Near the end of Elvis Presley’s life, his dependency on drugs was showing. Nowhere is it more evident that in a taped recording of a 1974 performance in Las Vegas. Investigative reporter George Knapp spoke with some who knew the rock legend and his struggles. Aired on May 23, 2000, on KLAS TV in Las Vegas.
Toward the end of Elvis Presley’s life, even the most diehard fans realized something was very wrong. By then, many sordid secrets had been revealed in a book by his former friends, the so-called Memphis Mafia.
Elvis Presley: “I’m gonna actually play the guitar. I know three chords believe it or not. I faked ‘em all for a long time.”
But three years earlier, when Elvis was riding high in Las Vegas, few people outside his immediate circle knew of his personal demons. A bootleg recording of a September 1974 performance at the Las Vegas Hilton was found for sale on the Internet by longtime Elvis fan Jeff Taylor.
“I knew the tape existed for years,” Taylor said. “I was floored that he would do that in front of an audience. Elvis was always so private.”
But not on this night.
For one thing, Presley spoke head-on about rumors that had been floating around the Hilton concerning his drug use.
On the tape, Presley says, “I hear rumors flying around. I got sick in the hospital. Where I was, you know, in this day and time, you can’t even get sick. You are strung out.”
His voice raises as he says, “By God, I’ll tell you something friend, I have never been strung out in my life except on music. If I find or hear the individual that has said that about me, I’m going to break your g**d***** neck you son of a b****. That is dangerous. I will pull your g**d***** tongue out by the roots.”
In other parts of the tape. Elvis openly discussed his divorce, made jokes about his ex-wife’s new boyfriend, blasted the media and chided comedian Bill Cosby for walking out of the showroom.
“That son of a b**** left,” Presley says. “Well the hell with it, I won’t pay him anyway. No, he gets 10 grand. I give him that whether he likes it or not and stick it up his nose.”
As members of the singing group the Jordanaires, Gordon Stoker and Ray Walker toured with Elvis for more than a decade. Both say what we hear on the tape is perfectly understandable.
“The thing that people don’t know is that he was working to pay the Colonel’s gambling debts,” Stoker said. “They forced him to work.”
“What you saw on those clips is living proof that he had a gentle heart and couldn’t cope with a meanness in his life,” Walker said.
Neither seemed surprised Presley was under the influence. Both think he had a way to rationalize it.
Stoker said, “He was on prescribed pills. And Elvis thought as long as he was taking prescribed pills, they were OK.”
“Or he could get by with it,” Walker added.
“It’s my personal belief that I think Elvis committed suicide,” said Chris Davidson, owner of the Elvis-A-Rama Museum in Las Vegas. “He may not have said today’s the day, the day that he died, but he was certainly really unhappy the last two years of his life.”
Davidson’s museum contains a $3 million collection of Presley memorabilia, including cars, clothes and every recording Elvis ever made. He questions how the Jordanaires could talk about Elvis’ drug use since they stopped touring with him years before the troubles began. Like many fans, Davidson is both saddened and fascinated by the lost Elvis tape.
“Anything that is honest about him or truthful, I find it interesting. He lived three lifetimes in 42 years. He did more than any human being could ever expect to do. So, he was spent, he was burned out and he was ready to go,” Davidson said.