Dave Hebler shared a lot of laughs and good times with his friend Elvis Presley. But there was also a darker side to the singer that the public didn’t know about. 

And while he has many stories that he has shared over the years with fans that show the fun and generous side of Elvis, he also doesn’t sugarcoat the bad.

“I do a number of Elvis related appearances,” Hebler said. “I am very blunt about the whole thing. I tell the facts as I know them. He was a marvelous human being. But I don’t back off from the negative stuff. It seems to work pretty well with the fans.”

Hebler worked as Elvis’s bodyguard and karate trainer from 1972 to 1976, and was responsible for his personal safety both at home and on the road during concert tours.

He will be appearing at the Drury Inn & Suites Thursday in Horn Lake from 6-8 p.m. where he will tell interesting and fun stories from his time with Elvis, including memories of Elvis’s historic appearance at the Las Vegas Hilton, which is featured prominently in the new Baz Luhrmann biopic “Elvis.”

“I do an introduction that runs about 12 minutes that’s based on the thousands of questions I’ve been asked over the years,” Hebler said. “Then I open it up for a Q&A session that lasts about 25 to 30 minutes. At the end of the night I do a meet and greet where people can come up and say hello and get their pictures taken, and I will sign autographs and copies of my book, ‘The Elvis Experience,’ which will be for sale. It’s a nice get together.”

Hebler said a lot of Elvis fans think they know all there is to know about him, but they really only know Elvis the singer, or Elvis the movie star, or Elvis the entertainer. The stories he shares offer insight into Elvis the PERSON that only someone who was there can tell.

“They weren’t there so they don’t have that first person experience,” Hebler said. “What you think you know about Elvis, a lot of it is true. But there are some things that aren’t so true. And there are some things that are totally wrong. The most glaring example of that being, is Elvis still alive? I still get that question. No, he’s not.”

Hebler met Elvis for the first time at Ed Parker’s American Kenpo studio in Santa Monica, California where a number of Black Belts were training. He was on the mats working out when he noticed a commotion at the door.

“In walked - oh my God! - Elvis Presley,” Hebler said. “I was like, ‘wow! That’s Elvis Presley. What’s he doing here?’”

The next thing he knew, Elvis, who was a karate enthusiast, was on the mats participating in the class and he ended up being his sparring partner.

“He didn’t know the material that we were working with,” Hebler said. “It would have been a chore for anybody to walk into a karate school and get out on the mats and work out with 15 Black Belts in a system you’re not familiar with. So I helped him as his partner and showed him the moves. We had a good session.”

As Elvis was about to leave, Parker called him over and asked him to show Elvis a technique called the “Wow Wee.”

“Basically what it was is a series of movements, 13 strikes that I could do in right around two seconds. It was fast. I did that technique for Elvis and he was impressed.”

Two days later, he got a call from Parker who said Elvis wanted him to come out to his house in Beverly Hills. Hebler said there were a few other people there sitting around and chatting and just having a good time. Elvis excused himself and asked Hebler to wait while he and the others in the room went outside to see something in the driveway.

Hebler said Elvis came back inside and told him that he needed his help with something and to come outside. There, sitting in the driveway, was a 1971 Mercedes-Benz 280SL.

“Now, I don’t know what he means by ‘I need your help.’ So I go out there and everybody is standing around this gorgeous car,” Hebler said. “I said ‘yeah, Elvis, what can I help you with?’ He said he had a problem with the car and needed me to drive it away for him. I said,’okay, where would you like me to take it?’ He said ‘anywhere you want to go. It’s your car.’ He gave me the keys and the paperwork. I was just dumbfounded. I was stunned. This was only the second time I had ever met the guy and he gives me a car. I’m fumbling around trying to say thank you and he just started laughing. He said ‘enjoy your new car, Dave.’ And they all went back in. That was my introduction to Elvis.”

Hebler said Elvis paid a surprise visit to his Kenpo studio in Glendora in July 1972 and was wearing a turban on his head. 

“There are pictures of him wearing that turban along with my daughters who are in the picture with him,” Hebler said. “It was funny. Everybody was wondering what he was doing wearing a turban. I was thinking the same thing so I just asked him. He said ‘when I was getting ready to leave the house and come over here to visit you I noticed my hair looked like s***. I did’t want to go out in public with my hair looking like that, so I just grabbed this turban and slammed it on my head.’”

Elvis gave him a gold TCB necklace and asked him to be his bodyguard and personal Kenpo trainer.

“I had just gotten divorced so I thought it would be a great way to meet women,” Hebler said. “So I said yeah, I’m your guy.”

Hebler became part of the entourage known as the “Memphis Mafia” and shared security duties with cousins Sonny and Red West and Dick Grob.

“The way it worked was, when there was a concert, we all worked,” Hebler said. “When Elvis was just at home, two of us would work and the others would be off with our families and we would switch off.”

Hebler said while he liked Elvis’s music, he wasn’t a “fan.” But after watching Elvis perform his show on stage he came to appreciate what a great performer and singer he truly was.

