Paul Lichter self-proclaimed best-selling Elvis author of all time a PR man to Presley for some 10 years, a pallbearer at the January funeral of Colonel Tom Parker (who was godfather to Lichter's son Tristan Elvis), and the owner/operator of the 27-year-old Paul Lichter's Elvis Unique Record Club. Unique because it offers for sale arguably the biggest collection of Elvis Presley memorabilia on the planet.
Including the dark glasses fit for the King. Lichter says they are worth roughly $30,000.
Here's how a simple guy from Pennsylvania, a late-'60s teen, gained an audience with Elvis and became all that you just read about.
"I used to manage the Soul Survivors ["Expressway to Your Heart," No. 4, fall of '67], and I was a frustrated rock 'n' roller myself," says the clean-domed Lichter as he fires up the first of many Kools. "Back in those days, it wasn't popular to be an Elvis fan; you had to be a closet freak. Clambake just wasn't holding up to Rubber Soul. I was an Elvis fan, but I was quiet about it.
"What happened was, the Soul Survivors were out in California on tour with the Young Rascals when Elvis was doing the '68 Singer TV special [that would become known as the legendary '68 Comeback Special]. Sid Bernstein, who was managing the Rascals, got some tickets and asked me would I like to come. That was the first time I saw Elvis, the first time I met him. That was incredible.
"After the show, I went back and was introduced to him. I said, 'Mr. Presley, it's a pleasure to meet you, I really enjoy your music.' That was it. I walked out. I was maybe 19 or 20, and it was really a thrill for me."
"I'm a great admirer of talent."
About six months later, he was asked if he had any interest in presenting Presley with some gold records during the King's Las Vegas opening in 1969.
"I snatched that up," Lichter says. "When I got there, I was informed I had to stay in my room because the call from Colonel [Tom Parker, Elvis' manager] could come at any moment. I sat there for a couple days eating room service, and finally the call came.
"I was escorted by armed guards, I went in and there was Colonel Parker and the so-called Memphis Mafia sitting around eating grapes. I was nervous as shit. Finally, Elvis came in, and I gave him the gold records and posed for pictures, and for about 10 minutes he was holding my hand while we were shaking hands. . . . So I was being led out by the casino manager, and I realized that I didn't ask for an autograph or scarf or some kind of souvenir. So I asked the manager if he could do something about that. He said, 'I don't see any problem; check with me tomorrow.'
"Tomorrow came. At about 4 p.m., he says, 'Elvis wants to see you up in his suite.' The armed guards led me up to the 29th floor again, and Elvis had just gotten up and was eating breakfast. The bottom line was, he was so impressed that I didn't ask for anything that he invited me up to the suite. So I guess if I had asked for the autograph, my whole life would have been different."
"It turned out he was dating a girl from Roxborough, Pennsylvania, which was close to where I lived. He loved football, I loved football. As they were escorting me out, he said, 'When are you leaving?' I said, 'A couple days.' He said, 'Do you have to?' I said, 'No.' He said, 'Why don't you stay and be my guest?' So I did, and for the rest of the 28-day engagement, he picked up the bills, picked up the room, did the whole deal. Every night I sat at his personal table during the shows.
"That was the beginning of it."
When Elvis came back to Vegas . . .
"I printed out fake $10 bills with an advertisement on them for the record club, and I got 10 people to go with me into the casino and throw these bills into the air. I got thrown out of the casino, but it got Elvis' attention. He said to me it was the coolest thing he'd ever heard, I was crazy, I was out of my mind, and what was the Unique Record Club? So I explained it to him."
According to Lichter, Elvis liked what he heard enough to allow Lichter to come on tour with him, plugging the club at every stadium stop. Within the first five days of the tour, Lichter says he made $25,000 pushing Presley merchandise.
"Somewhere along the line, he decided this wasn't great," Lichter offers. "He called me in and says, 'I like you, you're a nice boy. I can't stop you from starting, but I'll stop you from finishing. Nobody has the right to make money off my boy except me.'
"Well, I'd just made $25,000 and I had all these records. There was no way he was going to stop me, so I continued. There were some rough tactics--I got shot at, and motorcycle gangs came along and beat up the people I'd hired [to distribute fliers]. There were some rough moments. But the Colonel always said he was just toughening me up because I reminded him of him. He wound up being my son's godfather. And Elvis was laughing at the whole thing because I was the first guy in 11 years to stand up to the old bastard!"
