Documentary telling how Elvis Presley transformed Las Vegas in the early 1970s and how Vegas helped to destroy him, featuring performances, home movies and rare archive footage.
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# Bright light city, gonna set my soul
# Gonna set my soul on fire... #
In the years before he opened in Las Vegas,
both Elvis and the city had sunk to a low ebb.
He, stuck in a mire of banal movies.
Vegas, recovering from decades of mob rule.
But all that would change when Elvis arrived in 1969
at the International Hotel.
There was a coolness factor, a hip factor that I think Las Vegas obtained
because of Elvis being here and changing the image of the city.
It was a marriage made in heaven.
Marrying Elvis with Vegas was the master plan of Colonel Tom Parker,
Yet their moment of triumph had the seeds of destruction.
Elvis realised he needed the Colonel.
And the Colonel was a very forthright person.
You had two very powerful personalities.
# Viva Las Vegas With your neon flashing
# And your one armed bandits... #
He loved being Elvis Presley, there's no doubt about that.
But he loved it when he was great, he loved himself, loved his music.
Loved everything that he was doing. Who could blame him?
But I think he started to dislike himself,
and lost his desire to be Elvis Presley.
# So if your baby leaves
# And you got a tale to tell
# Just take a walk down Lonely Street to
# Heartbreak Hotel... #
Elvis reinvented would become the most adored
and caricatured performer in the world.
And the story began in Vegas.
# So lonely you could die... #
# I've been travellin' over miles... #
The rocky love affair between Elvis and Vegas began 13 years earlier
when he first arrived in the city, aged 21.
It was 1956 and the Nevada sands around Las Vegas
were an open-air testing ground.
It was a city of only 50,000 people yet it was a daunting prospect
for Elvis and his band.
We were a little afraid of going in there in the first place.
We were new,
a bunch of hillbillies from Tennessee.
What do we know about Vegas?
# The autumn leaves...
# Drift by my window... #
They were 50 and 60 year old people.
They were eating their 100 steaks in the main room.
Drinking their 50 drinks and all that stuff.
They don't want to hear that racket we were making.
So I guess it turned them off.
# Blue suede shoes...
# You can do anything but get off of my blue suede shoes. #
It was his first big setback.
It didn't happen for him in the '50s in Vegas.
They were not ready for rock'n'roll.
Liberace was playing there and Elvis has pictures with Liberace,
cos he was the big one then in Vegas.
Elvis's manager learned plenty from this first false step.
Just one year earlier, he'd helped create the world's first rock'n'roll star
with a mixture of inspiration and guile.
He knew the importance of packaging.
The Colonel was good at reinventing Elvis.
I don't care what people say about him, a lot of people didn't like the old man,
but he was good at what he was doing and he took care of business.
He didn't take any prisoners.
"I'm gonna do this, I'm gonna do that. Take it or leave it"
And they had to take it cos he had the power and Elvis.
The Colonel, he was shrewd.
# Meet me tonight in dreamland... #
Parker had learned his trade in the East coast fairgrounds,
among the salesmen, card sharps and tricksters.
The Colonel learned to read people on the carnival.
You have a split second. That's all.
You don't have time
to learn to know a person
when you're a carnie.
He was able to gauge people within a few minutes of being around them.
# You ain't nothin' but a hound dog
# Cryin' all the time... #
The Colonel beamed his formidable marketing skills
at the teenage audience, who would later follow the mature Elvis
But first, to take his 23 year old rock'n'roll star
into every suburb and city across America.
Colonel turned to the power of Hollywood.
The Colonel played different studios against one another,
with the result that the 31 films Elvis made over the next decade
would be worth many millions.
To both of them.
# He lays down beats like a ton of coal
# He goes by the name of King Creole
# He's gone, gone, gone... #
Elvis's early Hollywood movies broke box office records.
Colonel was wisely approving scripts the cashed in on Elvis's rebellious rock'n'roll image.
# When the king starts to do it it's as good as done
# He holds his guitar like a Tommy gun
# He starts to growl down in his throat
# He bends that string and that's all she wrote
# He's gone, gone, gone... #
At first, the movies were great, they were fun.
Elvis looked forward to them.
# Spider Murphy played the tenor saxophone... #
Jailhouse Rock was a really good rock'n'roll movie.
Elvis had an edge to himself, tough guy type situation and picture.
# ..the purple gang Let's rock
# Everybody, let's rock
# Everybody in the whole cell block
# Was dancin' to the jailhouse rock... #
At first I didn't realise how good he was.
As we came to spend more time
working with him, we realised that he had tremendous range.
Not just in terms of the octaves but in terms of the emotional quality.
He was a beautiful singer.
# Everybody in the whole cell block
# Was dancin' to the jailhouse rock... #
Elvis's budding film career was put on hold by his call-up
for military service in Germany.
He left Colonel to develop his latest master plan,
to create Elvis the Hollywood pin-up.
Away in Germany,
Elvis absorbed a range of music,
from opera to blues.
