Elvis Presley is one of the most enduring figures in American pop culture history.
Hundreds of thousands of people still pay each year to see Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tenn., and fork over cash for his music and memorabilia. And he consistently places at or near the top of the annual list of highest-earning dead celebrities.
Not bad for a guy who died in 1977.
He’s known around the world simply as Elvis, and his life story has been told and retold in every imaginable medium, from documentaries and movies to biographies and memoirs.
And they keep rolling in.
The latest comes from George Klein, who befriended Presley when they were high school classmates. Klein went on to earn a place in the King’s inner circle of friends and employees known as the Memphis Mafia.
“Elvis: My Best Man” (Crown, 320 pages, $25) isn’t a tell-all. Klein makes it clear in the author’s note that he “was offered a fair amount” to write such a book after Presley’s death.
Instead, what he offers is an insider’s view of Presley the man as opposed to Presley the singer, actor and icon.
“So much has been written and said about Elvis Presley that for a long time I didn’t feel the need to add my own book to the clamor,” Klein writes. “Now, though, I’m old enough to know that I won’t always be around to speak of the Elvis I knew.”
His Elvis is funny, kind, whip-smart and generous. Presley bought Klein gifts, including a new car, and paid for his wedding — he was Klein’s best man at the nuptials, hence the book’s title.
Many who write or reminisce about their time with Presley focus on subjects that titillate, but Klein holds off on all of that, preferring to paint a picture of Presley the human being.
The book comes across as an affectionate recounting of the times Klein spent with a man he considered his best friend.
Klein — called “GK” by Presley — offers a stirring account of how Presley coped with the untimely passing of his beloved mother, Gladys, whom Klein calls “the anchor in his crazy life.”
“I’ve come to believe that if Mrs. Presley had lived a full life, Elvis would be with us today,” Klein writes.
The book features retellings of Presley’s interactions with other famous figures of the era — from Ann-Margret and Steve McQueen to Nat King Cole and James Brown.
“Elvis: My Best Man” also hits on the major points in Presley’s life, including his marriage to — and divorce from — Priscilla Beaulieu; his time in the Army; his movie and music careers; and so on.
Klein unlocks the door to the King’s court, but what he shows us isn’t a tale of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll favored by other Presley biographers.
His is a tribute and a welcome addition to the mountain of Presley books already on the market.