16. We were getting ready to go on tour that evening.

Larry King: Was he OK during the day?

Joe Esposito: The night before, I talked to him. He was fine. I talked to him. I said anything you need before we leave?

Larry King: Where were you touring?

Joe Esposito: We were getting ready to go to Portland, Maine. We were leaving the day of the 16th at 7:00. And I fly to Portland, spend the night there and do the show the next day.

Larry King: And he would have a private plane, right?

Joe Esposito: We had our own private jet, called Lisa Marie. It's a big four-engine jet that we bought.

Larry King: Four engines?

Joe Esposito: Big four-engine, yes. He only liked four-engine. He didn't want a two-engine plane because he said it was safer with a four-engine plane.

Larry King: He's right. Not many people have private four-engine planes.

Joe Esposito: No. True. True.

Larry King: All right. So, you're ready to go to Portland, Maine.

Joe Esposito: Right. And that afternoon, I was there. I was supposed to wake him up at 4:00 to get ready to leave.

Larry King: You were going to leave that night.

Joe Esposito: We were going to leave that night of the 16th. And his girlfriend called downstairs.

Larry King: This was not Linda now. This is a new girlfriend.

Joe Esposito: No. This was a girl named Ginger Alden. Called downstairs, asked for somebody -- Elvis had fainted in the bathroom. So, I ran upstairs and went into the bathroom. And I saw him on the floor. And... so I turned him over. And the minute I touched him, I knew he had been dead. I knew it right then. I picked the phone up real quick. It was sitting right next to the bathroom, there was phone there. And I called for an ambulance. The ambulance got there and I went into the ambulance with him, him and Charlie Hodge was with me and Dr. Nick got there too. We went to the hospital, took him to the emergency room.

Larry King: But you knew he was dead?

Joe Esposito: I knew it. I was hoping possible, but I just knew there was no way.

Larry King: What was your first reaction? I mean, he was 42 years old.

Joe Esposito: I know. It was -- you know, it didn't hit me for awhile that he passed away. It was just -- I just sort of blocked it out of my head. But it was tough. It was very tough. He was -- we were very close friends and we spent a lot of time together. And I consider him my best friend. And, so, when you lose somebody like that and all the time we spent together, our whole lives together, I thought my life had ended right there.

Larry King: How did the girl react?

Joe Esposito: Ginger was all upset. And Lisa Marie was there too visiting. Luckily...

Larry King: She was how old?

Joe Esposito: She was nine years old.

Larry King: In fact, she called Linda Thompson.

Joe Esposito: Yes, that's right.

Larry King: Linda told her.

Joe Esposito: So, I had to call Priscilla and tell her about it.

Larry King: How did she take it?

Joe Esposito: She went crazy when I told her. She dropped the phone. She was all upset.

Larry King: She still loved him?

Joe Esposito: Oh, yes, of course.

But then, you know, then she got on the phone and she was worried about Lisa? She said, 'how's Lisa Marie doing?' And I said, 'don't worry, Lisa Marie's fine'. I called Colonel Parker and told him.

Larry King: Who made the announcement to the press?

Joe Esposito: Well, they wanted me to do it, but I wouldn't do it.

Larry King: Why?

Joe Esposito: I just couldn't. They wanted -- I said, yes I'll do it. But then, emotionally, I couldn't have done it. So the P.R. guy from the hospital made the announcement.

Joe Esposito: It was a day of my life I'll never forget.

Larry King: It went around the world in a flash. Everyone knows where they were.

Joe Esposito: I know. You know what was amazing though, Larry, you know, never -- like we said earlier, from the inside, you don't see it from the outside. I didn't realize the effect he had on people for those few days. I mean, the thousands of people that come and showed up for this funeral from around the world. I never expected that. No way. And the streets were lined all the way down to...

Larry King: White limos, right?

Joe Esposito: We got 17 white limousines because Elvis' favorite color was white. His dad said we need to get white limousines. We had to get them from all around the country to get him in there.

Larry King: What was his cause of death? What was the final determination, heart attack?

Joe Esposito: You know, his heart just stopped. That's all. It just stopped.

Larry King: No pain?

Joe Esposito: No pain, nothing. It just stopped.

Larry King: Drug connected?

Joe Esposito: They say drug connected. I think it was his health connection. He didn't eat good.

Larry King: Fluctuation of weight.

Joe Esposito: Fluctuation of weight, had an enlarged heart. He had high blood pressure. People didn't realize. And not only that, if you look at his family on his mother's side, they all died at very young ages. They were all addictive people. Couple of his cousins died from drug overdose and stuff, and his mother drank a lot. So, on his mother's side it was bad.

Larry King: Was he on medication for the high blood pressure?

Joe Esposito: Oh, yes. Medication for that. He was on medication because he had glaucoma in one eye for that.

Larry King: He did?

Joe Esposito: Yes, one of the eyes, yes. He had some intestines problem.

Larry King: Wow. We never knew any of this.

Joe Esposito: No. Nobody talks about that. That's why a lot of his medication was off. But all that medication doesn't help because Elvis figured, you know, one pill, take two pills, helps better. But you know it doesn't work.

Larry King: What did you make of all the Elvis' and dead stories? That's still going on.

Joe Esposito: You mean about still being alive? I mean, that just drives me crazy. I mean, it's so stupid. The man's gone. He would never, ever give up his life because he had to sing on stage.

Larry King: It wasn't him at the funeral.

Joe Esposito: Yes, I know. I couldn't believe they said that, it wasn't him in the casket. It hurts a lot of fans that really want to believe he's still alive. That's what's bad. It gives them hope he's alive. I get letters all the time saying, 'please tell Elvis, I know he's alive, tell him we said hello and we love him'. That's sad. People want to make money on it. That's it.

