Thursday, 16 June 2011

Larry King Interviews Joe Esposito -

Joe Esposito first met Elvis Presley in the Army in 1958 and began working for him soon after they were both released from the service in 1960 until literally the day he died seventeen years later. Joe was Elvis Presley's right hand man and head of the Memphis Mafia.

Larry King: How did you meet Elvis?Joe Esposito: I met him in Germany. I was in the Army with him.

Larry King: You didn't meet him at Fort Hood?

Joe Esposito: No. Saw him around; never met him, though.

Larry King: Did basic training there.

Joe Esposito: Yes, basic training.

Larry King: He was the most famous soldier in the Army, right?

Joe Esposito: Absolutely.

Larry King: So how did you meet in Germany?

Joe Esposito: Well what happened, one of the base photographers, the Army was told they could take a lot of pictures of him to promote the Army. But there was a friend of mine. And one weekend he said, listen Joe, we play touch football on the weekend with Elvis and the guys. We need some more players, do you want to play? And that's how it all started. I went to his house, he took me over there. Walked up to Elvis, Elvis walked up to me and introduced himself to me.

Elvis Aaron Presley In the U.S. Army 1958-1960

Elvis Presley in the U.S. Army: 1958-1960

Larry King: Hit it off right away?

Joe Esposito: It was just a click.

There was just something I liked about him and, apparently, he liked about me too.

Larry King: And nou -- during his show business career, coming back, you spent time with him. Were vow involved in his career?

Joe Esposito: Well, what happened, before we left the service he asked what I was going to do when I got out of the service. And I just had an office job in Chicago. He said, why don't you come to work for me? And I said, of course, yes, absolutely. And that's how my career started with Elvis.

Larry: King: OK, in Germany, what were those touch football games like?

Joe Esposito: They were great; right by the house he had rented off- base. And it was just a regular field. It wasn't a football field. Just a field, and all -- a bunch of the guys just having touch football, having a great time.

Larry King: Could he be a regular soldier? I mean, did he get up at 5:00 a.m.?

Joe Esposito: He worked a lot harder than I did.

Larry King: Really?

Joe Esposito: They weren't watching me. I worked in an office. He was out there in the mud like everybody else was. He worked as any other GI, and he did it on purpose because he really didn't want people to say, oh, he had an easy time in the service. He really worked harder than anything.

Larry King: As I've said to others, I've never heard a bad word about him.

Joe Esposito: That's true. People that know him, have met him will never say a bad word about him. Only people that don't know him.

Larry King: I want to find out what's on it. But he was a regular guy, right?

Joe Esposito: Oh yes, very much so.

Larry King: Were you there when he met Priscilla?

Joe Esposito: Yes I was.

Larry King: Where was that?

Joe Esposito: ... house. It was in Germany.

Larry King: She was what, the daughter of...

Joe Esposito: She was the daughter of a captain in the Air Force, and they were stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany...

Larry King: She was only 14, right?

Joe Esposito: Yes. We didn't know it at the time. She looked 16.

Larry King: She did look a little old?

Joe Esposito: Yes she did. Well, you know, she's an Army brat, and they...

Larry King: So what was the occasion of their meeting?

Joe Esposito: Well, this guy in the Air Force was a friend of ours. And he brought Priscilla to the house to meet Elvis because she wanted to meet Elvis. Well, she come over, he brought her in the door. We were all there, a bunch of guys, and other ladies too. And she walked in the door, this cute, beautiful little girl in this little Navy dress. I'll never forget that day when she walked in. Elvis walked over to her immediately, introduced himself to her, and they just started talking. And that was the start of it.

Larry King: When did he find out her age?

Joe Esposito: Probably that night.

Larry King: Why didn't that scare him off?

Joe Esposito: Well, you know, because...

Larry King: He was what? He was 24?

Joe Esposito: He was, yes, 24 at the time. Because, you know, there was nothing going on at the time. They didn't do anything. So, you know, they were friendly, just getting to know or talk to each other. And you know, I don't know why, it never scared him. It never frightened...

Larry King: How about her parents?

Joe Esposito: Well, I think that scared them a little bit, especially the father. You know, a nice man, but an Air Force gentleman. So he had a lot of questions about him. He talked told Elvis, and they got along great. And he promised his daughter, don't worry about it, she's great, I will not harm her in any way, and he didn't.

Larry King: Did you like Priscilla?

Joe Esposito: Yes, very much so.