And met teenage Priscilla, his bride-to-be.
# Ho-o-old me close, hold me tight
# Make me thrill with delight... #
After he returned from Germany in 1960,
they settled into Graceland and a home in Palm Springs.
# I want you, I need you
# I love you... #
They eventually married in Las Vegas
in a secretly-arranged ceremony at the Aladdin Hotel.
# Every time that you're near
# All my cares disappear... #
Of course, the Colonel invited the world's press to record this intimate event.
# I need you, I want you... #
To remould him as a romantic lead, not just for the tabloids,
but up on the movie screen, Colonel had already signed Elvis
for a string of money-spinning Hollywood roles
that lasted throughout the '60s.
Elvis wanted to make better movies.
But the Colonel kept telling him,
"Elvis, we're getting 1 million up front,
"50% of the picture and star billing.
"We've got an album from the picture.
"We're doing pretty dog-gone good. "
# Moo-moo here, moo-moo there
# Oink-oink here, oink-oink there... #
Elvis wanted to be an actor, do serious movies,
He didn't want to do musicals every time.
But that's what they did. Elvis riding a horse,
or singing to a cow, something like that.
That eventually got to Elvis.
You take the rebel
and you make him the boy next door.
Elvis was not the boy next door.
I think Elvis found he had a choice
to creatively walk around with a chip on his shoulder
and be angry all the time or just try to go along with the program as best he could.
# In my beach shack
# Baby, we'll be alone
# I'll make you feel at home In my little beach shack... #
I said, "Colonel, the songs are not that great."
I said, "The songs are weak songs."
He said, "Well, what do we care, George? You get me 1 million,
"you can pick the songs. We don't care."
"But Colonel, what about the big picture down the road?"
"We'll worry about that later."
And when songwriters Lieber and Stoller tried to intercede with better material for Elvis,
they got short shrift.
The Colonel said if you ever dared try to interfere
in the career of Elvis Presley, you'll never work again in Hollywood,
New York or anywhere else in the world.
That was the response.
And it was, I guess,
among other things, shortly after that we just stopped writing for Elvis.
But Hollywood offered some compensation for Elvis and his entourage.
Being with Elvis anywhere where he's making a picture
is really great cos everybody comes around, it's very exciting
and the scenery wasn't too bad either, by that I mean the young ladies out to watch Elvis.
It was my job to go and invite them back to the hotel for a party after shooting that day
if Elvis wanted to have a party.
It was probably the best you could ever get being with Elvis Presley
shooting a movie, you couldn't beat it.
I don't think I before or ever since
ever seen that much...
When I say things, it's not all women, but cars, money...
It's almost like he could walk on water, it was amazing.
You couldn't do anything wrong.
Elvis was a woman's man.
He always had women around.
But Elvis had that duality
in that perspective too.
He wanted someone at home, like Priscilla,
then he wanted to be on the road and have the flexibility
and the access to women.
That was just who he was.
But Elvis needed more than a little help from friends
to see him through a gruelling routine of all-night parties
and the tedium of fulfilling the Colonel's demands for 29 movies
in just 7 years.
Elvis was an insomniac.
When he was in the army, he had to be up every day.
He had to be physically ready to go.
And this created a problem, I think that's where it started.
It was easier if he had something to go to sleep at night.
But then he had to have something to wake up.
# Here comes Santa Claus Here comes Santa Claus
# Right down Santa Claus Lane... #
His hectic life in Hollywood made it hard for Elvis to settle into family holidays,
however idyllic they appeared,
with adoring wife and newborn child.
To counter Elvis's restlessness,
and need for a new challenge,
Colonel came up with an old-fashioned scheme
for the Christmas of '68.
Colonel Parker said to Elvis one day, "You wanna do a Christmas special.
"The good thing is, we do one, they'll play it every year at Christmas time."
See, Colonel was the business guy.
The 33 year old Elvis had never yet contradicted his manager.
But all that changed when he heard the Colonel planned to televise him
crooning family Christmas songs.
He got support from the show's director to reveal more of himself.
I think at the time I met with Elvis,
regarding his career, he was really frightened
and scared stiff of failing.
I think this whole idea
pushing him into television was real scary to him
because he thought... as he said to me, "I've been away from an audience for years,
"I've just been making all these movies."
# You lookin' for trouble?
# You came to the right place
# You lookin' for trouble?
# Just look right at my face
# I was born standin' up
# And talkin' back... #
This sultry, leather-clad image
was not at all what the Colonel had in mind.
Colonel said, "Binder, it's been called to my attention
"we don't have any Christmas songs in this show."
And I said, "Yeah."
He said, "Well, Elvis wants Christmas songs in the show.
"Isn't that right, Elvis?"
And Elvis was standing next to me and he wouldn't move a muscle.
He was standing, to me, like a child would stand,
being reprimanded by the teacher or his parents.
He sort of mumbled, "That's right, Colonel."
As we're walking down the hall, Elvis jammed me in the ribs and said,
"Screw 'em." We'd go right on with what we had planned, ignoring him, basically.
