The Observer, Aug 2002
This Much I Know: Larry Geller, Elvis’ hairdresser and spiritual advisor.
Photograph by Robert Yager
Also at The Observer
Elvis didn’t think he was Jesus Christ exactly, but he thought he could be a great teacher, a channel for God.
Sure, he fooled around with groupies, he could pick them off his doorstep 24 hours a day, but he used to read them passages from spiritual books. He used to say, ‘Sex isn’t the answer, I found that out a long time ago.’
In the early days, he went with so many girls he had to go to hospital, he was so exhausted.
He never wore jeans and didn’t like us wearing them, either. For Elvis, jeans were scruffy – they were what he wore when he was poor. He didn’t wear browns and tans either, because he said it looked like workwear.
Elvis followed numerology – he was an eight, like me. Eights are always misunderstood people.
He had wild enthusiasms that he hardly ever followed through on. Like his diet – when he saw me eating no meat, only salads and fresh fruit, he told his maid and cook how he was going to do the same. The next day, he was back on the burnt bacon and deep-fried chicken. ‘I will, Larry,’ he said, ‘but not right now.’
He always listened to that still, small voice inside. At the end of a show in Milwaukee, he was walking off stage when he stopped to take off a black diamond ring worth $40,000 – and that was in 1976. He just threw it into the audience and walked off without even looking to see who caught it. He said that a voice inside told him that someone out there needed that ring.
He never bought one of anything. One time, I was wearing a musk scent and he sniffed and said, ‘What’s that smell, I like it?’ It was 1966, he used to wear Fabergé and Brut. So I brought him a bottle, as a gift, and he said, ‘I don’t want one – I want a whole case!’
He was never a primadonna – he was always punctual and called everyone ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’.
He had no conception of time. I was cutting his hair at Graceland one night, it was about 10pm, and we were talking about books, as ever. I told him about The Secret Doctrine by the Theosophist, Madame Blavatsky – he read a lot of New Age literature – and Elvis just said, ‘Larry, I want it – take a redeye flight to LA and get me that book.’ So I went and brought him a handful of spiritual books by the following afternoon.
He was a slow reader but voracious. He always had a dictionary on hand, and he used to underline everything and make notes in the margin. His eyesight was terrible – he had glaucoma – so he used reading glasses and a big magnifying glass. I bought him a large-print Bible.
He loved Peter Sellers and knew Dr Strangelove word for word. We must have seen it about 40 times.
When the Beatles came to visit him in Bel Air, Ringo went off to play pool, George was outside smoking pot, and it was just me, Paul, John and Elvis sitting there. One by one, all three of them picked a guitar and started jamming on ‘Johnny B Goode’ and all the 50s rock’n’roll songs. It must have lasted 20 minutes. And no one sang. ‘They’re good guys,’ he said, ‘I like them. But what’s with their teeth? They got money, why don’t they get them fixed?’
John Lennon was his favourite Beatle. Elvis gave him his hotline number and everything. Once when John was in trouble for drugs and they were going to deport him, he called Elvis. And I don’t know what Elvis did, but Lennon stayed in the country.
Elvis had a photographic memory. One time, he gave a friend a copy of The Prophet by Khalil Gibran, and said: ‘Open it up anywhere and read.’ The guy started reading and Elvis joined in and finished the page by heart.
He always wanted to make a docu-drama about the origins of karate, which he would narrate but not star in. Elvis was a black belt at Kempo. He loved martial arts. His bodyguard Ed Parker taught Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris.
Elvis couldn’t go anywhere without getting mobbed. He even wore Band Aids on his fingers to stop people taking his rings off, because a few times his fingers were badly scratched.
He knew that the flashes of death were upon him, he just thought he could beat the clock. At his sickest, he would tell me how he wanted to give up the pills, get rid of Colonel Parker and the Memphis Mafia and concentrate on being a great actor as he always wanted. But he was a terrible procrastinator.