My Brother Elvis
Leadership is Redefining “Profit” see my post HERE
The My Brother Elvis Foundation is a new charity that will increase awareness, provide support, and fight the battle against the massive crisis of prescription drug abuse.
Founded by David E. Stanley, stepbrother to Elvis Presley, the My Brother Elvis Foundation has been established in honor of the philanthropic spirit that Elvis showed David in supporting others in need during the 17 years he spent with him.
Here’s the transcript of the interview:
Hugh: This is Hugh Ballou. Today, I am interviewing David Stanley. David, you and I have known each other about ten years.
David: It has been a while. How are you doing today?
Hugh: I’m doing great. I interviewed you years ago, in 2007, for my book Transforming Power about your leadership skills and putting a team together to do a movie. Your themes have been around your brother, Elvis. You are launching an initiative called “My Brother Elvis.” Give us a little background on who you are, your relationship with Elvis, and why this vision is so important to you and to others.
David: Let me start off by saying I am excited about the new foundation called My Brother Elvis Foundation, which is a charity designed to educate and support and fight against the drug abuse problems that we have in America today. Some may ask why I would want to do that and what that has to do with Elvis. I spent seventeen years with Elvis Presley beginning in 1960 when my mother divorced my father and remarried Vernon Presley, Elvis’s father. I became Elvis’s stepbrother and moved into Graceland in 1960, and I lived there for seventeen years. This was a great experience. Elvis was a wonderful human being. He took me into his family. He really raised me. He was my father figure, my mentor, the person I looked up to. It was unusual to be driven to school in a pink Cadillac every day; I got a lot of attention for being Elvis’s brother. It was a very cool lifestyle.
In 1972, I went to work for Elvis as his personal bodyguard. Working for Elvis meant being part of his entourage, traveling with him everywhere. I went on tours with him, to movie studios. Wherever he went, I went. When I toured with Elvis, I saw a chink in the armor. Elvis had a drug problem. He started off taking a couple pills to help him sleep. That number went from two to four, four to six, six to eight, and by the late ‘70s, Elvis had a very serious drug addiction problem. Unfortunately, we lost Elvis to a drug overdose on August 16, 1977. I was there. I walked into his bedroom to discover his lifeless body.
While this is a very brief interview, it’s hard to discuss all of this in detail. That’s why I wrote a book called My Brother Elvis: The Final Years, which is about the final five years of my life with Elvis on the road and the things we are discussing right now. I wrote this book to tell this story about Elvis’s tragedy.
Growing up with Elvis, he was such a giver. He was always giving to charities, giving his time and money. He kept writing checks to different charities throughout the world. That was his ultimate gift. I thought about my life. I was brought up this way. I saw the tragedies of what drugs can do firsthand, and now I am telling his story. Elvis’s death does not have to be in vain. Sure, it was a tragedy. Sure, he was a wonderful, loving person, a wonderful father, and a great big brother. He was the king of rock and roll. But the tragedies and realities of the human side of Elvis Presley cost him his life. I said to myself, “I can write this book and share this story. I’m not going to do a tell-all. But I want to communicate that if it can happen to Elvis, it can happen to anyone.” Therefore, I wrote the book. As a result of writing the book, I created the Elvis Foundation, naming the charity after Elvis in the spirit of Elvis’s giving because he was the ultimate giver. It also connects it to that if it can happen to the King of Rock and Roll, it can happen to anyone.
I know that’s a mouthful early this morning. That’s what we’re doing, that’s who I am, and that’s what motivated me.
Hugh: That’s a great story, that you’re motivated by that. What is the purpose of this foundation? Why do we need this foundation?
David: I think that we’re living in a society of drug abuse at the highest level. 78 people die a day from prescription drug abuse. 15 million are affected by it every single year. 9% of the teen deaths in America are from prescription drug abuse. It’s not just teens, but it’s adults as well. I grew up in a rock and roll society; I’m from the entertainment world. My whole life was growing up with Elvis Presley in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, touring with him and being around rock and roll bands. We lost Elvis, which was a tragedy. We lost Michael Jackson, which was another tragedy. That was a carbon copy of Elvis’s death: prescription medication. Most recently, we lost Prince. I thought to myself, Two kings and a prince: What can we learn from these tragic deaths? Superstars, phenomenal individuals who went down the path of addiction that cost them their lives. What can we learn from this? Through the celebrity-type background that I have, I can draw attention to this epidemic issue of prescription drug abuse on America today. It’s not just America, but it’s throughout the world.