But he never confronted the Colonel and said what he felt.
The beauty of it was, it was the first time anybody had ever seen the real Elvis Presley.
I kept all that stuff in the programme, all the making fun of himself,
the movies he had made, where he kept quivering his lip.
I've got news for you, baby, I did 29 pictures like that.
But up to the moment the show aired on network TV,
Elvis was uncertain whether Binder or the Colonel was right.
We watched it air that night.
Nothing was said.
He watched it so intensely,
as if he'd never seen it before.
Leg was shaking, bottled water drinking constantly.
And a smile would go on his face a little bit. The phone would ring.
He felt like, my God, I did it.
This is gonna be a whole new Elvis again.
The show became NBC's highest-rated programme of the year.
I think the '68 special was important to Elvis
because, first of all, it proved to him that again, it wasn't
publicity that made him the superstar that he became.
But it was really because of his talent.
So he believed in himself again.
# Well since my baby left me
# I've found a new place to dwell
# It's down at the end of Lonely Street at
# Heartbreak Hotel
# I've never been so lonely, baby
# I've been so lonely
# I've been so lonely I could die... #
Elvis had triumphed on television
but during the years he had been cocooned by the Colonel in Hollywood,
the music world around him had been turned on its head.
Following the British invasion,
the group sound was in and solo artists were mostly out.
# Roll up for the mystery tour
# Roll up... #
Elvis thought maybe the days of the solo performer were over.
And he said that I was the only one, at that time,
that was doing it, so it was giving him confidence to sing live again.
He came to Vegas in '68 to watch me work.
# Show me a woman that's got a good man... #
Seeing me and hearing me sing live and moving,
with the body movements, which were similar to what Elvis had done
and was still doing.
So he wanted to see it and hear it firsthand, in Vegas.
# Oh, though it's always crowded
# You still can find some room... #
Elvis was ready for the next step - playing to a live audience.
Something he hadn't done for almost eight years.
Arriving in Las Vegas, he was still unsure,
recalling his first big failure there in '56.
He was really concerned if they were still gonna accept him here.
Colonel said, "Elvis, don't worry about it. You'll be accepted.
"I'll put it this way - everyone in this town will know you're playing here."
Colonel announced to America that Elvis would be opening
at the 2,000 seat theatre in the nearly completed International Hotel.
It was the first of a new generation of high-rise hotels
that would transform the landscape and economy of that city.
But as he didn't have a band, Elvis had to build a new style of show band
that would win over a possibly sceptical Vegas audience.
I meet Elvis for the first time, really, up close and personal
and we just immediately had a great rapport.
Just... I got to see the charisma that everybody talked about was all about.
We started playing and I just zeroed on him, just watched every little thing he did.
I tried to play with every little move.
It was like playing for a stripper.
obviously the drummer's role is to...accent the movements of the dancer.
In a way, what Elvis did was a dance too.
All of his movements were very much emphasised.
That was very much the way he expressed himself musically.
He stood right in front of me most of the time so he could not only hear
what the drums were doing but he could also feel it.
So it was like a two-way communication in that sense.
# All alone...
# And I'm missing you... #
We never lost eye contact with him
because he was so aware of
what's going on in his audience and had total control of the stage.
There was always this eye contact and we watched every move he made.
# Sail on by
# Your time has come
# To shine... #
Elvis watched everybody on stage. He knew what each one of us was doing.
He would call out your name, you'd be making a little whisper
and he'd go, "Myrna, don't do that."
And you'd go, "How did he see me?!"
It's like he had eyes in the back of his head!
He could be facing in a different direction
and he could pick up on whatever you were doing.
# I will ease your mind
# Like a bridge over troubled waters... #
He was the most focused guy I've ever worked with.
He knew every entrance of every singer, every group,
every oboe entrance, every violin entrance and if anybody slipped up,
he knew it.
The horns are answering it...
# If you need a friend... #
Right on top of friend.
Right on top of friend.
# Need... If you need... #
We learned probably 50 songs before we even opened.
Many of them were sung one time,
after many hours of rehearsal on that one song.
He would just decide, hey, I don't like this song.
And we never did the song again!
While the music was being shaped,
so were the designs for the jumpsuits that would become the most visible symbol
of the reinvention of Elvis Presley, Vegas style.
Elvis had his own perfect body concerning a stage suit.
The way he was built made a perfect V.
He went from wide shoulders down to perfect hips.
Which you can't ask for more than that when you're trying to do a sexy outfit for stage presentation
for a gentleman.
The way he used it, the way it became part of his presentation,
lighting, staging, back-up singers, it became as integral a part.
The International Hotel was gearing up for the big event.
Kill that blower!
Or blow that killer, whatever.
During 24 days of rehearsals,
Elvis surrounded himself with the Memphis Mafia,
a protective ring of hometown jokers, courtiers to keep the king amused.
James, one minute, man.
Wait a minute.
They don't tell you when to start.