“I would be on the stage in the wings by the curtain watching and was blown away by how good he was,” Hebler said.

Hebler said he enjoyed being on the road and took part in many late night hijinks with Elvis and the rest of the Memphis Mafia. Although his job was to make sure nobody from the audience got near Elvis while he was performing, Hebler recalled a funny moment in San Diego where one female got through security.

“Normally when we went on tour we would hire three or four police officers to help us with security, primarily because they knew the city and had arrest powers on top of that,” Hebler said. “Back in those days, for some reason, police officers there weren’t allowed to moonlight and work a second job. So we had to hire private security.”

Hebler said the private security guys were stationed in the front of the concert hall to keep fans from jumping up on stage. They instructed them to get in front of anybody who bolted towards the stage, and not to knock them down or hurt them. And, if they did manage to get through, to just let them go and he and the others would take care of it on the state.

“I was standing on the edge of the stage by the curtain and Elvis is singing away, and I see this girl jump up and she is going for it. She is running down the aisle,” Hebler said. “So this private security guy jumps out in front of her. She sees him and she just kicks him in the groin and just lays this guy out. She’s only like, ten feet away from me. I immediately fell in love. That’s my kind of girl. She sees me and she is a little hesitant now, but I just beckoned her forward. I said ‘come on.’ Finally, I reached out with my hand and helped her on stage and she ran over and jumped on Elvis. He gave her a scarf and then Red came over from the other side of the stage and hauled her off.”

Another time - again in San Diego - Hebler said Elvis spotted the famous San Diego chicken dancing in the aisles and stopped singing mid-song because he was laughing too hard at the site of the chicken.

“Elvis was singing this really upbeat song just rocking out when he sees the chicken in the stands,” Hebler said. “The chicken was really famous back then. Elvis had never seen anything like it and just stopped. The band is still playing and Elvis goes ‘It’s a chicken!’ out loud. Everyone went crazy about that. For months after, Elvis would imitate that chicken. It was funny as all get out.”

But away from the spotlight, there were also some darker times. Hebler said he and others watched as Elvis’s abuse of prescription medication worsened and became a problem. His behavior became bizarre at times. He would fly off into rages, mumble his words, forget lyrics on stage, and let his physical appearance go as a result of taking uppers and downers.

Hebler said Elvis was furious when he and Sonny and Red West tried to get him to stop taking the drugs and seek treatment. On July 13, 1976, Vernon Presley, the singer’s father, fired him, Red and Sonny citing a need to cut expenses. Hebler and the others were given three days notice and one week’s pay. He was shocked and infuriated that Elvis didn’t tell them himself in person. Red had been a high school classmate and had been with Elvis since 1955. Sonny had been with the singer since 1960.

Hebler, Sonny and Red later signed a tell-all book deal with Ballantine Books to describe their life working for Elvis. They told their story to Australian gossip columnist Steve Dunleavy who wrote the book “Elvis” What Happened?” 

But instead of a balanced account of the good times and the bad, Dunleavy and the publisher chose to sensationalize what they told him. “Elvis: What Happened” was filled with stories about drug use, his womanizing during and after his marriage to Priscilla,  disparaging remarks he made about other singers, his fascination with death, and how he instructed his bodyguards to put a hit out on Mike Stone, who was having an affair with Priscilla.

Hebler disavows the book to this day.

“I hate that freaking book, and so did Red and Sonny,” Hebler said. “We were deceived. We spent 30 days in a hotel room in Hollywood telling stories to a reporter - 95 percent of the stories were positive and about the fun times we had. We were led to believe that the book when it came out would be balanced. But the writer and the publisher decided they wanted to sensationalize the book. So they ignored all the good stuff we said about Elvis and glorified and emphasized the sensational stuff. If you read the front and back cover, it’s pretty sensational and it’s pretty nasty. 

Elvis was reportedly despondent over the book and tried to have it stopped. “Elvis” What Happened” came out on July 12, 1977. He died a few weeks later on August 16, 1977. The book went on to sell over three million copies.

Hebler said some Elvis fans are still upset that he wrote the book. He points out though that it was hard watching a man he loved so much kill himself by taking drugs. They did not write the book for the money or as revenge for being fired. It was meant to be a wake up call and to shock Elvis into seeking help.

“We were enraged when we saw the final book,” Hebler said. “We didn’t see it until the book came out. The publisher and the writer said all that. We never said any of that. Those were not our words. That book is garbage. We hated it then and I hate it now.”

He has since set the record straight in “The Elvis Experience,” which he wrote three years ago. Hebler said the book is filled with stories which convey his love and admiration for Elvis and is a much more balanced account of who Elvis was and the fun times that he witnessed firsthand.

“I am so proud of it,” Hebler said. “The book really came out well. How do you describe the man? He was a fabulously decent human being, but because of the drugs he became a caricature of himself. He was a great friend. He was very kind. I have nothing but great memories of him and I miss him and those other guys a lot.”

The book and tickets to the show in Horn Lake are available on his website www.thedavehebler.com

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