The purpose of it is to draw attention to the issue, to raise awareness. The other thing is to support foundations that are existent that provide treatment for drug abuse. And sustaining the level of consciousness about it. This is a serious issue. This is a serious problem that is plaguing America today, and throughout the world. The U.S. is the biggest problem. The opiates that are out there and all the prescription drug medications kill people daily. It’s a way to draw people to the situation through the celebrity of Elvis Presley. Everybody knows who Elvis is. It’s important that people read this book and hear my message. I’m not putting Elvis Presley down. I’m not saying he was a gun-totin’ drug addict. Elvis had a very serious drug problem that cost him his life. People remember that. They remember the great Elvis and say, “Look at the great tragedies of the losses of Michael and Elvis and Whitney Houston and Prince and countless others.” People are affected by this every single day. I created the foundation as an awareness support for people to wake up and fight back so we can save a lot of lives.
Hugh: Why you? Why are you called to this?
David: I believe that God gives us all a gift. I am a believer; I am not ashamed of my faith. God gave me the gift of communication. I think God put me in the Graceland mansion for a reason, for a platform to be able to communicate my message. It’s one thing to be related to Elvis Presley and another to say what that was like. It’s one thing to tell them, but it’s another to talk about the tragedies that cost him and what it almost cost me. Addiction was taking control of my life. I overcame that, and I was blessed to overcome it. I think we’re all gifted. I think my gift of being related to Elvis Presley opened the door, and then God gave me the gift of communication to be able to share it with authority, with passion, with purpose, motivated by the fact that I could help save a life. When I cradled Elvis Presley in my arms on August 16, 1977, along with others on the day he died, I had a wake-up call. His death was my resurrection. His passing was my wake-up call, and I woke up from addiction. I had my faith and was able to overcome what killed him. But I will never forget the loss, the pain, the suffering of loss of a guy who had picked me up seventeen years ago and said, “Welcome to my family.” You’ve heard me speak. You have been in my functions, I have been in yours, we have worked together many times. I am always talking about how I don’t talk about Elvis Presley unless I can communicate a positive message. The positive message unfortunately lies in the tragedy of his death. I’m not taking away from the greatness of who he was by talking about the tragedy of his loss. God picked me. This is my ministry. This is who I am.
Hugh: That’s a profound statement. You said it’s the My Brother Elvis Foundation.
David: That’s correct.
Hugh: If people wanted to support this vision that you have, if they wanted to join as a donor or a sponsor or provide grants for you, where could they find My Brother Elvis?
David: Mybrotherelvisfoundation.org. We’re a new organization. We are building this from the very beginning, coming out with my book next month on the 16th of August, which will draw awareness to us. This foundation is in the process of being created. They can donate a tax-deductible donation at www.mybrotherelvisfoundation.org. They can also get a copy of my book if they give a certain amount of money. There is a limited edition of my book called The Founding Member Limited Edition. The bottom line is it takes money to get a message out there. We can all do something. We can help out a family in need. We can walk down the street and share our faith. We can always be there. Using the power of today’s media and the celebrity of one of the biggest rock and roll icons ever, we are going to be able to reach a lot of people. People can help us. We are challenging people. I am not ashamed to ask for money. This is a tax-deductible gift to help start this foundation and communicate our objectives to the world of prescription drug abuse. We need to help these people. Anything from $10 to $20 to $35 to $1,000 to $25,000. Companies, organizations, structures can contact us for major donations. People across the street can be a part of this. We can save lives. This is about saving lives. Somebody asked me the other day, “Are you honoring Elvis?” I’ll always honor Elvis. I’ll always love Elvis. At the end of the day, this is not about honoring anyone. This is about saving lives. This is about touching people’s lives and saving lives.
Hugh: Speaking of Elvis, you know things about Elvis that nobody else knows. You’ve said to me a few times that Elvis was a giver. He wrote checks to support people. That’s an important part of this legacy, too, isn’t it?
David: It goes back to what we discussed at the beginning. I was brought up with a giver. Elvis Presley was the king of rock and roll. He did 33 movies. He had countless records sold. He had platinum records, gold records. He is the undisputed king of rock and roll, and probably the most popular rock icon ever. But his thing was giving. That is what we were talking about. If you see somebody walking down the street, you might give him a buck, but Elvis would give him a job, buy him a car, put his kid in college. Elvis would go to St. Jude’s hospital and give out teddy bears and perform concerts for the kids. Writing checks to them all the time. God gives gifts to everyone. Elvis had the gift of music, of melody in his heart. His heart had music. But his main gift was giving. Elvis always said, “The main reason I have anything is to give it.” In the spirit of that giving, I was brought up to give. This is my way to honor him from that perspective of giving. What I have learned from him, I want to share with other people. He taught the importance of giving. When David Stanley is dead and gone, the news will talk about the youngest stepbrother of Elvis Presley. I’d rather say that the youngest stepbrother of Elvis Presley leaves the legacy of the My Brother Elvis Foundation to reach and help prescription drug abusers throughout the United States and the world. It’s a legacy to leave behind for my children, and long after my children’s children are gone, we are in the spirit of giving to people who can’t help themselves, to others who are lost in a needle or a bottle or a pill or the abuse of self-prescribed prescription medication. We have to reach.