They were like the disciples. I'm not comparing Elvis to Jesus,
but it was the same sort of overall premise.
We were the group around him.
We lived in our own little world that was pretty special.
Vegas liked us and we liked Vegas.
# In the morning
# When through a sleepy haze... #
The Colonel kept well away from their high-spirited jinks.
He devoted himself to a blitz of publicity the likes of which Vegas had never seen.
Audiences who had flocked to Elvis in the 1950s
would be here to see a teen idol reinvented.
Colonel Tom Parker awakened the whole town to the fact that
Elvis Presley is going to be here.
Colonel's an old carnie.
He used a lot of the carnie tricks.
Colonel even put billboards out in the neighbourhoods.
He said he wanted the employees who work at the hotels
to know that Elvis is here.
He said, "I even want the gophers out in the desert to know Elvis is here."
Though Presley was impatient to open the new theatre,
the Colonel knew better.
He encouraged Barbra Streisand to open it
and iron out the technical glitches,
so that everything was right for Elvis's wildly-anticipated star-studded opening night.
I know he's not been on stage for 10 years, everyone's waiting,
I know he's going to be a winner.
True to his name, the Colonel had planned it with military precision,
employing a stand-up comedian to encourage the 2,000 strong audience
to spend a small fortune on Blue Nun with baked lobster tails
while waiting for Elvis.
In Vegas, you had the dinner show.
Then the comic would come out and then the star.
The comic got the people that were eating.
By the time Elvis or the star came out,
they were finished eating and they were ready.
We had to go through the plates, the noise and the people.
That's what was tough about being an opening act, especially for Elvis Presley.
I walked off and Elvis was standing in the wings, white as a ghost.
I looked at him and shook his hand and said, "Elvis, they're great, they're waiting for you out there."
And his hand was wet and clammy. He was nervous, too.
2,000 seats scared him tremendously.
It was huge. I mean, would he be able to fill it?
What happens then?
There were a lot of questions that he had,
a lot of questions that he wasn't sure whether or not he was gonna...
be able to pull this off.
# You ain't nothin' but a hound dog
# Cryin' all the time
# You ain't nothin' but a hound dog
# Cryin' all the time
# Well you ain't nothin' but a...friend of mine
# You ain't nothin' but a hound dog
# Cryin' all the time
# You ain't nothin' but a hound dog
# Cryin' all the time
# Well, you ain't never...
# You ain't no friend of mine... #
His old hit from the '50s, Hound Dog, was given a whole new suit of clothes.
Elvis was an absolute master on stage.
He was a perfectionist.
Ultimately, what he wanted was the best possible product.
He wanted the fans to hear what he knew that he was capable of delivering.
# Why can't you see Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh
# What you're doing to me? Oh-oh-oh
# When you don't believe a word I'm sayin'
# We can't go on together
# With suspicious minds
# Suspicious minds... #
For many, Suspicious Minds defined the mature Vegas Presley.
# So if an old friend I know... #
And his acclaimed live shows were accompanied by another triumph.
His first number one hit for seven years.
In its slower version, recorded at the American Sound Studio,
in his hometown, Memphis.
I had heard that he had booked the studio for two weeks,
came up with about 40 songs.
So I was just trying to capture that one song.
Every time I'd go in the studio,
my publisher would say, "You know Elvis is coming?"
I said, "Yeah, I know."
Throughout the '60s, Colonel had insisted that all new songs
belong to the publishing company part-owned by Colonel and Elvis.
They didn't want anybody having anything to do with
Presley making choices about songs.
They wanted that to be a fait accompli.
That Presley only does songs published by Hill And Range.
The Colonel was looking after the golden goose and didn't want
anybody to get close enough,
especially close enough
to give Elvis a new song
that they didn't have the publishing rights locked up on.
But unlike the movie years,
when Elvis had to accept mediocre songs,
he now had the self-confidence to insist that he got only the best
and to ignore the Colonel's henchmen.
Great hits like Kentucky Rain and In The Ghetto
established Elvis as an adult artist,
in that rundown studio on the wrong side of the tracks.
# On a cold and grey Chicago morning
# A poor little baby child is born
# In the ghetto... #
These offered a new realism, far removed from the blander repertoire
of Hill And Range, as did Suspicious Minds.
HE PLAYS SUSPICIOUS MINDS INTRO
The song I was trying to capture I knew at the time had to be a mature rock song
to put him back and regain his title in rock'n'roll.
# We're caught in a trap
# I can't walk out
# Because I love you too much, baby
# Why can't you see Wo-oh-oh-oh-oh
# What you're doing to me Wo-oh-oh
# When you don't believe a word I'm sayin'? #
On stage in Vegas,
Elvis had reached his pinnacle as a live performer.
# I can't walk out
# Because I love you too much... #
Elvis did like to work in Vegas.
He liked that the lights were great, the sound was great, the room was great,
everything was under control. He didn't have to travel,
he came down, right to the show.
Colonel moved fast to cash in on Elvis's feelgood factor.
