Surprised by gay rumours that surrounded Elvis Presley, who died 37 years ago this month, Rob Buchanan decided to delve a little deeper. But is it right to sexually speculate, he wonders?
August 16th the 37th anniversary of The King’s death, and it inspired me to listen to his music again, and read up on the man behind the myth. Given Elvis Presley’s megastar status, it’s unsurprising that there has been a huge amount of speculation about his personal life over the years. But what did surprise me, given his massive straight sex-symbol status, was how much rumour there was about Elvis`s occasional gay dalliances. While a lot of these rumours came about after his death, there was sufficient suggestion when he was alive – from the sets of his questionable movies to almost barefaced flirtation with certain male interviewers.
With so much of our queer heritage redacted from the history books, we can be forgiven for curious speculation, and the suggestion that Elvis was less than 100 per cent hetero is based on more than just tabloid sensationalism or even envious gossip spread by his contemporary competitors. Academics such as Professor Albert Goldman and Marjorie Garber have analysed
Elvis’s androgynous sexual mystique and feminine qualities, and the question remains: Was The King a bit of a queen?
The FBI Director and infamous self-hating homosexual, J. Edgar Hoover labeled The King a dangerous pervert and drug addict. Under his watch, the Bureau kept an extensive file on Elvis, reportedly 683 pages long. There are extensive tracts about Elvis’ “sexual mystique”. The reports cited his erotic performances as an actual danger to the security of the United States. They also highlighted the possibility that he could be the victim of extortion.
Gay entrapment was one of FBI’s favourite tricks at the time to provide sufficient blackmail material to keep celebrities and politicians in their pocket. An actual extortion attempt was made by Laurenz Johannes Griessel-Landau, a fake doctor from South Africa who was treating Presley while he was serving in the army in Germany. Griessel-Landau made sexual advances on Elvis and when they were rejected and he was fired. He threatened to ruin Elvis’ career and expose compromising photos of him. If there were no smoke without fire, surely Elvis would have wanted to drag this fake blackmailer into court?
Speculation wasn’t just rife among the authorities but with people who were frequently in the star’s unguarded company. Gerald Peters, Presley’s chauffeur and close friend, described him as a “man’s man” who “although he loved Priscilla dearly, preferred the company of men”. He notoriously had an inner circle of male hangers-on, bodyguards and staff, known as ‘The Memphis Mafia’. Although there were some stories of homoerotic horseplay, it was little more than you`d see in your average GAA dressing room or stag party hotel suite. There was a notable exception, however, that went beyond male bonding.
Actor Nick Adams was undoubtedly Presley’s best friend. Adams had previously lived with and had an affair with bisexual actor and teen icon, James Dean. Elvis and Nick met after Dean’s death, just as Presley’s star was starting to rise. The two became inseparable and the calming effect Adams had on Presley led his notoriously temperamental manager, Colonel Tom Parker to encourage the friendship.
Drugs and copious amounts of alcohol were a large component in the pair’s socialising, as they both struggled with the vagaries of fame (although Elvis` superstardom greatly eclipsed Adams comparatively humble acting career). According to Elvis biographer Kathleen Tracy, The King would often ask Adams “to stay over on nights”.
All of this is indicative of hardly anything other than a platonic bromance. But there was more to this than simple friendship. The two were rumoured to regularly indulge in threesomes with female groupies and famous actresses. One notorious documented third in these sexual encounters was actress Natalie Wood. Several sources including New York Times reporter Danforth Prince, biographer Darwin Porter, and Adams’ personal assistant William Dakota, claimed the pair indulged in oral sex with each other and mutual masturbation. Elvis` doctor and confidant, George C. Nichopoulos also hinted in interviews about Elvis`s same-sex dalliances, although undoubtedly one must question the word of any medical professional who is willing to divulge confidential information about a patient, especially gossip that was posthumously profitable.
Indeed, given the money that could once be made from gossip about Presley, we should err on the side of caution when it comes to stories about his sexuality. If proof that Elvis was indeed queer were released today, decades after his death, it would still generate global headlines. So can you imagine how much of a tabloid goldmine it would have been in the first years after his death, when all the hangers-on came out of the woodwork peddling hearsay and scoops.
We must always be conscious not to appropriate the dead for our own purposes. It’s easy to understand how we might try and illuminate the hidden LGBT history, but it is wrong to rainbow-wash the past in an attempt to reclaim our lost heritage. Incorrect historical revisionism is as unjust as deliberate omission. We can’t forget that Elvis was not a fictional character in a dry historical text. He was a human being with an inner life who deserves respect. But in a strange way, by being so eager to embrace stories about his queerness, the LGBT community is honouring Elvis by saying we would be glad if he had been one of us.
One way or the other, it’s possible we will never know the truth. Elvis has unfortunately left the building.
© 2014 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.