The day Elvis died — my story

18 Aug

 

Elvis Presley died 35 years ago on Aug. 16, 1977. It’s a day I’ll never forget.

I’d like to tell the story of that day. It involved a nearly naked lady who said she knew Elvis and pleaded with me to help her.

I rose early that morning, my first as a reporter for a suburban Philadelphia newspaper. As I shaved, I listened to the radio.  A contemporary rock station was playing an old Elvis song, which was odd, since he was pretty much a forgotten relic by then. Then there was another Presley tune, and another.

Within moments I learned from the DJ that the King had died. I thought that sad, since he had been so great and influenced so many, but I moved on. Bigger things awaited me. I was a journalist now.

No sooner had I settle into my desk than the phone rang. Pretty cool, I thought. Someone knows I’m here.

“Are you a reporter?” a woman on the line asked.

Not a good first call. From that one sentence I could tell she was drunk and high.

“Yes, I’m a reporter,” I said. “How can I help you?”

She threw a bunch of nonsense at me then said, “Please make them stop. I don’t want any of their money. I don’t want anything. Please make them stop and leave me alone.”

She sounded truly upset.

“Don’t want any of whose money?” I asked.

“Elvis’. I don’t want anything. Can you tell them that?

I was on the verge of hanging up.

“Tell who?” I asked.

“I don’t know. His lawyers. They keep threatening me,” she said.

This was all quite ridiculous but I kept talking because I had nothing else to do that morning and maybe there was a local angle to Elvis’ death. That would play well in the next day’s paper.

“Why would they threaten you?”

“They think I’m coming after their money because I had Elvis’ child. But I’m not. I don’t want the money.”

That busted the wacko meter.

“Look,” I said. “I have to go.”

She raised the level of her lethargic monotone.

“No, don’t go. You’re the only one who can help. Come visit me and I’ll tell you the whole story.”

There was more pleading, and I took her address. I told my boss what I was doing and where I was going. He laughed and looked at me with a combination of pity and loathing.

The woman’s working-class neighborhood was only a few minutes away. It had small houses but everything was neat and well-kept. Then I came upon a lawn that hadn’t been mowed for months. There were two cars up on blocks and several of the home’s shutters were hanging off the windows.

Unsurprisingly, this was the home of my caller.

I knocked on the door.

The woman who opened it looked like a zombie, with vacant eyes and blotchy skin and messy long hair. Her body, however, was magnificent. I knew that because I could see it.  All of it. She was wearing a nightgown as sheer as cellophane.

“Come in,” she said.

The immediate question to myself was: Do I stay or go?

My racing mind told me there was trouble ahead but also that this probably would never happen again for as long as I lived.

I would stay.

She pulled me in, sat me down, encircled me with vine-like arms and began kissing me with her putrid mouth.

After some difficulty, I pulled her off.

“I came here for a story,” I said, knowing there most definitely was not one. “Let’s hear your story.”

“Would you like a drink?” she said.

It was 10 a.m.

“No. Just tell me your story. Tell me about Elvis.”

And she proceeded to tell about where and how they met; the liking he took to her; how he came onto her strongly and how she yielded simply because he was Elvis.

“Do you have photos of you and him together?”

“Not really,” she said, walking over to a cabinet. “Just these, from about that time.”

They were photos of her, younger and very beautiful. She looked just like Priscilla.

“What happened since then?” I asked.

“This,” she said, turning the back of her neck to me and pulling up her hair to reveal a large surgical X. “I had an accident and an operation.”

I should have pursued this but didn’t.

“So you say you had a son with Elvis. Do you have his picture?

She did, a number of them.

In each and every one he looked just like a teen Elvis. Remarkable. It was starting to seem as if there might be some truth to all this.

As we continued to speak about the threatening calls, an uncomfortable noise came from the bedroom.

We were not alone.

Then he emerged. Zombie Number 2.

Beer can in hand, having probably digested a few Quaaludes (very popular at the time), a boy who could have been 18 or 15 shuffled out slowly like Frankenstein’s monster. His face was swollen, marked and bruised.