An agreement was scribbled on a tablecloth in a hotel coffee shop.
It would tie Elvis to two shows a night,
four weeks at a time,
at 100,000 a week.
It would run for a full five years.
Colonel was repeating the tactic that had gone so wrong in Hollywood.
He was tying Elvis to a long-term contract that would ultimately threaten his career.
But Colonel knew exactly how to get what he wanted.
Colonel played a part.
He played the part of an uneducated Southern person,
who really didn't know the score.
And he loved doing that.
Because that caught everyone offguard.
He never made notes.
He said, "Don't write it down, remember it."
He had an unbelievable mind.
# Well since my baby left me
# Well, I've found a new place to dwell... #
And the five year agreement suited the Colonel in more ways than one.
He had become an increasingly big spender in the hotel's casino
and now negotiated some secret and preferential terms for himself.
The Colonel was sharp. He was getting a lot of perks for himself
by Elvis playing Vegas.
All of his suites were taken care of,
he had almost a full floor for his assistants to work out of,
he could do all of his business there.
He got extra benefits as far as all the food and we all thought,
it was never proven, but everybody knew what time it was,
had a feeling that the Colonel was, he would lose all that money at the casino, he had a deal.
I think it was probably about 50 cents on the dollar.
If he lost 1 million, he only had to come up with 500,000.
My manager, Colonel Tom Parker, where is he?
Is the Colonel around anywhere?
Oh, he's out playing roulette, no kidding me, I know what he's doing.
Actually, it wasn't too bad, cos the Colonel was kind of a draw in the casino, he put on a show
while he was playing roulette.
He'd make everyone crowd around, he'd holler and have fun and all that jazz.
But I think there were some extra concessions that Elvis didn't know about
that Colonel was getting out of playing Vegas.
Whatever the intricacies of Colonel's deal,
its effect was to revitalise the whole city.
Elvis attracted a massive new influx to this oasis of gambling and entertainment in the Nevada desert.
And he brought them in from all over the world.
What has this trip meant to you?
-A chance to see America and Elvis.
-Which is more important?
He's the king.
I think that as in as much as there was some sort of symbiosis in the relationship,
vis a vis Elvis in Las Vegas,
there was also a symbiosis
between the Colonel
and Elvis. It may be true that the Colonel benefitted economically
and monetarily from a number of the deals that were cut,
but so did Elvis.
# Well that's all right, mama
# That's all right with you
# That's all right, mama
# Do it any way you do... #
Elvis was of prime importance to the hotel.
He was the first entertainer to make a profit in the show room.
Before that time, the hotels always assumed they would lose money
on the shows but make it up in the casino.
But Elvis drew big players.
And the hotel was thrilled because these people had money.
The women were thrilled. They went to two shows a night.
And the men were in the casino undisturbed. Everyone was happy.
When Elvis was in town, everything lit up.
There were girls all over the hotel.
They would come up and ask, "Can you get me up to Elvis's room?"
There was hundreds of girls all over the hotel.
Elvis did a lot for the hotel and a lot for this town.
At the time, he was the most popular entertainer.
I gave him the nickname White Boy With A Brother On The Inside!
Because he was very generous.
He would generate such a tremendous business for the whole town,
it was incredible. Incredible.
The clothes he had, the capes,
with the rhinestones on, they was real heavy.
You couldn't pick 'em up by yourself,
it took two or three people to pick 'em up.
If you let it lay in a box,
it weighs 25 - 28 pounds, 30 pounds.
So whenever I did Elvis's outfits,
I always tried to distribute everything to his chest area,
his shoulder area.
The jumpsuits, like his act, were getting heavier and more flamboyant.
One of the things I had noticed from watching him was
that he was enjoying his outfits, the audience started enjoying them
and he started playing with how to present them.
It became part of the whole act.
Mirroring the showbiz extravagance of Las Vegas,
Elvis's karate moves became a trademark of his act in the early '70s.
-What do you do for relaxation?
If you can relax doing this, I don't know.
Karate became a way of communication with people for Elvis,
that on some levels, he could not communicate directly with people
in other areas, they could share this love of karate,
the physicality and the control of emotions and intellectual power
that was associated with that.
He did transform that into a stage performance.
He largely did that because of Las Vegas.
I think that's really where he began to hone his ability
to take an audience in the palm of his hand and he did that in Las Vegas, night after night.
He learned that showmanship and first started wearing the jewels
and jumpsuits and putting on the big, powerful show
with a 30-piece orchestra.
Here in Las Vegas, we stayed at the International Hotel.
We had a beautiful suite on the top floor, the 30th floor, the only suite up there.
It overlooked the city, it was completely closed off,
Over 10,000 square feet.
We had four bedrooms up there, a kitchen, dining room,
a beautiful area with TV and it was gorgeous. It was red, beautiful colours.
We had a great time, all our parties were up there,
we even had a slot machine up there.
The press guys sent it up there cos Elvis couldn't be in the casino.
