Priscilla Presley has addressed some of the alleged history of ex-husband Elvis Presley that was arguably left out of summer blockbuster “Elvis.”
The Baz Luhrmann-directed film presents Elvis (Austin Butler) as the embodiment of mid-20th century America, showing him as being deeply moved by the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. That goes against a popular narrative that he was racist, something immortalized in Public Enemy’s song “Fight the Power.” In a new interview with “Piers Morgan Uncensored,” Priscilla discussed Elvis’ relationships with musicians of color.
“Per the movie, [for] a long time it was stated that Elvis was a racist,” Priscilla explained. “He was not a racist. He had never been a racist. He had friends, Black friends, friends from all over. He loved their music, he loved their style. He loved being around Black musicians.”
Priscilla cited Elvis’ friendships with Fats Domino and Sammy Davis Jr. as examples.
“He loved, loved being around Blacks. He loved being around anyone, actually,” Priscilla continued. “He was not prejudiced in any way. He was not racist in any way. It’s like we’re looking for something from everyone so we can somehow expose them in some way. It’s frightening right now.”
Priscilla and Elvis divorced in 1972 after six years of marriage.
Host Piers Morgan asked for Priscilla to weigh in on Elvis’ status as a “controversial figure in many ways” today.
“Do you think he would survive this weird cancel culture that we now have to endure?” Morgan questioned.
Priscilla responded, “I think of that often. What would Elvis think? He wouldn’t believe what is going on right now in this country, or to all over, what’s happening to this planet. Us as a country, it’s truly baffling.”
She continued, “Elvis would probably go to the president, like he did with Nixon. Put his foot down and say, ‘What is going on?’ I don’t know what happened to freedom. I don’t know if there is freedom here anymore. I think we’re in a very dangerous time.”
Priscilla previously praised Luhrmann’s “Elvis,” calling the film “brilliantly” conveying the “true story.”
Writer-director Luhrmann likened Elvis’ upbringing to rapper Eminem’s background, saying, “The most important thing in this film is to show that a young kid, just like Eminem, grew up in a Black community, their personalities are formed by what they absorb. So the music that came out of Elvis was music that he absorbed and from his friendships with emerging Black musicians who weren’t famous like B.B. King.”
Luhrmann further stated at the Cannes Film Festival press conference, where the film premiered, “Elvis and his mom were so poor, dirt poor, that they ended up in one of the few designated houses for white people in a Black community. Elvis had to walk through the Black community every day to get to school in the white community.”
Luhrmann added that Elvis “went out of his way to say, ‘I didn’t invent Rock and Roll, I just put my own spin on it.’ He said, ‘Don’t call me the King, I’m not the king.’” Those quotes from Elvis were in the context of Presley praising Fats Domino.
Music producer Quincy Jones reflected to The Hollywood Reporter in 2021 that he “wouldn’t work” with Elvis after orchestra leader Tommy Dorsey refused to play with Elvis in the 1950s. (Though one wonders if Dorsey, the epitome of the pre-rock & roll big-band era just didn’t want to promote the new sound.)
“He was a racist mother — I’m going to shut up now,” Jones said. “But every time I saw Elvis, he was being coached by [“Don’t Be Cruel” songwriter] Otis Blackwell, telling him how to sing.” THR noted that Blackwell told David Letterman in 1987 that he and Presley had never met.
B.B. King, who is featured prominently in Luhrmann’s film and played by Kelvin Harrison Jr., however did praise and defend Elvis, who he considered a friend. “Elvis didn’t steal any music from anyone. He just had his own interpretation of the music he’d grown up on, same is true for everyone,” King wrote in his biography. “I think Elvis had integrity.”
Little Richard, played by Alton Mason in the film, also considered Presley a pal. “I love him. That’s my buddy, my baby,” Richard once said after Presley’s death. “Elvis is one of the greatest performers who ever lived in this world.”
But Little Richard additionally noted, giving nuance to the discussion, that “If Elvis had been Black, he wouldn’t have been as big as he was. If I was white, do you know how huge I’d be? If I was white, I’d be able to sit on top of the White House! A lot of things they would do for Elvis and Pat Boone, they wouldn’t do for me.”
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