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AFTER DEATH, 'IT WAS WAR' : Even Elvis' Coffin Made It to the Front Page

August 16, 1987|PAT H. BROESKE

The photo also so angered Elvis' entourage that a private detective was hired to unmask the culprit--now said to be "a black sheep."

Calder is insistent: "It was a terrific news photo at the time. After all, pictures are run of dead prime ministers and Popes and national heroes.

"Well, Elvis was a hero, too."

As for stories that the Enquirer reporters riled reporters from other publications because they had "papered the town" by buying up "exclusive" rights to people's stories--Calder said simply, "If the sheer force of money can give you what people want to read, you give them what they want."

Along with its "last photo" of Elvis, the Enquirer snared "the last photo of Elvis alive," which happened to be snapped by a fan's $20.95 Instamatic outside Graceland at 12:28 a.m. on Aug. 16.

There is an odd footnote to the legend of the coffin photo: After it was run, the photo disappeared from the Enquirer offices. The police were called in. Ultimately, a small group of employees was charged with corporate theft--and actually led from the offices in handcuffs.

According to one source, "What we heard around the office was that (the photo thieves) had planned to have the Elvis photo reproduced on sweatshirts that they were going to market."

The Enquirer may have had Elvis' last photos, but the National Star (now known as the Star) had serialization rights to "Elvis: What Happened?"

"Read the book the world is talking about," screamed the headlines.

Co-authors Sonny West and Dave Hebler also did some talking. West did a widely syndicated interview with Bob Greene. And both West and Hebler appeared at a press conference on the day after Elvis' death.

Red West, however, chose to stay out of the spotlight.

West was in Indian Dunes, Calif., doing an episode of the series "Black Sheep Squadron" when he heard the news of the death.

West had already done a fight sequence and was in the midst of a scene that found his character, Sgt. Andy Micklin, incarcerated. That's when the show's stunt coordinator came running in to announce that he'd just heard that Elvis had died.

Filming stopped for half a day.

"If you know anything about how TV shows are done, you know that's extraordinary," said West.

He was joined on the set by his wife and two sons. He remembers huddling with them in his trailer, "where we cried like crazy."

With a shake of his head, West added, "And the thing is, right off, I knew what had brought it (the death) on." He nodded glumly. "I thought then--and I still think it today--what a shame. What a shame. . . ."

It was also grim timing that Elvis' death had come just after the publication of the tell-all paperback.

As West noted: "The whole point of the book was to embarrass (Elvis), to try to make him come to his senses. When we wrote it, he was here to defend himself. Then suddenly, he wasn't."

So West opted not to talk. "I felt enough had been said. He was gone. I said, 'To hell with it.' "

West said he had no regrets about having written the book. "But I do regret that Elvis is dead--I'll always regret that.

"The thing is, the Elvis I knew in high school, and 15 years into his singing and acting careers, wasn't the same Elvis I knew at the end.

"So I did what I did.

"It was my way of trying to help him, but, I don't know--if Elvis had lived--if it (the book) would have made any difference. Because he was pretty far gone.

"When I saw clips of that very last show he did (in the movie, "This Is Elvis"), I just sat there and cried that nobody had had the power to snatch him out of there and get him cleaned up."

In writing "Elvis: What Happened?," West lost the friendship of some of the "Memphis Mafia." And he is no longer in touch with Col. Tom Parker--with whom he had many disagreements over the management of Elvis' career. Or with Priscilla.

But he reads everything he finds about Lisa Marie, now 19. Looking away from a reporter, he brushed away a tear. "I don't know what she thinks of me, but she is the only thing left of Elvis. I think about her a lot."

"Is this going to be a negative piece?"

Joe Esposito wondered if the reporter was going to mention "what a great friend Elvis was." Said Esposito, "For all the things that have been said and written about him--and it seems as if there've been a lot of negative things--what about the fact that he was a good friend. Why do you think so many of us stayed with him for so long? Money only goes so far. . . ."

Red West also chided a reporter: "You should write some of the good things down.

"Why is it that everyone wants to know the ugly? What about the good? What about the time Elvis read about this colored lady in North Memphis. She didn't have any legs--only these stumps which she had to drag herself around on. Elvis read that and got so upset that he had a top-of-the-line wheelchair bought and delivered. He sent it over in his limo.

"There were so many times like that, so many great things Elvis did. Those are the things I like to remember.

"I'm waiting for someone to write about those."

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