We invited a lot of beautiful ladies up there,
a lot of other celebrities that came to see the show,
we invited them after for a party. A lot of singing up there.
# Lord, just open my eyes
# That I may see... #
We'd be up all night
and he'd bring the vocal group up with the electric piano.
We'd be singing all night, gospel music.
So he did live by night, but then again, so did I.
Still do, actually.
But Elvis liked his own world.
It was great, we'd be there till 6, 7am.
Sun was coming up... OK, guys, time to go to bed!
We were like vampires.
It was a lot of fun. Every night was a party.
Between these months of nocturnal hibernation,
the King was trapped on a treadmill of 150 shows a year,
escaping the increasing hysteria of the crowds,
and shielded from reality by his Memphis Mafia.
We were out playing medium-sized markets all over the US.
Over and over and over again.
I just don't think that was wise planning
from an artistic standpoint.
With all the Colonel's strength,
I don't think he really understood the artistic temperament
that Elvis did have underneath all the other facets of his personality.
Some of the guys were concerned about Elvis's health and wellbeing.
When I would ask the Colonel, "We need to take Elvis to Europe,
"they're crying for him in England." He would sell out, crazy like.
He said, "George, the venues are not big enough over there."
So that was the cockamamie reason he gave everybody.
The other reason came out
and it came out in later years was that Colonel Parker was not an American citizen.
Unknown to Elvis,
his manager's real name wasn't Parker.
Nor was he a colonel.
He was Dries Van Kuijk, an illegal immigrant from Holland,
who therefore couldn't leave America.
There's so many places that I haven't been yet.
I'd like to go to Europe, I'd like to go to Japan.
I've never been out this country except in the Service.
Yeah, I'd love to go there.
I think Elvis was becoming a little bit bored.
Doing the shows in Vegas, going on the road,
same cities, criss-crossing America,
because the Colonel didn't want Elvis getting out of his control.
# Are you lonesome... #
Elvis and his entourage staved off boredom with a flotilla
We were a bunch of bad boys, for all those years, while we were all married.
Our wives were married and we were single.
The Vegas bachelors were living high.
But their marriages were heading for the rocks.
Temptation sometimes overrides loyalty to a spouse.
Elvis probably should never have married.
He belonged to women.
But there's no doubt in my mind that he loved Priscilla very, very much
and she adored him.
He travelled a lot. I had other needs. I was with my daughter,
every day and... I did, I grew apart.
I couldn't live like that anymore.
There were things I wasn't going to put up with,
Even though I knew, I didn't say a lot.
When Priscilla finally realised that she had to have her own life
and she told Elvis about it in Vegas,
he was devastated.
He was furious.
One of the times where we all went through hell.
It definitely hurt him very much.
He couldn't believe his wife was divorcing him.
She was going to be on her own with his daughter.
That bothered him tremendously. It was tough
but he kept all that inside himself.
To give some structure to these bottled-up emotions and the chaos of his life,
Elvis had been searching for control mechanisms.
Guns and badges offered one answer.
In 1970, he'd gone to Washington to collect the Federal Agent's badge
from a bewildered President Nixon.
It would allow Elvis to carry a gun anywhere he desired.
Elvis loved guns.
The first time that I actually saw
the gun with Elvis is when he came into my dressing room
backstage and he was singing to me in the shower.
I was washing my hair and I heard Elvis Presley's voice and I thought,
I'm going nuts, I can hear Elvis in the shower.
But when I opened my eyes, he was actually over the shower door
singing this song to me.
When I came out of the shower and he'd left,
I noticed that he'd used the toilet.
Because he had left his gun on the back of the toilet.
You know, it was a silver-plated Colt 45.
One night at the Las Vegas Hilton, the 30th floor,
Robert Goulet came on television and I really don't know what it was about Robert Goulet,
I don't think it was him, maybe Elvis was just in a bad mood,
but he came on television and Elvis was sitting there...
# I am what I am
# I am my own special creation. #
And he picked up a 45 and pulled a round into it and shot the television.
Elvis had a fascination for law enforcement,
guns, badges, authority,
power, you know.
It was like a carry-over from the time he was a little boy, maybe,
and played cops and robbers.
Not long after separating from Priscilla,
Elvis met the former Miss Tennessee, who would spend the next four years with him, on and off.
He needed a lot of attention,
he needed a lot of care...
physically and emotionally and he was, at times, he was like my baby,
at other times he was like my brother, other times he was my lover
and sometimes he was my friend.
He would be watching television and say, "Honey, would you turn it up, please?"
OK, I guess your legs are broken!
He had a raucous, irreverent sense of humour.
He loved his movies and Monty Python, we were both huge fans of Monty Python.
God, if they don't stop, I'll kill myself.
I swear I will.
All right, that's it.
His sense of humour and fun had not deserted him.
Nor had his generosity, as he bought gifts of cars and houses
for friends and strangers alike.
Elvis was so incredibly generous that we called him everything from crazy
to Santa Claus to a fallen angel, I mean, he was astonishingly generous.
