Elvis Presley friend supporting Tony Gattillo
Joe Esposito admits his life changed when he met Elvis Presley in Germany in 1959 while both men were serving in the army. The friendship that formed lasted until Presley’s death in 1977. A day Esposito, who was at Graceland when the legend died, will never forget.
In a rare interview, Esposito, 75, who was in the region Friday to promote Elvis tribute singer Tony Gattillo’s show the next night in Vaudreuil-Dorion, sat down to talk about the king of rock and roll.
Esposito and Gattillo were on hand signing autographs at Party Surprise boutique in Vaudreuil-Dorion on June 21, and la Boutique du Dollar in L’Île-Perrot on June 22.
Esposito, who spends the bulk of his time touring the world to give talks about Presley, said his goal is to tell the real story about the King.
“There are so many false stories out there, you know. So many people making things up and claiming to know him when they never did. I want to tell the real story,” Esposito said.
When asked if there was one thing people didn’t know about Presley, Esposito said it was his unwavering generosity.
“He loved people, loved giving them things,” Esposito recalled while sitting outside of a Vaudreuil-Dorion store on a sunny afternoon.
Esposito said because he was poor when he was young, Presley loved sharing his wealth after he became famous.
“He would give diamond rings, guitars to strangers. That’s how he was. I was with him at a Cadillac dealership in Memphis once when he looked outside and saw a black lady looking at a Cadillac. He said, ‘Joe, look at that lady looking at the car.’ So he goes out to talk to her, asks her if she likes that car. She says, ‘oh yes,’ but she couldn’t afford it, you know. She was just looking. The next thing you know Elvis goes inside for a while and when he comes out he says to the lady the car is hers, that she just needs to go sign the papers. (Her reaction) brought tears to my eyes…It made him feel good to do that.”
Esposito, who worked as Elvis Presley’s road manager and bodyguard and who went on to work for singers such as Karen Carpenter, John Denver, Michael Jackson and others, said there was only one Elvis.
“There was an aura about him. You could just feel it, feel the energy he had. There’s never been nobody else like him.”
The death of The King
Esposito was by Presley’s side from the time the King asked him to give up his job as a purchasing agent in Chicago while in they were in the army and move to Graceland to work for Presley. From that time on Esposito had a front row seat to many of the moments that still fascinate people 36 years after Elvis Presley’s death.
Esposito was there the day a friend brought a young Priscilla Presley to meet Elvis.
“She was 14 when they met. She looked very, very young, but she didn’t look 14,” Esposito, who served as best man at Elvis’s wedding, said. He said he remains close with Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley.
Esposito was there when Elvis Presley performed on stage, and when he acted in 31 films that were always a hit with fans.
Little known to many was that Esposito had cameos in many Elvis Presley films. Asked what his favourite film to appear in was, Esposito didn’t hesitate to name Viva Las Vegas. And for one reason: “Ann Margret,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.
He said he and Margret remain good friends to this day.
“She’s a wonderful woman, we talk every day. She’s a saint caring for her (sick) husband herself.”
And Esposito was there on August 16 1977 when Elvis Presley died. “I was there in (Graceland) the day he died. We got a phone call from his girlfriend upstairs, she said he was on the floor, to send a guy up. I ran up. He was on the bathroom floor facedown. I turned him over and tried to revive him. I couldn’t open his mouth… I knew he was gone,” Esposito, who still gets emotional talking about the loss of Elvis, said. “It was a very tough day.”
Esposito says he supports Quebec singer Tony Gattillo’s tribute show of Elvis Presley songs because Gattillo “does a very good job” singing Elvis songs.
“He’s not an Elvis impersonator. He doesn’t dress up like him or anything. He’s a tribute artist. He’s got a very good voice and he does a very, very good job with the songs,” Esposito said.
The two met in 2006 in Las Vegas.
Gattillo feels his concerts “give people happiness.”
Much of a Tony Gattillo concert is spent standing, singing and dancing, he noted.
Gattillo began singing Elvis songs when people noticed how much his voice sounded like that of Elvis Presley. He was always an Elvis fan and was always passionate about Elvis’ history, which is what first drew him to Esposito. “I just wanted to talk to someone who knew him personally,” he said. Gattillo will go on to perform in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, among other stops. He will perform again in Quebec in November.
For a list of performance dates go to his official website at www.tonygattillo.com.