Click here for Part I
This is Part II of Examiner Dorri Olds interviewing Jerry Schilling. His close friendship with Elvis Presley lasted from teen years until Elvis’s death in 1977. Schilling worked as a consultant and executive producer on the 5-star Tribeca Film Festival movie, “Elvis & Nixon,” which stars Kevin Spacey as Nixon, Michael Shannon as Presley and Alex Pettyfer as Jerry Schilling.
Dorri Olds: Were you afraid you were risking the friendship when you separated from Elvis professionally?
Jerry Schilling: That was the hardest decision I ever made but we kept the relationship. When I wanted to go into film editing, he called me about three weeks later [and said], “Do you do that editing on the weekend?” I said, “No.” He says, “Where are you? I’m coming by to pick you up. We’re going to Palm Springs for the weekend.”
So, yeah, we continued the friendship. But I wasn’t happy doing just that. He was happy with me being there. I picked up and did this and that and worked security, but that wasn’t enough. I didn’t think I was giving back enough for him, nor was I giving back enough for me. That make sense?
DO: It does. Do you see the irony of Elvis wanting to be a narc for kids on drugs when Elvis is known as a drug addict who self destructed?
JS: I think you have to qualify that and I think it’s very important. Elvis had a prescription problem, there’s no doubt about that, but drug addict? Street drugs? The image of drug related music? That was another thing he was totally against, you know. [Becoming a federal agent] was his way, in his mind, of giving back to the country. He felt a responsibility to rock and roll and he was proud of that. He did not like the new drug-influenced rock and roll, nor was he any part of that.
DO: Do you think there was denial about addiction by making a differentiation between alcohol, hard drugs, and prescription drugs?
JS: I think especially back then. I think people are learning more that addiction was addiction, whether you get it in a prescription, a bottle, or on the street. I don’t think we knew that back then. If a doctor gave you something, you thought it was okay. It’s not like he ever bought a drug on the street.
DO: What can you say about the phrase “Memphis Mafia”?
JS: We used to go to Vegas before Elvis was really working there a lot. We’d go in a limousine and we had these mohair suits and we carried guns—concealed weapons that we had permits for. A Las Vegas journalist said, “Oh, Elvis and his Memphis Mafia are back in town,” and that stuck. It’s kind of an affectionate term that we liked. We saw a lot of mafia movies. [Smiles]
DO: What were the threats to his life?
JS: There was one major threat in Las Vegas. Somebody put a menu under Elvis’ door and crossed his face out and wrote backwards so we knew it was a deranged person. [It said,] “I’m going to kill you onstage tonight.”
Click here for Part III
“Elvis & Nixon” is now playing. Rated R. 100 min.