He could come in on a Tuesday and say, "Honey, look what I found for you",
and it would be a five carat blue diamond.
"What is this for?"
"Well, it's Tuesday, here. It's beautiful and you're beautiful and you should have it."
He was really like having a Prince Charming in your life.
He was always a big kid.
He always bought things for people and friends and bought whatever he wanted.
He bought it for himself cos he could never do that when he was a kid.
He made up for it on his own, later on.
Elvis's childhood needs, his love of his mother,
memories of his stillborn brother,
haunted his downtime.
The very first night I was with Elvis, he said to me,
"If we had the money, I wouldn't have been born at home.
"Maybe my twin brother would have been born alive and not dead.
"We couldn't afford doctors."
So Elvis, psychologically, from very...from very young,
believed in doctors.
Pain, anxiety, pain, fatigue.
Pain, pain, pain...
There used to be a commercial on TV
that goes, better living through chemistry.
Elvis used to say, "Better living through chemistry."
Depression, tension, anxiety...
He basically was not a drugger but some irresponsible doctor
introduced him to high pain medication
and that was the downfall, physically.
The effects of Elvis's increasing dependence on medication
became more visible in Vegas,
at the hotel now renamed the Hilton.
Colonel Parker was becoming anxious about the rambling monologues
as Elvis battled his demons on stage.
Ladies and gentlemen...
The night that Elvis was on stage and made very derogatory remarks
about the Hilton hotel officials, I was in the audience,
sitting next to Colonel in a booth.
When Elvis started, Colonel turned to me and said,
"I wish I could just disappear under this table.
"I've never been so embarrassed in my life."
The next song is dedicated to the hierarchy of staff of the Hilton hotel.
# I'm the king of the jungle They call me tiger man
# I'm the king of the jungle They call me tiger man... #
When he comes off stage,
Colonel Parker, he attacks Elvis with words,
and says, "Elvis, they pay us to perform here.
"It's not our thing to tell them how to handle their business
"and their people. They don't tell us how to handle our business."
They get in a tremendous argument.
Arguing to the fact Elvis throws out the words, "You're fired, then."
He quit, Elvis fired him.
I mean, they had a terrible clash.
I'm sure the whole hotel heard what was being said.
And, as a consequence,
Colonel came downstairs, it was about 3am and he said to me,
"Come in the office, I have dictation."
And he spent the next couple hours dictating the terms under which he was leaving.
I typed them.
Colonel presents the bill late that evening,
"I'm finished, I'm outta here. We're packing up, but you owe me..."
I don't know, like 1 or 2 million.
It was Elvis's nature, he hated confrontations.
He didn't like to get in arguments or heavy confrontations.
Number two was, Elvis was loyal.
So, they sort of kissed and made up.
Elvis's loyalty to the manager who had made him a star back in '56
led to a plague of problems.
Not just in Vegas but in the recording studios where Presley searched for new hits.
And you could hear it in the lyrics.
# I see a change
# Has come into our lives
# It's not the same as it used to be
# And it's not too late
# To realise our mistake
# We're just not right for each other... #
Elvis was a brilliant producer in the studio.
He knew how he wanted his music presented, more so than anybody.
But sales were plummeting.
The reason was obvious to those around him.
The best composers were once again kept at arm's length from Elvis's sessions.
It was like the '60s with the Colonel all over again.
I see the men from the publishing company, with a guy up against the wall,
saying, "You were hired to play guitar, not to pitch songs and if you ever pitch a song again,
"you will never do another Elvis Presley session."
And the Colonel interfered in even more obvious ways,
cutting deep into Elvis's increasingly fragile self-confidence.
I think the Colonel had gone into the studio
after certain things were mixed and we know
on the Madison Square Garden live album
he sped the tracks up.
It sped up the tracks, sped up Elvis's voice,
but you got one more song for publishing's sake...
It made him sound like Mickey Mouse, almost.
The tempos were just freakily fast.
FAST VERSION OF ALL SHOOK UP PLAYS
So, I think there was a lot of frustration there and he didn't really know how to deal with that.
Colonel also messed with the mixes.
I heard Colonel talking to New York and RCA,
saying, "We can't even hear Elvis with all that background stuff."
And, "You need to turn that stuff down." I heard that with my own ears.
I think the Colonel was saying that people are paying to hear Elvis Presley sing.
And all the other stuff is getting in the way of that.
The band and the singers and everything.
When people fool with artists' work, they wind up killing the artist.
I lost my friend mainly because of creative disappointments.
I think those caused the other problems.
Elvis's shows now fluctuated from the sublime
to the chaotic.
Later on in his life, when he was having some problems with prescription medication,
he could come out on stage and he could forget lyrics to a song,
he could seem disoriented and the audience was oblivious to it.
I hear rumours flying around, I got sick in hospital.
In this day and time, you can't even get sick.
You are strung out.
By God, I'll tell you something, friend, I've never been strung out,
in my life, except on music.
