Larry Geller’s Blog2

Yesterday Shira and I drove along the switchback road that climbs through the magnificent northern Arizona scenery from our home in Sedona up to Flagstaff. When we got there we drove for a while on the historic old Route 66 – the route that I traveled between Memphis and Hollywood over a dozen times with Elvis back in the day.

A flood of memories.  Passing by motels where we stayed, now old and rundown – we were even snowed in once for several days.  Driving alongside the railroad tracks.  All those memories receded into the background when I thought of the life-changing experience Elvis had a few miles further along Route 66. I wrote some of this in my book “Leaves of Elvis’ Garden;” here’s more…enjoy.

One spring day in 1965 Elvis and I were upstairs at Graceland getting ready to leave for L.A. to begin production on his next movie.

“Man, I really don’t want to go back to that town,“ Elvis said wearily. “I don’t wanna do another one of those damn films they keep giving me. I wish I could stay here and relax – just read my books and go to the movies, far away from all that craziness.”

His anger and frustration were tempered with resignation. We both knew Elvis had no choice about going to Los Angeles. As usual he had procrastinated, concocting excuses to stay longer in Memphis than we should have stayed, so that by the time we finally hit the road our schedule didn’t allow for stops along the way for anything but gas and fast food.

We drove on through the Arizona desert in silence. Elvis was at the wheel, I was sitting shotgun as his Dodge motor home wound its way along old Route 66. Jerry Schilling, Red West and Billy Smith were sitting at the table behind us talking.

The distant mountains loomed in the fading light. An iridescent blue sky seemed to drape itself over the sacred mountains of the Hopi Indians.

And then it happened. Just before twilight, as we began climbing the mountain roads heading up to Flagstaff, suddenly Elvis gasped and cried out “Whoa” as he sat straight up, tightening his grip on the wheel. I followed his gaze to a solitary white mass suspended in the sky. From the cloud emerged a clear, definitive, recognizable image.

“Do you see what I see?” Elvis asked in a whisper. I looked again. “That looks like Joseph Stalin’s face up there.”  Try as I might to see it any other way, there was no denying that it was Stalin’s face in the cloud.

Before I could answer, the cloud slowly turned in on itself, changing form and dimension until the image faded and gradually disappeared. I turned back to Elvis, still staring into the cloud, his eyes open wide and his face reflecting wonder.

Trying to describe and interpret the essence and meaning of an experience so utterly intimate and mystical, whose inviolable secret was revealed only to Elvis, remains virtually impossible.  But I’ll do my best to convey what happened next.

With one twist of the wheel Elvis quickly swung the vehicle over to the side of the road and brought it to a screeching halt. I’ll never forget that radiant and faraway look in his crystal clear blue eyes as he said in a breaking voice, “Just follow me, Larry!”  He bolted out the door. When I caught up with him we stood for a moment silently in the evening desert breeze. Suddenly Elvis began laughing and crying simultaneously.  Shaken to his very core, he explained that he was mesmerized by that face of Stalin, and couldn’t understand the reason why it appeared. Its image deeply repulsed him, representing everything that he detested.

In a twinkling of an eye that afternoon in the desert something snapped within Elvis – and something else was born, enkindled forever. This indelible moment in time served him from then on as a calendar, a psychic landmark in his search for enlightenment. The event was also a marker for when he embraced his quest for a greater understanding to questions that burned in his belly since childhood. Questions about his stillborn twin brother, religion, the soul, his unparalleled career – his ultimate purpose.

For what seemed like an infinity Elvis and I stood silently, the earth reflecting the blue-tinged twilight. Cars were whizzing by on the highway, too far away to recognize one of the two lone figures standing in the desert as the greatest star in the world. If they only knew what was happening here!

Elvis looked at me with a self-conscious grin. “Can you imagine what the fans would think if they saw me like this?”  “Elvis, they’d only love you more.” “Yeah? Well, I hope that’s true.”

Once back on the bus, Elvis was too exhilarated and distracted to drive and asked Red to take the wheel. He acted as if nothing unusual had occurred; Red nodded but kept staring. As if reading Red’s mind, Elvis added, “And don’t worry about me. I’ve never been better, that’s for sure.”

