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Legends: Linda; Linda at the beginning of the 70's and Linda with Elvis (1973). 

Andrew Hearn interviewed Linda Thompson for the magazine Essential Elvis, where this interview was first published. Linda was Elvis’s girlfriend after his divorce from Priscilla until eight months before he died.

Can you start by telling me a little about how your first meeting with Elvis was set up? I believe an RCA guy called Bill Browder was responsible?

Yes, I knew him as Bill Browder but he later became TG Shepard who later became a country artist who did a song called Devil in a Bottle, and he had a lot of success with it. I was Miss Tennessee at the time and my girlfriend, who was my roommate in the Miss USA pageant, was a girl named Jeannie LeMay. She was Miss Rhode Island and had just moved to Memphis. Anyway, we were out walking one day and she suggested we go into Fridays and have some lunch. So we walk into Fridays and Bill Browder is there and he asks if we'd like to join him for lunch. He then asks us if we'd like to meet Elvis as he was in town. If it had not been for Jeannie I probably would not have met him because I was very conservative and I was about to say that we were busy because we were both supposed to model that night. Jeannie said that we would meet him and that we'd cancel our plans.

Were you an Elvis fan at this time?

Oh yes, I had been my whole life but I knew that we had this modelling job to do and I was happy to stick with my commitment but Jeannie said that if there was an opportunity to meet Elvis, she was going to take it. So, we cancelled our modelling engagement and they got replacements for us. We went to the Memphian Theater at midnight because that's when it closed and Elvis took over and show movies.

What was he like? What was your first impression of him?

Well, I was in the lobby talking to some of the guys and a few of the people who were hanging around there and the door burst open and there was this vision. It was the middle of July in Memphis and it was very humid, just sweltering. He had on this black cape with a high collar and a red satin lining and I said, "Dressed a little like Dracula, aren't we?" so you see, we both shared a sense of humour that was very much like the other. We just hit it off immediately because we grew up in Memphis, we had the same religious beliefs, the same love for our family, devotion to mother and father. We had the same sense of loyalty, we enjoyed the same cuisine because we were both Southerners.


It sounds like it was almost inevitable, Linda?

Oh, it was. We shared a real kinship. I mean, we became kindred souls. So much so that he said, "Where have you been?" and I said "Growing up!"


He had just split from Priscilla when you two first met, right?

It's funny because when we met at the Memphian Theatre, he was telling me that he'd just separated. We met on July 6th and he had been separated since the beginning of January.


You obviously met Lisa Marie pretty soon after you began dating. How quick did she accept you as her father's new partner?

She was a wonderful little girl. She was very embracing and a little shy but I've always loved children and we got on really well. The first time I ever saw her was at the Monovale house and I was out by the pool. She kind of timidly came around and said hi. We started talking and we became really close. I loved being with her. You know, Elvis had a real childlike spirit and I have too. I like to do childlike things and to sometimes get down to a child's level. She and I became very close.


Are you still close with her now?

Yes, I am.


I believe it was Lisa who told you of Elvis' death?

She called me. She was only 9-years old but she had the presence of mind to call me and tell me what had happened.


Was it really a shock to you or could you see that it was going to happen?

You know, even if someone that you know is on a destructive path, even when they finally pass away, it's always shocking. Yes, it was a shock.


You saved his life once or twice right?

Yes, a few times.


Did you both ever discuss marriage?

We talked about marriage often. We talked about having children too. When Elvis was in the hospital a couple of times with pneumonia and other health problems, I stayed in the hospital with him for two and a half weeks at a time. I had my own hospital bed that was pushed up against his. I even ate hospital food. I was a young, healthy, vibrant girl but I'm in a hospital bed pressing the buttons to move up and down in tandem with him. The TV would go off at night, we didn't have all-night cable like we do now, and we'd turn the monitor to the nursery and pick out the different babies that we'd like to have (laughs).


So Elvis had CCTV in his room? Was it something he requested?

We had a television in the room that you could switch over to the nursery. I don't think Elvis requested it but for privacy, we were put near the floor where the babies were.


What about the guys that were around Elvis? Did you get along with all of them?

We actually got along very well and I remain friendly with a number of them now.


Was there anyone in particular that you were able to share the difficult times with? David Brigg's (Elvis' piano player at the time) became a close friend, didn't he?

Actually, we shared a romantic relationship for over two and a half years and we remain friends as well. You see, in all honesty, there was no way of really meeting anybody. It was Elvis' world and we lived this kind of reversed life where we were awake all night and asleep all day. I was around the same people all the time so it was natural that when I left, a gravitated to someone who I had been close to and shared things with. We both had a common love of Elvis too. We both loved him very much and found it sad to watch him self-destruct.


