When Jerry Lee Lewis Was Accused of Planning to Shoot Elvis Presley
Cops were called to Elvis Presley’s Graceland home in Memphis early on Nov. 23, 1976 to deal with a drunk man carrying a gun. He turned out to be Jerry Lee Lewis, but didn’t stop him from being arrested amid accusations of planning to shoot his old friend.
It was actually the second attempt by Lewis – known as "The Killer" – to enter Graceland that week. Around the same time the previous evening, he’d rolled up in a Rolls-Royce, only to be told by gate guard Harold Loyd that Presley was asleep. Lewis offered polite thanks and drove off, but later crashed his car and was cited for driving under the influence and without a license.
On the second night, Lewis arrived in a late-model Lincoln Continental, displaying a brand-new pistol on the dashboard, and displayed a much more negative state of mind.
“He was outta his mind, man,” Loyd said later. “He was screamin’, hollerin’ and cussin’, ‘Get on the goddamn phone. I know you got an intercom system. Call up there and tell Elvis I wanna visit with him. Who the hell does he think he is? Tell him the Killer’s here to see him.’”
Perhaps understandably, Loyd reacted with some panic, and, on calling the house, was told to relay his information to the police. While six patrol cars were dispatched, Loyd said Presley himself called the guard house, while he was watching events unfold on CCTV.
“He used to stutter a lot when he got upset – 'Wh-wh-what the hell's goin' on down there, Harold?’” Loyd recalled Presley asking. “I said, 'Well, Jerry Lee Lewis is sittin' in his car down here outside the gate, wavin' a derringer pistol and raisin' hell.’”
Watch Jerry Lee Lewis Discuss the Incident
Presley said, “Oh, I-I-I don't wanna talk to that crazy sonofabitch,” then asked Loyd to call the cops. Told it had already been done, Presley added: “Good. When they get there tell 'em to lock his butt up and throw the goddamn key away. Okay?”
Arresting officer Billy J. Kirkpatrick later reported that Lewis had broken a window of his car while throwing an empty champagne bottle through it, and then suffered a facial injury on the broken glass. His pistol was found to be loaded and cocked, and he was arrested for carrying the weapon and being drunk in a public place – although in the end, the charges mostly went away.
Several accounts from Lewis’ perspective exist, but all contain his insistence that Presley had called him, and that he was concerned about his old friend’s well-being. The pistol had been a gift from the owner of a club Lewis had just played, who also happened to be a local sheriff. It had been on the dash because he didn’t want to be arrested for carrying a concealed weapon. “I was drinking a lot of champagne and I don’t like champagne – it made me a little wild, you know?” Lewis later admitted.
He said he placed the gun in clear sight but had “forgotten I was going by Elvis’s house.” When he arrived, Loyd “saw the gun on the dashboard and he ran back and he called the law.” In the exchange that followed between Lewis and the cops, he said he was asked: “What you gonna do with the gun? Are you gonna shoot Elvis Presley?” His reply: “Well, if you’re silly enough to think that, probably.” The resulting situation, Lewis admitted, was “embarrassing to me.”
The two early rock legends never met again: Ten months later, the Presley was dead.
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