Living by night on the Hilton's 30th floor,
Elvis became increasingly isolated
and in need of help.
I think the first time I realised that Elvis was taking medication
I was in Las Vegas with him and it was in the first couple of weeks
that I was there.
I remember one night looking down at his nightstand
and I saw all these prescription bottles and I said,
"Are you sick?" He said, "Why do you ask, honey?"
"Well, these are all prescription bottles."
He said, "No, I had a little sore throat" or "I've gotta keep my throat good for performing."
For many years, Elvis was in denial.
No question 'bout it.
He became dependent on people to take care of things for him.
He became dependent in many ways, just like he did with the medications
that five different doctors, who are not in touch with one another,
were giving him.
And he became addicted to them.
Elvis's health was declining,
often in clinics and hotel bedrooms.
The Colonel started to interfere.
Lo and behold, there's Colonel Parker and I walked him to the door,
he opens it up,
and what I saw was Elvis's...
body being dunked into a bucket of ice water
by the doctor. Elvis was like this.
And the door closed.
60 seconds later, the door opened, the Colonel walked out,
he stood with me, toe to toe,
stared in my eyes and said, "Now, you listen to me.
"The only thing that's important
"is that that man is on the stage tonight.
"You hear me? Nothing else matters.
# Gather round me, buddy
# Raise your glasses high... #
While Elvis struggled with his demons,
so increasingly did the Colonel,
throwing away huge sums of money in the Hilton casino.
This was what Colonel said.
"When I'm playing, I forget everything,
"except what I'm doing.
"I have no aches or pains.
"I have no stress over the business.
"I am focused on the gambling."
He played roulette and would put chips on every number.
In a period of 1.5 hours,
-he lost over 1,250,000.
And Elvis believed that toward the end,
the reason he was playing the hotels was to pay off the Colonel's debts.
Elvis had felt indebted to his manager for 20 years now.
And the lyrics of Walk A Mile In My Shoes
seemed to echo the low point their relationship had reached
# If I could be you
# If you could be me
# For just one hour
# If we could find a way
# To get inside
# Each other's minds
# If you could see you
# Through my eyes
# Instead of your ego
# I believe you'd be, I believe you'd be, surprised to see
# That you've been blind
# Walk a mile in my shoes
# Walk a mile in my shoes
# Yeah, before you abuse
# Criticise and accuse
# Just walk a mile in my shoes... #
Elvis was becoming increasingly remote from the manager and the city
he had once loved.
Here we're talking about Las Vegas and money,
the very epitome of materialism.
Here's Elvis Presley, upstairs, after his show,
Before his show, saying a prayer.
Reading spiritual books of depth and substance.
The contrast was amazing.
He definitely believed that he was blessed by God.
It wasn't just an accident, he felt he'd been picked out.
But he used to question it.
# Sweet spirit
# In this place
# And I know
# That it's the spirit... #
I would sit in his dressing room when I'd go see him
and he'd be there fidgeting.
Waiting for his second show.
He felt he should have stayed in the church and not become an entertainer.
Elvis would wear, on almost every occasion, three necklaces.
He would wear the Christian crucifix, the cross,
he would wear the Egyptian ankh and he would wear a Jewish star.
And he would tell me, he said, "I don't want to miss out on heaven on a technicality."
# I see my light I see my light come shining
# From the West down to the East... #
Elvis never returned to Las Vegas after the winter of '76.
He would die in Graceland six months later, aged 42.
# I shall be released
I think we could really say that Elvis and the Colonel revitalised Las Vegas.
They brought in people from all over the world.
And not only the International Hotel benefitted,
but every hotel in Las Vegas.
I think he had this wonderful opportunity where the city
really needed a pick me up, somebody to come in and shake up the entertainment scene
and make it cool again for name entertainers to appear in Las Vegas.
So he brought that to the table but Vegas brought to the table the opportunity
for Elvis to showcase himself.
So I think it was a marriage made in heaven.
After 837 shows,
the Hilton's curtains finally closed on an exhausted Elvis
who had given his all for the love and loyalty of his audience.
Subtitles by Claire Brown Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
The untold story of how Elvis Presley transformed Las Vegas, but how the same city helped to destroy him.
In 1969, Elvis was at the peak of his powers with a stage show at the Hilton and recordings that crowned him the most famous entertainer in the world. However, beneath the surface his own demons - and the schemes of his celebrity manager, Colonel Tom Parker - were taking their toll.
Based in 1970s Vegas and featuring some of Elvis's finest performances, home movies and rare archive footage, the documentary reveals a bizarre tale of intrigue and excess, recounted by those closest to him. It shows how the Vegas experience impacted on Elvis's spectacular shows, his chart-topping recordings, his volatile relationship with Parker and his unusual private life - all set against the glamorous backdrop of a 'Sin City' that would never be the same again.
Featuring interviews with Priscilla Presley, Colonel Parker's wife Loanne, the Memphis Mafia, Tom Jones, Nancy Sinatra, songwriters Leiber and Stoller and many more.