Were you in contact with Elvis between the time you left and the time he died?

Well, he died only eight months after I left. We did speak once or twice because I worried about him and I would call. I called Graceland a couple of times just to see how he was because I was worried. I ask Charlie Hodge or Ricky Stanley, or whoever was attending to him, to please go and check on him. They would insist that he was fine but I'd ask them to put me on hold, go up and check, and let me know he's okay. I did that several times without speaking to him but I did speak to him a couple of times too. We were very loving with each other and... we loved each other. I know that Elvis understood my heart and I really loved him dearly.


Legends: Linda with Elvis (1974).


I know that's true. I have just one difficult question. If you were still with him in August 1977, do you think you would have been there to perhaps save his life?

Well, I know that I've had a past record of having saved his life several times when certain things happened and you're right, it's a difficult one because everybody around him, including his father, had said that if I'd have been with him he would have still been alive. His father told me that on the night of the funeral. All of his friends and relatives have said that to me too. That is something that we will now never know. I could have stayed there and kept him alive for another ten years or I might have found him dead the same way that Ginger did. That would have been even more devastating to me than the fact that I could have been there or I might have done something. I think God has a way of working things out. He removed me from the situation because maybe there was nothing I could've done.


You can't change the course of history, can you?



Can I just check a story with you? It's something that was supposed to have happened and it's such a great story that I kind of hope it did. You and Elvis were eating in McDonalds and someone thought he was an impersonator...

The story is true but the details are a little wrong. We never ate in McDonalds. We were approaching the Memphian Theater where I told you that at midnight we went to see movies. We were walking in and he was slightly ahead of me and someone came up to him and said, "Oh, my God, look, it's Elvis. You're Elvis, aren't you?" He said, "Well, yes, I am Elvis" and they went crazy. They wanted an autograph and a picture. As I walked up I said, "Charlie, you're not using that Elvis bit again are you? Come on, you're not telling these people that you're Elvis again, are you?" I told the fans, "He gets it all the time and he's always messing with people." The fans said, "We knew you couldn't really be Elvis" and he replied, "But I am, tell 'em, honey!" I replied, "Come on, Charlie, we're late."


That sounds like it was fun.

He had such an amazingly wonderful sense of humour and we shared that. If you can laugh with someone then you can spend a lot of years with them. You can forgive a lot of things, overlook a lot of things.


Do you remember Elvis' poem about the robin that he told at your house on Old Hickory in Memphis in 1974?

Is that out?


It's out on CD and I can send you a copy if you’d like to hear it again.

Would you? RCA tried to buy that from me and I said no. It's bootlegged I guess but it's okay. I'd love to hear it. My children were asking about it just the other day and I was looking for my tape. I have it on a little cassette tape somewhere. As I awoke this morning, when all sweet things are born, A robin perched upon my windowsill to greet the coming morn... that's the poem right?


That's the one. You can finish it if you like (laughs).

He sang his song so sweetly, and paused for a moment's lull. I gently raised the window, and crushing his 'bleeping' skull (laughs).


You know it off by heart but you left out the swear word!

That was his favourite poem.


Have you ever met anyone with as much charisma as Elvis?

I don't ever expect to meet anyone again in my life with that absolute magic. Elvis was one of a kind. He was a mould-breaker. My grandmother used to say that he broke the mould.


Do you still have your TLC (tender loving care) necklace?

Oh, yeah, I still have it and I still wear it occasionally. Not to take away from anyone else that I've loved in my life. Everyone has a personal magic. We're all like snowflakes, unique in our creation. We're so much alike and we're all just drifting through life but we all have our own character, our own shape. Elvis was just unique, incredibly sensual and tender. He was funny and he was good. He was an extreme in every aspect of his life.


What about the time when he only just missed you with a bullet in Las Vegas?

He was just like a little child. It's astounding when you think about the guns that he had because I'm so aware now of gun control and the danger of handguns. When I look back and think about when he had guns around that were loaded and a young child around. You know, we just said to Lisa to never go near the guns and she didn't. But who knows, if she had been a more disobedient child or a more curious child, it's astounding. It makes my blood run cold when I think about the responsibility.


It's a miracle that nobody was killed or injured but I think the incident with you was the nearest, right?

