Long Live The King
Twenty-five years after his death, the King's ethereal presence is still swiveling its royal hips. In many ways, Elvis Presley is just as alive today as he was back in the day (no, not literally, conspiracy theorists). Consider the inescapable (and oft poorly imitated) "Thank you, Thank you very much," millions of Elvis sightings, trillions of velvet Elvi and hordes of impersonators that can be found in any sizable city in any state in the country. The phenomena shocks even Dave Hebler, Elvis' former bodyguard and martial artist who experienced His Eminence firsthand.
"I'm just absolutely astounded that 25 years have gone by," says Hebler, who now owns a karate studio in Hillsboro, Ore. "Elvis touched a chord in people when he was alive and that chord is still ringing 25 years later. Absolutely unbelievable."
Hebler is a wealth of knowledge about the King, some of which he's willing to share, and reams of behind-the-scenes debauchery that he prefers to internalize. Co-author of "Elvis, What Happened?" a best-selling book about his and two other body guards' experiences with Elvis, Hebler was on the road with The King until a year before he died. He fondly remembers the first time they met in 1972 at a karate studio in Santa Monica, Calif.
"We were all working out, having a good time and noticed there was a commotion at the door. When I looked up, in walked Elvis Presley," Hebler recalls. "He ended up out on the mats with us, and I ended up being his partner, or in our terminology, his dummy. The dummy is the person who initiates the attack and you perform whatever technique you're going to perform on him, and he just kind of stands there. I guess he kinda liked beating on me so he came out to my studio a couple days later and invited me to be one of the Memphis Mafia boys, go on tour and go off into Never Never Land."
Thus began his journey, which ended in 1976 -- a year before the King died -- for reasons that are still a mystery to Hebler. But his memories of The King revolve around all of the good times and laughs they shared. And the lessons that he's learned.
Right now Hebler is preparing for a trip out to the Elvis-A-Rama museum in Las Vegas, Nev., (a kind of Graceland of the West) where Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman will proclaim "Elvis Presley Day," patrons will each Elvis cake, watch Elvis impersonators and embark on an Elvis candlelight vigil. He took a few minutes to say what he's gleaned from his years with Elvis.
On Elvis and drugs:
"Nobody can beat drugs, I don't care who you are. When you've got drugs hammering your system, of course you're not in control. You may think you are, but you're not. It was a shame, too. I've got to tell you something: When Elvis was straight he was the greatest guy I've ever met in my life. He was warm and friendly and funny. He was hilarious."
On Elvis impersonators:
"I don't like the ones who think they're Elvis. They kind of piss me off. But the ones who admire Elvis, they're generally doing it from a tribute perspective, I pretty much like them. But at the same time, I feel a little bit sorry for them, because their chosen profession is to imitate someone else, and that means they can never win. As long as you're imitating someone else, you'll never come in first. Still, for someone to get up and be an Elvis imitator he has to really work hard, put out a tremendous amount of effort for an extended period of time, you've got to kind of admire that. It's like going into a gym and seeing people in the gym who are fat and out of shape? You've got to admire them because they're in there and they're doing it. From that perspective I don't have a problem with any Elvis impersonator."
On the possibility of Elvis living:
"People who believe that Elvis lives try to give me facts and it's always something obscure. 'There was an orange that fell out the tree in Ft. Lauderdale and when the folks picked it up it has Elvis' face on it and that proves he's still alive.' I tell them I keep him in my closet and feed him peanut butter and banana sandwiches fried in butter. They're absolutely right. No, what can you say to them? 'You're stupid,' 'You're dumb,' 'You're crazy'? They're convinced for whatever reason you're not going to change their mind. It's pointless to argue, and I don't like arguing. Believe in whatever you want."
And on the richness of Elvis' life:
"People say to me all the time 'It's such a shame that Elvis died so young.' Well let me tell you something: Elvis Presley actually achieved the one thing that you, and I and everybody else on the face of this planet try to achieve. He was able to live life on his own terms. He did everything he wanted to do, he went everywhere he wanted to go, he met anyone he wanted to meet. He literally did everything he wanted. I don't know how many people can say that. His life may have ended prematurely, but by God, what a life. What impressed me more than anything else is how enormously powerful he was. No one ever said no to Elvis Presley."
Kate Silver is a staff writer for Las Vegas Weekly, where this article originally appeared.