Elvis motioned for me to follow him to the bedroom in the back of the vehicle, where we sat for a while in silence. Then as night fell we began talking about what had just occurred, as we travelled on Route 66 through Flagstaff. Elvis looked at me seriously. “You know Larry, I don’t believe in God anymore.” After a long pause he began laughing, “I don’t have to believe, because now I know!  God is real, God lives in me, in you and everyone else. God is real, God is love itself. And until you have a direct experience for yourself, the only thing you can do is use your head, think about God, read about it, believe that God exists. Hey, I think that’s what everyone is looking for, an actual, direct experience. Talking about seeing the light, that’s what really happened out there. I saw the light, it shot through me into every atom of my body.”  Elvis was so elated he couldn’t stop describing the experience, what it meant to him and many other ramifications theologically and personally.

Eventually, we both nodded off – we were abruptly awakened several hours later by shouts of “We’re on fire! We’re on fire!”

We snapped to, and Red quickly pulled over to the shoulder of the road and stopped.  Jerry Schilling, Red West, Billy Smith, Elvis and I jumped out to see what was happening. The back axles and the undercarriage were aflame.  All of us immediately scooped up sand and gravel from the desert with our bare hands and managed to extinguish the fire. The vehicle was a total wreck and wouldn’t start.  Luckily, we were only a few miles outside of Needles, California, in the Mohave Desert.  The five of us pushed the RV into town, where we checked into a motel.  “Let’s just get some vehicles, Larry, and go home,” Elvis said wearily.  “Go hire some cars.  Here’s my wallet.”

His wallet was crammed with an assortment of credit cards, but no cash; Elvis never carried cash.  I started walking in search of a car rental agency.  It was eight or so in the morning, I hadn’t slept and I needed a shower and shave. I must have looked pretty disreputable, an assessment confirmed by the wary look on the face of the man behind the counter.  “Yes sir, I’d like to rent two cars.  I’m with Elvis Presley.  He’s down the road at a motel.”  Thinking it would help, I handed him the wallet.  Flipping through the cards, he asked, “What are you telling me? Elvis Presley?”   “Yeah,” I answered.  Flinging the wallet at me, he screamed, “Get the hell outta here!”

As I retreated and headed back to the motel, it occurred to me that the easiest way to get from Needles to Los Angeles would be by cab.  When I got back to the room I phoned a local taxi service, and the people there were only too happy to help.  Within minutes, two cabs were at the motel, and we were ready to go.

We loaded all of the luggage into one cab, then Jerry, Red, Billy, Elvis and I crawled wearily into the second.   As we rode down the highway, our young driver couldn’t stop turning his head around every few minutes to stare at Elvis, or look at him in the rear view mirror.  That was understandable, but when he hit a cruising speed of ninety miles an hour and still couldn’t keep his eyes off Elvis, I yelled, “Hey, man, slow down!  You’re going to kill us.  Yes, this is Elvis Presley.  Just calm down or I’ll have to take the wheel.”

All the way back our driver was visibly nervous. When we arrived in Bel Air about four hours later, the other guys who’d lost us on the road during the drive were lined up in front of the house, waiting.

While everyone was dealing with the luggage Elvis asked me how much the fare was.  I told him a hundred and sixty dollars for both cabs.  He then asked how much cash I had on me.  I checked my wallet. “Little over five hundred bucks.”

Elvis said, “Hey, these guys probably never even leave Needles, and they sure don’t get customers like us every day.  They work hard, and could probably use a break.  Just give ‘em what you have there, I’ll pay you back later.”

In a nutshell, that’s a window into Elvis’ heart and soul. After all he’d been through, a life-altering experience, he always kept his feet on the ground – and thought about others.

I may not have told this story much over the years – but I bet those two cab drivers have told it over and over to anyone who would listen. And if they’re still alive, and by some fluke should ever – which is most unlikely – happen to read this, they’ll now have the real back story.

Larry Geller’s Blog1

He was one of his dearest and most trusted friends and, in many ways, his spiritual mentor. It was pretty much that way from the moment they met in 1964. One of LA’s premier celebrity hairstylists in the 1960’s, working with the famed Jay Sebring, their clientele read like a Hollywood Who’s Who, with such luminaries as Frank Sinatra, Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, Peter Sellers, Steve McQueen, Henry Fonda, Peter Fonda, Robert Wagner, James Garner, Bobby Darin, Sammy David, Jr., Rock Hudson, Roy Orbison, Sam Cooke, Kirk Douglas, Tony Bennett, Jackie Gleason and many, many more.

After styling Elvis’ hair for the first time, instead of rushing off to his next famous client, Larry stayed for three hours as he and Elvis talked about everything from show biz to the nature of life. Larry didn’t realize then how much this day would change two lives – his and Elvis’ – forever.