Larry King: Did he then send for her after he came home from Germany?

Joe Esposito: Yes, when he got back from Germany he kept in communication, calling her on the telephone, back and forth like that. And in about 1962 she came over to visit. He promised her dad, listen, you know, we'll take her around Hollywood, see Hollywood and see the place like that. And she came over. And I was there the day she showed up for that. I picked her up at the airport, took her to the house. And she was so excited, you know, it's her first time in Hollywood, especially with a big star like Elvis.

Larry King: What was your job?

Joe Esposito: My job?

Larry King: With Elvis?

Joe Esposito: I was more or less -- in the early years, the movie years, I was his right-hand man. I did all the detail work. Made sure -- I used to go over the script with him during makeup and make...

Larry King: You'd read the other part to him?

Joe Esposito: Right, back and forth. And then a lot of times, you know, I made sure he got up to go early in the morning to get to the studio. And just every little detail you can think of.

Larry King: His assistant.

Joe Esposito: Right; his right hand.

Larry King: ... other things?

Joe Esposito: Road manager.

Larry King: Big job.

Joe Esposito: Oh yes, yes.

Larry King: When you got back from Germany, he started going out. Where was the first place he worked?

Joe Esposito: OK, the first thing we did, we went to do the Frank Sinatra TV special on Miami Beach. So it was very exciting. I mean, Elvis was very nervous, as you can tell. When he first walked out, you could see he was nervous because...

Larry King: He looked great...

Joe Esposito: ... well, being in the Army, you know, you get in good shape.

Larry King: Remember that show.

Joe Esposito: Welcome Home Elvis.

Larry King: And he sang Frank's songs and Frank sang his songs. Frank sang 'Love Me Tender'.

Joe Esposito: That's right. That's right. I just -- I was so excited for me because this was my first big...

Larry King: Elvis sang 'Witchcraft'.

Joe Esposito: That's right. You're right. Good for you, that's right.

Larry King: I was in Miami.

Joe Esposito: You were there at the time? It was exciting. We had a great time. He loved doing it. And, you know because at one time, you know -- it was great about this. At one time Frank, when Elvis first came out, Frank said bad things about him.

Larry King: Put him down on his knees.

Joe Esposito: Right. But when you Meet Elvis, there's this big difference.. And all of a sudden you're going to like him because there's a difference in what people say about somebody and what...

Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley with Joe Esposito and Vernon Presley in background

Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley with Joe Esposito and Vernon Presley in background

Larry King: Frank liked him a lot.

Joe Esposito: Oh yes.

Larry King: And got to like his music.

Joe Esposito: Absolutely. Definitely.

John Mackie: Was he frustrated with doing movies for so long and not having the time to play live gigs?

Joe Esposito: Pretty much. Plus he got tired of doing the same old movies over and over again in different locations, with different girls and different dogs and animals. He wanted to get away from the travelogues.

Elvis Presley & Joe Esposito during filming of Flaming Star

Elvis Presley & Joe Espisito during filming of Flaming Star.

When he got out of the Army, he had big contracts for three movies a year for different studios. The only performances before he went back on the road in '69, he did a couple of charity events.

He did one in Memphis. So in '69 when the Colonel made the deal with the International Hotel to start playing there, that's what brought everything back. That's what Elvis loved to do more than anything, perform on stage in front of a live audience.

Larry King: How did you get the name 'Diamond Joe'?

Joe Esposito: Well, what happened, there was a newspaper article that hit the papers out of Chicago one time. There was a guy by the name of Diamond Joe Esposito in Chicago. He was a mob guy. And it was an article about the biggest mob funeral in the history of Chicago, and it was for this gentleman. He was a union man. So they -- I used to wear diamond rings a little bit. So they said, hey, you're Diamond Joe.

Larry King: Did Elvis call you Diamond Joe?

Joe Esposito: Yes, a little bit, for awhile. But after a while I stopped wearing diamonds.

He didn't call me that anymore.

Larry King: He had some relationships with famous people, Ann Margaret, one. Ann has admitted to that. She was in love with him, right? He loved her?

Joe Esposito: Yes, they had a very strong love affair, very much so for about a year-and-a-half. And they would just -- they were just so much alike, the two of them. They were so fun. They laughed a lot, they had a great time. But, you know, it wouldn't work. He wanted -- didn't want a wife in show business, he wanted a wife at home taking care of the kids.

Larry King: You mean they might have married if she said, I'd quit?