That's right. I'd just happened to have come out of the shower at the Las Vegas Hilton, the presidential suite, and he was lying on the sofa. In those days they had these huge bull's eye advertisements. Vegas came alive when Elvis was there and they had these billboards, posters and placards. So he had one of these enormous bull's eye things in the suite and he decided that he would just shoot for the target. It was a kind of cardboard cutout of his name with this bull's eye... like hit the mark, come see Elvis... whatever. So, Elvis pulled out his gun and shot at the bull's eye and the bullet went through the wall, which was adjacent to my bathroom. It went through the wall, then through the toilet paper holder, which was metal, out through a mirrored door and shattered it. I was standing at the sink and I heard ting, ting, and the sound of glass breaking. I felt the air behind my leg. When I looked down there was a bullet hole in the door behind me. I opened that door and there was another shattered glass door and a bullet lying there. I knew exactly what was happening. James Caughley came in and said, "Linda, are you okay?" and I said, "Yeah, what the hell was that?” and he said that it was just Elvis having a little target practice. I threw my robe on, put a towel around my head and went outside and said, "What do you think you are doing? You almost shot me!" and he went white. It was as though someone had told him that the bullet had gone through the wall and that I was hit. He couldn't even get up because he was so shaken.


Well, that's the child in him that you just mentioned. He was being scorned.

I know, I was scolding him and he just shrivelled. He said, "Oh, my God, I didn't know you were in there. I didn't know it would go through the wall. I thought it would just lodge there." I said, "You could have killed me!" and he asked if I wanted to go home. I said, "Well, at least I won't get shot at there!" He was profusely apologetic but he was really shaken up. He was ashen.


That bullet story is in the film Elvis and the Beauty Queen. What did you think of the movie?

You know, it was a little frustrating because it's impossible to encapsulate in two hours what happened in a five-year relationship of the intensity of my relationship with Elvis. It's difficult to be totally objective about it because it was so close to everything that happened. I felt that they chose something to expound upon like the drug usage and such problems more than his sensitivity, his generosity, his playfulness and his talent. You know, these are the things that I talked in length about. I spoke far more in detail about the acts of generosity and his spirituality and his kindness. Of course there was the drug abuse and the self-destructiveness, but this is what they expounded upon. I felt that it was more of a personal slant for the writer but they couldn't have been nicer and kinder to me and it couldn't have been any more flattering to me, which I appreciated. I'm sorry that more of his goodness didn't show in the movie. There was so much. It should have been a mini-series and people should have come away thinking “My God, what an incredible human being he was, floored and troubled yes, but what a phenomenal, incredible human being.”


How would you like to finish this interview?

I should probably tell you this; the years I was with Elvis, I'd always been a poet. I was baptized when I was nine years old at the Baptist Church in Memphis and I've always felt that the gift that God gave me was to write poetry. So, I started when I was nine years old and I wrote poetry for my father, my mother and all my family. That's how I started writing lyrics and when I was with Elvis I would write love poems. You know, if he ever hurt me I would write that out and express to him everything through poetry. He would always say, "Honey, this is beautiful, won't you let me have someone put this to music and I'll record that because it's so pretty?" and I would always say no because I felt it was personal. And now, in my stupidity, I had no idea about royalties (laughs) but I know that when he died, he knew that I wasn't there for any other reason, any commercial consideration or anything. I was there only because I truly loved him.


You can't put a price on your memories or what you have in your heart.

That's right, but I think that he would get a real kick out of the fact that I've become a successful song writer and that I am able to bring all that poetry to song. Having records cut and stuff.


Absolutely, I was so surprised to learn that you'd written hits for Whitney Houston and Céline Dion.

David's musicality would have been a big source of joy for Elvis too. Elvis loved musicians. He loved David Briggs, he loved his music, so I'm sure he'd really appreciate my husband's music.


I know that he appreciated you and fans throughout the world are aware of that.

That's been such a great source of comfort to me, to feel that love shared throughout the world. All fan magazines and tabloids have always dealt with me very kindly. I really take more satisfaction in that than anything. Knowing that people really understand how much I loved Elvis. The people who love him appreciate that and they let me know it.


Do you have any unseen photographs of you and Elvis together?

It's so hard to find any good clear shots.


You know why?

Because we never allowed any photographs to be taken. I respected that about his privacy and he was very skittish about people taking photographs, so there aren't all that many of us together.



I've seen several good photographs of you in the 1970's. You have very long eyelashes Linda.

(Laughs) I do, don't I? My children have those too. In my family on my mother's side, everybody has long eyelashes. People used to think that I wore false eyelashes but I never did.


Well, I hope you like the photos we choose to go with the interview when it's printed.

Oh, I'm sure I will and thank all the fans for remaining loyal and devoted to Elvis.


I will and I'm sure they'll say the same to you. Thanks for allowing us the interview.

Keep up the good work and we'll be in touch.


Thanks Linda, give our regards to David and the family.

I sure will. Bye.


Source: Essential Elvis.

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