He never lifted his feet; he just slid them along. He looked straight ahead and not off to the side at us. But when he reached the spot where we were, he paused and ratcheted his head toward me.

“Are you the reporter?” he asked.

“Yes,” I answered.

“Well . . . I just want you to know  . . . that I’m not f—- her.”

Then he screamed and nearly cried, “But her old man thought I was and he beat the shit out of my face with a flashlight.”

Silence took over the room.

Then the boy said to me quietly, “You know . . . there’s something going on here.”

“Yes, I know,” I said.

Then, with utter contempt and a snarl he said, “You don’t know.”

Silence again.

It was broken by a knock on the door. I had been on an edgy alert the whole time but this sent me into an adrenaline-laced panic. My assumption was the woman’s husband had returned, armed this time with more than a flashlight.

I packed up my notepad and chose the window out of which I would jump.

The knocking continued. It was ignored by both boy and woman, as if it wasn’t there.

Finally, the door opened and a weak female voice was heard.

“Jimmy? Jimmy? Are you there?”

Jimmy’s mother stepped into the house. She was as frightened as I.

“Jimmy, it’s time to go. We are going now. Let’s go.”

He stayed put but she grabbed his arm and tugged and tugged and got him out the door.

I was right behind.

Back in the newsroom, I set my stuff down and planned to tell the story to my editor. Before I could, the phone rang.

“Is this Lanny, the reporter?”

“Yes,” surprised that my name was known.

“You don’t know me,” the male voice said. “I’ll admit this is kind of a strange call, but you may be the only person who can help me.”

Two in one day!

“How?” I asked.

“Listen, I’m not crazy or weird. I’m an actor in New York who is just trying to make a living. Things were going OK then all of a sudden there is this talk up here about me being Elvis’ son. Do you know anything about that?”

The weird had become bizarre.

“I might. But not much.”

Pause . . .

“Do you know my mother?” he asked.

“I think I just left her house.”

“What did she look like?”

I figured I would lie, but for some reason quickly changed my mind and asked, “Do you really want to know?”

“Yes,” he said.

So I told him, and not gently.

“Well, she was very high and she was very drunk.”

“That’s my mother,” he said.

We spoke a little longer and I took his number. I said I would call if I learned anything new.

At that point I stopped reporting and dropped the whole story. I was curious, but this wasn’t journalism. I had real work to do. I went over and told the tale to my editor, who gathered a crowd and made me tell it again. I must have told it five or six times that day, and many times after.

Of course, I never wrote a word of it for the paper, and the mystery of what really happened was never solved. I did call the police and told them what I had witnessed. They told me they knew about her. That’s how it was in those days. People knew, but not much was done.

About a week later I was leaving the newsroom to go out on a story. Normally I would leave by the rear entrance, but this day I went out the front, near the reception area. As I did, a visitor called my name.

“Lanny. Is that you?”

She was wearing clothes this time and was completely sober.

I was assaulted again by those vine-like arms and she tried to kiss me. I pulled away.

“You are gay. Aren’t you?” she said.

When I returned from my story I asked the person at the reception desk, “What was that woman doing here?”

“She placed a classified ad.”

“Can I see it?”

“Sure.”

It read:

“To the lawyers, representatives and family of Elvis Presley. I make no claims whatsoever to the estate of the deceased performer.”

***

EPILOGUE

Everything written here is true and exactly as it occurred. Had I intended this to be a fabrication I would have devised a better ending. The only untruth is the lie that this was my first day on the job. Actually, I had been a reporter for two years and possessed a master’s in journalism. I should have known better than to waste time on that crank call.

But had I acted wiser and more professionally, I would not have had this story to tell.

On the 35 anniversary of his death, may he rest in peace, Elvis Aaron Presley, and may all his children, however many there are, find happiness and success.

— Lanny Morgnanesi

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11 Responses to “The day Elvis died — my story”

  1. Pamela J Cushing Alley August 18, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

    Great story!!! I, too, remember that fateful morning! Elvis was scheduled to perform in Portland, Maine that night and several of my friends including my sister-in-law had tickets. Not such a big deal for most but when you live on an island off the coast of Maine an hour and a half ferry ride from civilization just getting tickets was a two day affair……including camping out in line for a night!! That morning as I was having coffee with my mother-in-law, Cynthia came into the kitchen crying her eyes out saying ,”he died on me, he just up and died on me.” They mourned for days…..

