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On the King's Trail, Part II : 'The Elvis Conspiracy' Returns With 'New Leads'

January 22, 1992|DENNIS McDOUGAL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There may still be a few cynics out there in TV land who don't believe that Elvis Presley may be alive and well and living in Kalamazoo, but former Presley pal Bill Bixby is not among them.

"I am no more embarrassed this time than I was the first time," Bixby said of his second prime-time special in six months on questions surrounding the King's apparent death 14 years ago.

"I know I'm going to get slammed by people in the press because they have nothing better to do with their time," Bixby continued. "If they choose to do that ahead of time, that's their choice. Feel free."

But, he cautioned, the producers of the syndicated "The Elvis Conspiracy," scheduled to air at 8 tonight on KTLA Channel 5, have evidence.

"Our investigators have turned up an extraordinary number of new leads and new questions . . . more proof that maybe, just maybe, the king of rock 'n' roll is still alive today," said Mel Bergman, co-executive producer (with Bill Speckin) of "The Elvis Conspiracy."

Spinning off from their first program last August, "The Elvis Conspiracy" rests on the premise that Presley may have used a sometimes alias of Jon Burrows before Aug. 16, 1977, and that someone using that name--perhaps Presley himself--has been making financial transactions involving Presley's estate. A Jon Burrows has a Social Security number cross-referenced with Presley on credit reports and is also identified as the man who made the final payment on one of Presley's homes in March, 1991, according to Bergman and Speckin.

In addition, they maintain that their sleuthing has turned up an active $2-million bank account in Nashville that Elvis may have been using as recently as two months ago.

Presley could have gone into the Federal Witness Protection Program for fear of the Mafia after he participated in a sting operation, they propose. That scenario casts Elvis as a patriot, willing to sacrifice his own existence for the safety of his family and the good of his country.

But an even more sinister motive might be at the root of a staged Presley death, the producers suggest: greed.

"He's worth more dead than he was when he was alive," Speckin said.

To corroborate their various findings, they've scheduled a strange array of Elvis experts as guests, including Presley's fan club president, road manager, hairdresser-spiritual guide and biographer, plus a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department investigator and various handwriting experts.

While Bixby and his producers say that they are maintaining a serious, journalistic skepticism about the hundreds of Elvis "sightings" that will be discussed during the two-hour program (which will air live on the East Coast), there is no doubt as to why this successor to last August's "The Elvis Files" has found its way to prime time.

"After the words free and sex , nothing sells like Elvis ," Speckin said.

More than 25 million people tuned in to see the first program, according to Paul Siegel, executive vice president of All American Communications, distributor of the two specials. By the time it was over, call-in "votes" from viewers, made to a $2-a-minute 900 number, showed that 79% believed Elvis was alive.

If a similar audience watches the second installment, it is not inconceivable that Speckin's and Bergman's Producers' Video Inc. could be concocting yet a third Elvis update.

"But it is not my intention to turn this into a television series," said Bixby, the former star of "The Incredible Hulk" and "The Courtship of Eddie's Father."

It is his intention, however, to turn other mysterious star deaths into a series. In conjunction with Speckin and Bergman, Bixby has agreed to host "Hollywood's Unsolved Mysteries," 26 half-hour syndicated programs zeroing in on strange celebrity deaths over the past half century, ranging from Natalie Wood to "Hogan's Heroes" star Bob Crane. The series is very much a spinoff of the Elvis success and neither Speckin, Bixby nor Bergman rule out including more Elvis data as it rises from the grave.

Already in the can is a third special, aimed for an August syndication premiere. Titled "The Marilyn Files," it is already out on videocassette for those who can't wait for the revelations about Monroe's suicide.

In the meantime, Elvis mania continues to grow.

In the San Joaquin Valley, a reporter for the Patterson Irrigator newspaper wrote last month that Elvis works at a warehouse in the nearby town of Westley, sacking beans, and that he performed on stage at the Hilmar Dairy Festival last year, backed by a band that called itself the Dairy-airs.

Last year, more than 18 books were published with "Elvis" in the title.

And in Iowa City, English professor Peter Nazareth is teaching a three-unit course at the University of Iowa entitled "American Popular Arts: Elvis as Anthology." Nazareth has 50 students signed up to watch Elvis movies, read biographies and write 30-page treatises on their findings this semester.

So far, if Presley is among the students, he hasn't raised his hand.

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