A final word on the Colonel:
"He's like a teddy bear," says Lichter. "One of the most compassionate human beings I ever met. He did not rob Elvis, he did not get 50 percent of everything--that's all from the media. He got 25 percent of the tickets and 50 percent of the merchandise."
In 1974, Lichter threw his hat into the literary ring with Elvis in Hollywood.
Lichter also put out a publication in '74 called the Memphis Flash, "the only Elvis magazine to tell it like it is." It was "the most popular Elvis magazine during his lifetime," Lichter says. "Elvis himself collected every issue."
Which made it a bit difficult to tell it like it was.
"With Elvis, you couldn't say anything bad because it was blasphemous. People thought he was God."
As the Elvis business grew, Lichter began to develop a bit of notoriety himself. He got "good play" from Geraldo Rivera (another Lichter buddy), and "got contacted by the National Enquirer, the Globe, and the Star. It was like, 'Presley Nut Makes a Million,'" he states. "The more money I earned, I went from being 'Elvis Nut' to 'World-Renowned Elvisologist.'"
When Elvis and the Colonel donated the red jumpsuit from the "Burning Love" single cover to the National Cerebral Palsy telethon for auction, the nut-cum-Elvisologist was there with $1,500 to nab the artifact. Two years ago he sold it for $117,000.
"I had tears in my eyes when I sold it," he recalls, "but I had 117,000 reasons to do it."
Before he unloaded the thing, Lichter slipped into the "Burning Love" threads--who wouldn't?--and, yes, they fit. Of
"I think every person who is into Elvis wants to get as close to him as they can," says Lichter, "so they want something that was his. But they have no concept of the value of these things today. His peacock jumpsuit, it was his favorite, he personally designed it." And gave it to Lichter. Who, in case you're interested, has it up for sale.
"Yeah. It would be a quarter of a mil."
Let's get one thing straight about Elvis and our man right now--in fact, here's Lichter to fill you in:
"I know I was his friend, I know he was my friend, but I don't want to mislead you that we were kissing first buddies or anything."
Now, let's spend an evening at Graceland, where Lichter says he visited the King many times. Along with groups of 15 or 20, which Presley considered intimate.
"It was very repetitious, the same thing happened year in and year out," says Lichter. "Basically, he'd request you to be there, you'd fly in and stay at Graceland or the Howard Johnson's. You'd show up to have dinner. He'd come down dressed formal, Priscilla'd be all dressed up. He'd sit down and put his gun on the table next to him."
The cuisine consisted of "the best bar-b-cue you've ever had in your life. But I never had a fried banana sandwich," says Lichter of Elvis' favorite meal. "I had peanut butter and banana, but I couldn't handle the butter."
Lip-smackin' bar-b-cue is nothing to sneer at, but Lichter says that Presley's legendary generosity was, well, generous.
"But you know, I gave him as many gifts as he gave me. But what do you give to someone who has everything? He loved Muhammad Ali, so I had a statue of Ali, it was like those ones with the beagles with the big eyes. I gave him that, and he put it on his desk in his office. I gave him the red belt he wore in the film That's the Way It Is, and I gave him turquoise jewelry, lots of sports stuff.
"He gave me jumpsuits, motorcycle jackets, lots of clothes which have turned out to be worth a fortune. The jumpsuits were a real thrill for me, to have something the King was wearing onstage. The other stuff, I only took that--believe it or not--because I couldn't find a way to say no."
The gifts stopped coming August 16, 1977.
"It was impossible to believe that Superman could die," Lichter offers. "Even though he'd look bad, you always felt, he's sick, he'll get better. He was doing drugs, but they weren't street drugs; he had doctors giving him this stuff and he was very knowledgeable about them.
"I'd spoken to him the night before he died; I was going to meet him on tour. He told me he wanted to cover some new songs, and his diet hadn't worked and he was pissed off because he was heavy as hell. Basically, it was just another normal conversation."
Elvis Presley himself said to Lichter one night in Las Vegas when he first heard about the Elvis Unique Record Club:
"You mean people are willing to pay lots of money for my old records? Why?"