    Like

  2. Pat Wandling August 18, 2012 at 2:06 pm #

    Good story, Lanny. These are the stories we like to tell each other, yes? There are many of these crazy tales to tell. I am curious, however, as to why you went to the trouble of saying that was your first day on the job — and then correct it later. Veteran reporters
    look for stories everywhere and don’t turn their backs on the loonies, right? So you did the right thing. If you were a novice you might have run out the front door, or not entered, at all.
    I will be checking out your blog from now on. Don’t be mean to the R’s . . .
    We love you.

    Like

    • NotebookM by Lanny Morgnanesi August 18, 2012 at 3:01 pm #

      Pat,

      It was from Neil Simone that I stole the trick of telling a true story with one lie and then admitting it at the end. In Biloxi Blues, he has his character alone — and no other soldier — getting a free second ride from a prostitute. In the epilogue, he admits this was the one thing that didn’t actually happen. Thanks for reading.

      Like

  3. Karl Fabry August 18, 2012 at 4:31 pm #

    Fascinating story, Lanny. I am intrigued as to what ever became of the woman and the young actor in New York. Just curious; have you ever regretted not following-up with either of them?

    Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  4. Ed Kracz August 20, 2012 at 12:34 pm #

    Hi Lanny,
    Great pacing to the story. Left me wanting more, but isn’t that the trick to writing – always leave ’em wanting more. Would like to see you plug in a fictious character and write something more, a book perhaps?

    Like

    • NotebookM by Lanny Morgnanesi August 20, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

      Ed, thanks for finding the time to read. Your supporting comment is much appreciated. I’ll give it some heavy consideration. Take care.

      Like

  5. Jeff Price August 20, 2012 at 2:10 pm #

    Great story Lanny!
    In how many other professions do you have the chance to meet such colorful characters and experience such weird things? I think that’s what attracted me to journalism in the first place. Everyday brings something new and you get to meet and talk to people you otherwise might not ever have had a chance to talk to. Sometimes those people tell touching or inspiring stories, sometimes you learn just how dark the human soul can be and other times you meet people almost too strange to believe! This sounds like it was one of those latter times! But in the end, I think its those weird and wacky encounters that we really treasure so much. That’s why still work for a newspaper even though I’ve gone over to the “dark side” and become a computer geek.

    Do you still have your notes from that day and these people’s names? If you did, even 35 years later, and with the help of the Internet, you might finally be able to put all the pieces together. If not, there’s always fiction! This story has all the makings of some mystery thriller!

    Like

    • NotebookM by Lanny Morgnanesi August 20, 2012 at 10:44 pm #

      Jeff, Thanks for your reflective comments. It is so true that once you begin to look into something, the strangest things appear. No, I did not save the notes on this story and have long since forgotten the names. I do regret not having solved the mystery and would pick it up again if I could. Take care.

      Like

  6. Amy Gianficaro August 25, 2012 at 10:16 am #

    A good tale well told. I read it aloud to Phil and he asks that I tell you he is the love child of Tiny Tim and Miss Vicky. Makes me think a collection of short stories on the women who claim to have bore celebrity love children would be a good read. As a young reporter, my only story of an unwelcome on-the-job advance was set in a Bennigan’s and involved a middle aged borough manager who had too much to drink. Doesn’t have the same flair as your encounter, Lanny.

    Like

    • NotebookM by Lanny Morgnanesi August 25, 2012 at 11:53 am #

      Amy,
      Thanks for reading. You must have been in the crib when this happened. As for Phil, I suspected as much. It was great that you read this out loud. I once considered a stage reading of the story — comedy — and had worked up 20 minutes of pretty good material; had more jokes in than the narrative here, also some physical stuff and voices. It was the ending that killed me. I could never get a good ending for this. So I let it all drop. Had I not, and has I discovered how to close, my sitcom probably would be in its 10th season and nobody would even know the name Jerry Seinfeld. Take care.

      Like

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