Joe Esposito: I never thought about that, but maybe. Who knows? We'll never know.

Larry King: What was the meeting with the Beatles like?

Joe Esposito: Meeting The Beatles was great. It was 1965.

Larry King: They didn't talk for awhile?

Joe Esposito: No, because when they -- we brought the Beatles into the house and Elvis introduced himself to everybody and all the guys were there, we're all sitting around talking to everybody, going to the den, sit down. John Lennon and Paul McCartney were sitting there and Ringo Starr was walking around and George Harrison was someplace else. They just didn't say anything. They kept looking at him. Elvis kept looking around. He didn't know what to say. So, well, I guess I better go to sleep because we're not going to talk. So he stood up, and they said, no, no, no. We didn't know what to say to him.

Larry King: They wanted to know about guitar, right?

Joe Esposito: Yes, and Elvis would say get out a few guitars. And they sat around and played guitar. They played some old '50s songs.

Larry King: Well, they told me they were in awe of him.

Joe Esposito: Of course. I had met big stars, I didn't know what to say because of Elvis. It happens.

He loved their music. He recorded three of their songs. He thought they were great songwriters.

Elvis Presley Meets The Beatles August, 27, 1965

Elvis meets The Beatles August 27th 1965

Larry King: Did he have a favorite record?

Joe Esposito: No. Different ones at different times.

Larry King: He loved 'In The Ghetto'.

Joe Esposito: Oh, yes.

Larry King: What a treat.

Larry King: Where was the wedding?

Joe Esposito: The wedding was in Las Vegas, the Aladdin Hotel.

Larry King: What was the wedding like?

Joe Esposito: The Wedding was great. It really was. I was very honored to be one of the co-best men at his wedding. And we tried to keep it from the press.

Larry King: Could you?

Joe Esposito: We did pretty well. Because Rona Barrett was down in Palm Springs. We all went to Palm Springs to fake everybody off. But that evening at night we jumped over the back fence, got to the plane, drove to the airport, got a jet, Sinatra's jet, flew into Las Vegas, went down to City Hall in Las Vegas, got the license, went right to the Aladdin Hotel and got married that morning, and the press was still in Palm Springs.

Larry King: Palm Springs. Boy, that was sharp doing. So Frank helped.

Joe Esposito: Frank helped. Oh, yes. Very much so. We used his plane. Colonel Parker, the people that owned the Aladdin Hotel were friends with the Colonel's, so they kept it all quiet. It was all set up there.

Larry King: Was that a happy marriage for awhile?

Joe Esposito: Oh, I think so. Yes. Very much so.

Larry King: Did the age, her youth, make it a problem?

Joe Esposito: Well, I don't think it was much the age. We were not good boys.

Larry King: He had a lot of guy friends.

Joe Esposito: Oh, yes. Loved his buddies around. Because he didn't have any friends when he was a kid, either. Because he was the weird kid. He had very few friends.

Larry King: Really, in Mississippi?

Joe Esposito: Oh, in Mississippi. Yes, definitely. Even in Memphis in high school.

Larry King: Were you a Memphis Mafia guy?

Joe Esposito: Yes, I was one.

Larry King: They considered you that. Even though you're not from Memphis and not Southern?

Joe Esposito: Right. I was the only Yankee in the group.

Larry King: Did he try to explain, for want of a better term, the cheating to you?

Joe Esposito: No, he didn't explain it. He just did it. The problem is we all did it, too.

Larry King: You were cheating on your wife?

Joe Esposito: Oh, yes. I got divorced, too, about the same time he did.

Larry King: Why did Priscilla put up with it?

Joe Esposito: You know, we all say she must know what's going on, but probably never admitted it. She probably didn't want to admit it, to realize it. But she put up for a long time, and then she stopped putting up with it. That's why they got divorced.

Larry King: The daughter was born how soon after the marriage?

Joe Esposito: Nine months to the day. Nine months to the day!

Priscilla, Lisa Marie & Elvis Presley

Elvis, Priscilla & Lisa Marie

Larry King: That's right to the Aladdin.

Joe Esposito: That's it! Nine months to the day she was born, yes.

Larry King: So they probably didn't have relations before the wedding?

Joe Esposito: Absolutely not. No relations.

Larry King: Respect for her father.

Joe Esposito: That's right. 21 years old when you get married.

Larry King:
What kind of dad was he?

