By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
A final word on the Colonel:
"He's like a teddy bear," says Lichter. "One of the most compassionate human beings I ever met. He did not rob Elvis, he did not get 50 percent of everything--that's all from the media. He got 25 percent of the tickets and 50 percent of the merchandise."
Come 1974, Lichter threw his hat into the literary ring with Elvis in Hollywood. As the album title goes, 50 million Elvis fans can't be wrong, but four million ain't too shabby. That's how many purchased the book, published by Simon and Schuster, which put it on the New York Times best-seller list for eight weeks.
Lichter also put out a publication in '74 called the Memphis Flash, "the only Elvis magazine to tell it like it is." It was "the most popular Elvis magazine during his lifetime," Lichter says. "Elvis himself collected every issue."
Which made it a bit difficult to tell it like it was.
"With Elvis, you couldn't say anything bad because it was blasphemous. People thought he was God."
As the Elvis business grew, Lichter began to develop a bit of notoriety himself. He got "good play" from Geraldo Rivera (another Lichter buddy), and "got contacted by the National Enquirer, the Globe, and the Star. It was like, 'Presley Nut Makes a Million,'" he states. "The more money I earned, I went from being 'Elvis Nut' to 'World-Renowned Elvisologist.'"
When Elvis and the Colonel donated the red jumpsuit from the "Burning Love" single cover to the National Cerebral Palsy telethon for auction, the nut-cum-Elvisologist was there with $1,500 to nab the artifact. Two years ago he sold it for $117,000.
"I had tears in my eyes when I sold it," he recalls, "but I had 117,000 reasons to do it."
Before he unloaded the thing, Lichter slipped into the "Burning Love" threads--who wouldn't?--and, yes, they fit. Of course, the jumpsuit was designed back before the worldwide star developed the girth of a nation.
If you delve into Elvis collectibles at all, you will soon find that jumpsuits are the currency of choice. Other than tough fighter jocks, jumpsuits were pretty much relegated to retired guys who looked foolish in them. With the King, jumpsuits became something wholly other. Huge Dracula collars. Pounds of glittering jewels. Billowing capes. Bell-bottoms the width of Frisbees.
"I think every person who is into Elvis wants to get as close to him as they can," says Lichter, "so they want something that was his. But they have no concept of the value of these things today. His peacock jumpsuit, it was his favorite, he personally designed it." And gave it to Lichter. Who, in case you're interested, has it up for sale.
"Yeah. It would be a quarter of a mil."
Let's get one thing straight about Elvis and our man right now--in fact, here's Lichter to fill you in:
"I know I was his friend, I know he was my friend, but I don't want to mislead you that we were kissing first buddies or anything."
Now, let's spend an evening at Graceland, where Lichter says he visited the King many times. Along with groups of 15 or 20, which Presley considered intimate.
"It was very repetitious, the same thing happened year in and year out," says Lichter. "Basically, he'd request you to be there, you'd fly in and stay at Graceland or the Howard Johnson's. You'd show up to have dinner. He'd come down dressed formal, Priscilla'd be all dressed up. He'd sit down and put his gun on the table next to him."
The cuisine consisted of "the best bar-b-cue you've ever had in your life. But I never had a fried banana sandwich," says Lichter of Elvis' favorite meal. "I had peanut butter and banana, but I couldn't handle the butter."
Lip-smackin' bar-b-cue is nothing to sneer at, but Lichter says that Presley's legendary generosity was, well, generous.
"But you know, I gave him as many gifts as he gave me. But what do you give to someone who has everything? He loved Muhammad Ali, so I had a statue of Ali, it was like those ones with the beagles with the big eyes. I gave him that, and he put it on his desk in his office. I gave him the red belt he wore in the film That's the Way It Is, and I gave him turquoise jewelry, lots of sports stuff.
"He gave me jumpsuits, motorcycle jackets, lots of clothes which have turned out to be worth a fortune. The jumpsuits were a real thrill for me, to have something the King was wearing onstage. The other stuff, I only took that--believe it or not--because I couldn't find a way to say no."
The gifts stopped coming August 16, 1977.
"It was impossible to believe that Superman could die," Lichter offers. "Even though he'd look bad, you always felt, he's sick, he'll get better. He was doing drugs, but they weren't street drugs; he had doctors giving him this stuff and he was very knowledgeable about them.
"I'd spoken to him the night before he died; I was going to meet him on tour. He told me he wanted to cover some new songs, and his diet hadn't worked and he was pissed off because he was heavy as hell. Basically, it was just another normal conversation."