A Memphis Mafioso Remembers Elvis

There are few people who can actually say they knew the real Elvis Presley. Jerry Schilling is one of them.

As a 12-year-old in 1954, Schilling met a then 19-year-old Elvis in a pickup game of football just a couple of weeks before the singer made it big.

Those Sunday afternoon football games in Guthrie Park cultivated a decades-long friendship filled with midnight movies, cross-country road trips and even dropping acid with the King.

"There was only one real Elvis," Schilling told FOXNews.com at the Playhouse on the Square, the former Memphian movie theater where Elvis and his gang, "The Memphis Mafia," would have private, late-night screenings in the 1960s.

"He was a talented, very human guy, with faults, great attributes and certainly much more intelligent than history has made him."

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Schilling's teenage history reads like a movie script. He was one of the few privileged Memphis teens to hang out at Graceland, listening to records and shooting pool with one of the most famous stars of the 1950s.

Not every teen gets to spend the wee hours of the morning at an amusement park opened just for Elvis or have Natalie Wood in the cheering section of a pickup football game.

"It's like being in 'East of Eden' with James Dean in the amusement park in those scenes," Schilling said. "It was magical. From a very boring life, there wasn't a migration: It went from boring to exciting."

In 1964, Schilling joined the Memphis Mafia, Elvis' entourage of friends/workers who lived with the singer at Graceland and in Los Angeles during the 1960s and '70s.

"It was a real brotherhood, it was a real family thing and it was real close," Schilling said. "And we went through some situations where it was really us against the world."

He would work on and off for Elvis for a decade, sharing in both the highs and the lows.

He was there when Elvis met the Beatles and President Nixon. He tried LSD along with Elvis and Priscilla Beaulieu at Graceland when the King decided to experiment with the drug.

Schilling double-dated with Elvis and Priscilla; he drove the couple to the hospital when Priscilla was in labor with Lisa Marie. And it was Schilling who introduced a 5-year-old Lisa Marie to a teenaged Michael Jackson after a Jackson 5 performance.

A onetime manager for the Beach Boys, Billy Joel and Jerry Lee Lewis, Schilling still remembers Elvis as an intuitive friend, one who'd think nothing of hashing over a problem for hours with a pal.

"He was just a generous person," Schilling said. "He wanted to share physical things [like his wealth], but he was, more importantly, generous with his soul."

Schilling has just written a book, "Me and a Guy Named Elvis" (Gotham Books), in part to dispel perceptions that have dogged Elvis' image for decades, including those that make him out to be a racist. He wasn't, Schilling said.

"We lost Elvis on creative disappointments," he said, noting a movie career flogged by cookie-cutter scripts that didn't show Elvis' creative range. "The drugs were the Band-Aids."

He still keeps in touch with Priscilla and Lisa Marie. He officiated Lisa Marie's 2006 marriage to Michael Lockwood in Kyoto, Japan.

"Lisa is very, very dear to me. I love her so much, I call her 'Memphis,' that's my nickname for her. She's pretty damn important to me on a personal level," Schilling said.

"And as Priscilla said in her book, we were the young ones. We grew up in Graceland together. So that's really my family."

Schilling hopes that people remember his friend as he does.

"I always think about the one-on-one late night conversations. Of all the fun and great and crazy things we did, the times I loved the most is just sitting one on one and just taking the bus trips across country," he said, noting they'd talk about "whatever came to mind, crazy stuff and fun stuff and religious stuff and searching stuff and football.

"Most of the time, even when he could be boring, he was interesting because you always knew it was going to change."