By the end of the conversation, Larry was no longer just a hairstylist; he and Elvis had begun a close friendship that did not end the day he prepared Elvis’ hair for the funeral in 1977


One afternoon at Graceland in 1966, during a hiatus from making movies, I went upstairs as I always did, to take care of Elvis’ hair and talk. I knocked on his bedroom door and he invited me in. Elvis was sitting on the edge of his bed, and from the expression on his face and his body language, I knew immediately something was up.

I asked him if there was something wrong – he handed me a movie magazine. Its bold headline read, “Elvis still in deep grief over his mother’s death,” placed over a teary-eyed Elvis, a picture actually taken from one of his films.

Elvis was visibly upset, shaking his head from side to side. “Can you believe this? Hey, a lot of reporters do their best to do their job and report accurately; I respect that. But a few of them downright lie and just play on people’s emotions. Anything for a buck I guess.”

Elvis then asked me to read aloud the story itself. I’m paraphrasing here, but the gist of the article went like this. ‘Elvis’ family and friends are extremely worried about Elvis. He’s deeply grieving over his mother’s death, and he feels desperate without her. They hear him pacing the floors in the wee hours of the morning, lamenting and weeping over her passing. One insider is worried that he’s so distraught he might want to join her.’

“Grieve! Larry, I hope you never have to go through and grieve like I did. But listen, that was 1958, it was eight years ago. Don’t get me wrong; you can never really get over something like that completely, but I’ve come to terms with her death.

“Man, you can’t believe what I was goin’ through back then. I mean everything was just crashing in on me at once, every dream I ever had. Just when everything was going my way, the Army calls me. My career comes to a screeching halt; all the movies I was starring in, my records, TV, everything. To tell you the truth, I actually considered that maybe, maybe nobody would even remember me after I served my time, that I’d be some kind of flash-in-the-pan. You know, people would say, ‘hey, remember that guy, the one that used to shake his body, what’s his name?’

“Then the first thing they do when I’m inducted is buzz my hair off!” Elvis shook his head incredulously. “Can you imagine that, Larry, my hair? And that picture of me with that silly-ass grin on my face – damn man, I was dying inside. Then, when I’m struggling to deal with everything, then the final blow, my mom suddenly dies! My Mom! My mom was the light of my life, my best friend; I mean, she’s the one I could always go to…man, no matter what. About the only one I really trusted. That’s a blow you can never really get over.

“An’ that’s when my real grieving began. Hey, I bought Graceland for my mom and dad. I bought the pink Cadillac for my mom, an’ jewelry, furs an’ whatever I could, just to make everything up to her for all she had to go through her life…make her happy. Cause she knew what pain, poverty and strugglin’ was all about, she lived through it.

“Grieve? Just put yourself in my shoes. I mean my mom, my career, everything, overnight, just like that. Then they send me half around the world to Germany. I’ll tell ya, I wasn’t sure what the future had in store for me. I’d lay there at night in the dark and say ‘Why me, why me Lord?’ I’ve always believed in God, that’s the way I was raised. An’ I’ll tell you, there were times when I really began to wonder.

“And I’ll tell you this Larry; I didn’t have to go into the army the way all the other guys did. They told me that if I wanted to I could be in a Special Services unit; you know, represent the army and tour the other bases around the world, talk to the guys, maybe entertain and sing. I didn’t even have to think about it. I flat turned their offer down. I didn’t want to be treated special or anything like that; I just wanted to let everyone know that I was just like every other guy.

“So I’d just lay there on my cot, and held everything inside. I couldn’t let the guys see my grieving.”

Elvis became very quiet, lost in his memories. “You know me, Lawrence. I’ve always had an inquisitive mind; I want to know what’s behind everything. I can remember when I was a little kid, I would always be askin’ my mom about my twin brother Jesse, you know, why he never had a chance to life. I can still hear her voice telling me just like it was yesterday, “Honey, God took your little brother back home to heaven ‘cause it was part of his plan. He has a plan for everybody: for your daddy, for me…and for you too, Elvis. Someday I’ll be goin’ back home, and someday Daddy’s gonna go home. And even someday – a long, long time from now – God’s gonna bring you home, too. An’ then we’ll all be together again, all of us back home in heaven.’”

Elvis looked at me intently. He leaned forward and with conviction in his voice, said, “And that’s exactly what I believe Lawrence; we’re all going home…someday.”