Joe Esposito: He was a good dad. Elvis always loved kids and animals. Even when I had my two young girls, Debby and Cindy, he used to play with them all the time. And then when he had Lisa, he was just the doting father. He just loved to spoil his daughter.

Larry King: Where did he vacation?

Joe Esposito: Hawaii, very much Hawaii. Aspen a couple of times. But Hawaii was his favorite place. He would just relax when he got there. I fact, his last vacation, he cleaned up his act. He was great. We were on the beach playing a little football. He was a little overweight, but he was doing great.

Larry King: Most of the people with him, the band, the back-up singers, were they always with him?

Joe Esposito: Pretty much.

Larry King: People stayed with him a long time.

Joe Esposito: Oh, yes. They all -- pretty much all the guys from the band and the Sweet Inspirations and J.D. Summer's Stamps Quartet, they were all pretty well as much as they could be.

John Mackie: So who besides Priscilla did Elvis really deeply care about?

Joe Esposito: Very much for Linda Thompson, the last lady that he dated for a long, long time, for five years in the early 70s. He had a great affair with Ann Margaret, they were very very close. Always were, even until he passed away. Naturally Priscilla, Sheila Ryan Caan. Barbara Lee. He was very very close to a lot of women. And none of them really hated him for what he did, having these dates and going out with other girls. They still loved this man.

He liked Ginger Aldren very much, but her mother pretty much controlled her and wanted to be around Elvis all the time. I don't think he was going to marry her. He may have told her that he wanted to marry her and stuff like that, so she would stay around, but after a while he started to date her, he started to date other women too. I don't think he was ever going to marry her.

Larry King: How did he handle money?

Joe Esposito: Terrible. Terrible, money...

Larry King: Buy a lot of cars?

Joe Esposito: Buy 13 cars for somebody. He bought a ranch one time. He ended up buying 34 pickup trucks because he was a rancher now. We were buying some Cadillacs one time at the Cadillac dealership in Memphis. We were standing inside the dealership and Elvis looks outside and there's this elderly black lady looking in the window at this yellow two-door Coupe de Ville.

Elvis sees her, and she's looking at it and looking at it. He goes outside and starts talking to her. He says 'You like that car, huh?' 'Oh, yes, yes, that beautiful car'. He says 'Would you like to have one of those?' 'Oh I could never afford one of those cars'. He said 'Just a minute'.

He goes back inside the dealership, goes to the sales manager and says 'Give me the keys to that car'. Gives him the keys, he goes out and says 'Ma'am, the car is yours'. She just couldn't believe that Elvis just gave her that car. She was just in awe. Just couldn't believe it. He said 'It's yours, enjoy it'.

That's the kind of guy he was. He liked to give people things he knew people couldn't afford on their own.

John Mackie: Because he grew up poor he never really forgot it.

Joe Esposito: No.

Larry King: He tipped a guy once, a limo driver, a limo. He tipped him a limo.

Joe Esposito: That's the way he was. I mean, we were in Denver, Colorado one time. We bought a few cars in Denver. And a disc jockey heard about this the next day and he said, Elvis if you're still out there, I'd like to have a new car too. Elvis told him to go get him a car. We got him a new Cadillac Seville the next day.

Larry King: How would he pay this? They'd bill him?

Joe Esposito: They'd bill us. I'd write the check. I had the checkbook with me. I'd write the checks out.

Larry King: And he never was broke, right?

Joe Esposito: Not that I know of.

Larry King: He always had a source of making money.

Joe Esposito: Always had a source -- as we always said before, and his father complained to him, he said, 'Dad, don't worry about it. If we need more money, I'll make more'. And that was his reasoning.

Larry King: The relationship with his parents. First the mother.

Joe Esposito: Well, he was very close to his mother. Once -- when he was born a twin and his brother was born stillborn, so his mother really hovered over him, very much so, because she couldn't have any more kids, either. So she more or less took care of him and wouldn't let him go out and play a lot.

Larry King: She died at what age?

Joe Esposito: Forty-four. Liver problem.

Larry King: How did he take that?

Joe Esposito: Horrible. He was in the Army at the time. I think it destroyed him for a long time. You see pictures of him. Elvis was very...

Larry King: Emotional?

Joe Esposito: Very emotional person. He was devastated.

In fact he hardly talked about her after she passed away.

Larry King: Relationship with his father? Good. Good. Very close. He loved his dad. But he was closer to his mother, definitely.

Larry King: Graceland.

Joe Esposito and Elvis in one of his last tours, 1977

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