Larry King: What did you do at the funeral?

Joe Esposito: Well, I was one of the pallbearers.

I got to give credit to all the guys who worked for Elvis security and all the guys around us. We really did a great job organizing this funeral because it was major event.

Larry King: How many days after the death?

Joe Esposito: Three days.

But the thing about it, we all sat together and said, listen, this is going to be Elvis' last performance. Let's make sure it's a good one.

And we all worked hard. It was amazing how smooth it went with all those people out there.

Larry King: The body was displayed, right?

Joe Esposito: Yes. His dad wanted to make sure that everybody could say good-bye to Elvis. And thousands of fans kept walking up for hours.

Larry King: No press was allowed in.

Joe Esposito: No press.

Larry King: The 'Enquirer' got some sort of picture.

Joe Esposito: Well, they paid one of his cousins a lot of money to sneak a camera in and take a picture of one of his relatives.

Larry King: Looked pretty good, as I remember. They did a nice job.

Joe Esposito: Yes, not bad, considering.

Larry King: Was it hard -- when did it set in for you, afterwards?

Joe Esposito: About three months later, it was like I left between tours, but there was no more tours after that. I got very depressed, very depressed for a long time. And it was tough. And I still miss him today. I really do.

Larry King: He was the first rock 'n' roll rebel, wasn't he? I mean, he was against the tide.

Joe Esposito: Oh, definitely. Let's face it, at that time everything was -- Hit Parade was always mediocre, nice songs. But they were beautiful at the time. But I think kids were looking for something...

Larry King: He changed music.

Joe Esposito: He changed music; changed history.

Larry King: And as The Beatles and others have said, he affected them.

Joe Esposito: Well, like John Lennon said, if there was no Elvis there would be no Beatles. And I met a lot of the big stars; they say the same thing. Elvis was a very big influence then. Even young kids today.

Larry King: What do you think Elvis would have done had he lived...

Joe Esposito: Oh, I think...

Larry King: ... into his, say, 50s?

Joe Esposito: Oh, I he definitely would have still sang, performed. Definitely would have performed. He wanted to direct movies at one time. You know, he got tired of his movies. He wanted to direct movies. He wanted to do action movies and comedies. He loved comedies. So he would have done that and plus, but he would never have stopped performing on stage as long as he could.

Larry King: So if we were alive now, he'd be working somewhere?

Joe Esposito: Yes, he'd be on stage, yes. If he was able to be on stage, he'd be singing somewhere, like Sinatra did. Sinatra didn't want to stop.

Larry King: No, you have to drag him off, right?

Joe Esposito: That's right. Absolutely right.

John Mackie: The Colonel, how do you look back on him now?

Joe Esposito: I think the Colonel was the only person that could have been Elvis Presley's manager. Nobody could have handled him better than he did. Nobody. Not too many managers only manage one person. They become famous, a star, and all of a sudden they manage all these other people. Colonel Parker was offered many, many big stars, they wanted him to be his manager. He said 'Nope. I only handle Elvis, that's it'.

John Mackie: But the Colonel has been criticized for misguiding Elvis. You don't think that's fair?

Joe Esposito: Oh, he made his mistakes, there's no two ways about it. We all make mistakes. None of us are perfect. But overall, nobody could have done what he did with Elvis Presley. I'm sorry, nobody. I don't care who the hell they are, the biggest managers in the world.

It's just that you have to understand, the Colonel dedicated his life to him. He didn't care about anybody else. Twenty-four hours a day, he'd always be thinking about something for Elvis. He'd come up with these great ideas that nobody else ever did. He made mistakes too, but anybody that knew, that was around us could tell you, there was nobody better than Colonel Parker.

They were a team, basically. They became a team, they were just unbelievable together. But they had arguments, just like husbands and wives do.

John Mackie: But Elvis was really loyal, he never would have left the Colonel.

Joe Esposito: No.

They would have fights, disagreements, but I could never see him going to another manager. Never.

John Mackie: What about the Elvis: What Happened book, what did you think about that?

Joe Esposito: Well, that was devastating to Elvis while he was alive.

To me that probably put him over the end. The last year of his life, that's all he talked about, that book. It was just hurting him so much inside that so-called friends would do something like that to you. He had a horrible last year of his life, and I blame 80 percent of it on that book.

Larry King: Do you keep in touch with Lisa?

Joe Esposito: I keep in touch with Priscilla more. Lisa has her own little group of people. A younger crowd, they don't hang around us old guys.

Larry King: How is Priscilla doing?

Joe Esposito: Priscilla's doing great.

Larry King: Do you see here occasionally?

Joe Esposito: Yes, I see her occasionally. Yes, we talk. Yes, she's doing fine.

John Mackie: Why do you think the Elvis legend seems to be so strong, 30 years later?

Joe Esposito: Because of his music, and if you look into his eyes on a movie screen or a TV special or something, there's something about him that you just cannot help but like. And his voice - let's face it, he had the greatest voice in the world, over any singers in history. He could sing anything, and he sang from his heart. People can feel that when they listen to his music. He doesn't sing just for the sake of singing, he sang from his heart. That catches people. Young people today love him. He's been dead 30 years, and they're only 10, 15 years old. I don't no another artist who does that to people.

It just amazes me. It's the second most visited house from the -- except the White House. The White House is first and Graceland is second. That just amazes me. I mean, I lived there.

Larry King: CNN Interview Aug.6, 2002
John Mackie: Vancouver Sun Interview 2007

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Elvis Presley Video Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD

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. + Plus Bonus DVD Audio.

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.

Tupelo's Own Elvis Presley DVD Video with Sound.