8 July, 1975
As he stepped on the plane that was to take him to Oklahoma City, Elvis Presley was feeling far from happy. He was aware that his looks were fading as fast as his figure was expanding.
Only a few days before, he’d had cosmetic surgery around his eyes. He mused that Playboy centrefold Sheila Ryan was about to ditch him. And all the immediate future promised was his third tour of year. It was to be tour that saw the bloated one indulge in an array of mood swings, proving totally unpleasant to many of his fellow performers and over-the-top magnanimous to some he’d never met. Frequently broke – he’d even mortgaged Gracelands to meet one payroll - he reflected on the fact that the recently acquired Lisa Marie, just one of eight aircraft bought on a whim, had made him the only star to own a personal four-engine jet, albeit one that would eventually cost in excess of $600,000 to refurbish.
The tour began well enough according to a report in the Cleveland Press, who covered the show at Richfield’s Cleveland Coliseum on July 10 and reported “Elvis Presley overwhelmed 22,000 devoted fans last night. Sure his white, sequinned jump suit is a little larger these days, his blue-black hair is a bit thinner and even his most worshipping fan will admit he doesn’t shake it like he used to. But his voice never sounded better and that’s what made him king of rock’n’roll for more than 20 years.”
As the tour continued his behaviour became increasingly erratic, impossible to predict...
However, as the tour continued his behaviour became increasingly erratic, impossible to predict. Singer Kathy Westmorland was among those who suffered most from Elvis’ drug enhanced neurosis amid the tour. A one-time runner-up in the Miss Teenage America contest, she’d sung at many Elvis concerts and on numerous recordings. In return Elvis had bought her several cars. They ended up sleeping together, though she initially claimed that sex never took place. “I slept in one of his pyjama tops and he had a toothbrush for me” she explained, admitting that they did finally become lovers.
But at a Cleveland Coliseum concert on July 18 and again at Uniondale, New York, show a day later, he introduced her by saying: This is Kathy Westmorland, she will take affection from anybody, any place, any time”, adding “In fact she gets it from the whole band.” When Westmorland objected, Elvis, at a North Carolina show, switched his intro to, “This is Kathy Westmorland our soprano singer, who doesn’t like the way I introduce her – and if she doesn’t like it, she can get the hell off the stage.” After which, the singer immediately walked, taking two members of the Sweet Inspirations with her. The group had fared no better than Westmorland from The King’s vitriolic comments. In what they perceived as a racist attack, he claimed he could smell green peppers and onions on their breath. “They’ve been eating catfish,” he announced to a bewildered audience. Pretty bad for a performer who was taking Nullo deodorant tablets on a regular basis in a belief that he wouldn’t need so many baths.
$85,650 Jewellery Bill...
Then there were the giveaways. Early in the tour, at Springfield, Massachusetts, on July 14, Elvis became seemingly frustrated onstage and threw his guitar into the audience, yelling: “Whoever got the guitar can keep the damn thing – I don’t need it anymore”. He repeated this action at Asheville, North Carolina at the tour’s completion on July 24, after first giving a $6,300 ring to a fan - small change for a performer whose jewellery bill for the less-than-one-month long tour added up to an astounding $85,680.
Even then, the spending never ceased. Checking out of Asheville’s Roadway Inn, an invoice was placed in his hands demanding payment for an RCA TV set he had shot up in his room, while on his return to Memphis, Elvis decided to relax by spending £140,000 on fourteen Cadillacs, thirteen of which he had earmarked as presents for friends. The other one he gave to a fortunate bank employee named Mennie Person who just happened to be wandering around the car showrooms with her family when Elvis turned up.
And all the while, the bills to Dr George ‘Nick’ Nichopoulos, who continually supplied the singer with an array of drugs and placebos with which he demanded to be fuelled, had to be paid. And so the tours had to continue, Elvis becoming increasingly unstable as the number of Also Sprach Zarathrustra openings announced each ever-demanding onstage arrival, a chore that would end at Indianapolis’ Market Square Arena on June 26, 1977.