Hugh: As we are wrapping up here, I want to talk about David Stanley the leader. A lot of people have ideas. Only 3% of the population acts on those ideas, and 97% of those people are not successful. What I know about this project so far—let’s just declare that you and I are going to be working together on building it out. Part of your wisdom in leadership is identifying what your skills are and what your gaps are. Bringing in people who know how to fill those gaps is a strong leadership trait, as is transparency. You are very clear that you don’t know everything. You are also very clear that you are going to bring people in around you—with a board, with advisors, with staff—to run this organization with your vision very clearly articulated by you. I have heard you present a number of times. You are very gifted at articulating your vision. Speak about the work we are going to do in building this sustainable organization. We are going to do strategy. We are going to build the right board and the right team. Where do you fit, and what is your primary leadership focus in making sure this thing goes where your vision sees it to be?
David: I believe every great thing is started by a vision. Once you get a vision given by God, it’s going to happen. I am the visionary, seeing what it can do and what it will do. I am also the spokesperson driven by passion and purpose to make sure it does happen. By delegating to Hugh Ballou, my strategic team, my board of directors, my lawyers, everybody involved has a part that makes this the reality. My part is I am the spokesperson. I am not an expert in addiction. Yesterday, I met with an individual who has been an addiction specialist for over 30 years. He is an attorney. He has written books on it and done thousands of interventions. He did one that you will be meeting and in conference with later this week, somebody that will be a part of what we are doing. He is very aware of your part, very aware of the part I want him to have. Within the structure of us communicating right now, we can already see that we are putting the pieces together. You are the expert in strategy, in taking this thing from the page to the stage, from the mind to the marketplace. My job as the communicator is to lay the groundwork so that people such as you and the attorneys I will be working with can build up. Delegation is key. Too many people that fail have such egos. Their ego suppresses their results. They need to have an ego for success instead of an ego of success. They need to embrace the reality that they have a part, which they then need to take and turn into that reality. They delegate the other portions of that to individuals. They are transparent. They are authentic. Nobody knows everything, but everybody knows something. If you don’t know it, somebody else probably does. I don’t know strategic planning like you do. That is why you are on board. I don’t know treatment specialists personally; that’s why I need them. That is why I have worked with attorneys and other individuals in this specific field in order to turn this vision into a reality to reach millions of people.
Hugh: That was the essence of the story in Transforming Power. You put together a team of people to do the movie around your vision. As a concluding piece, when you speak on a stage, you have this very powerful story at the end around “Dream the impossible dream.” You stepped up to Elvis and said, “Elvis, I need your attention for this boy.” Give us a capsule about that story. You’re dreaming an impossible dream here, which you’re going to pull off. I have no doubt. For people who haven’t heard that story, give us a snapshot of that.
David: I’m glad you asked that. I worked with Elvis for the last five years of his life; I was at over 1,000 concerts. We were at a concert in Boston, Massachusetts playing the Boston Garden. I walked out on stage before the concert. Everybody was getting seated, settling down. I walk out on the stage before all concerts to check the height of the stage, make sure security was in place. If Elvis did a concert, 500 young ladies would rush the stage, and then 500 old ladies would rush the stage. It was an event. Elvis was the historical event of the evening everywhere he went. I was checkin’ all of this out. When I came off stage that night, I noticed the challenged section on the left. Elvis always made sure that the left side was the physically or mentally challenged section, that there was always a section for them. That spoke volumes of Elvis right there, that that section was always provided. I saw a guy sitting in his wheelchair. He was quadriplegic, and his arms and legs were turned in. He was drooling, and his parents were behind him, obviously excited to see the show. The boy was holding a frame in his hand, one of those Office Depot frames. I looked closer and noticed it was the lyrics to a song called “Dream the Impossible Dream,” which is another phenomenal song. “Dream the impossible, To follow that star, This is my quest, No matter how hopeless, No matter how far, I will reach the unreachable star.” Phenomenal song. I thought how odd it was to have those lyrics. At the end of those lyrics was a handwritten signature that said, “My impossible dream is to meet Elvis Presley.” I can make dreams come true in this case. When you can make a dream come true, you do. I am Elvis’s brother. I had full access to the backstage area to meet Elvis. I said to him, “Son, you’re coming with me.”
His parents asked, “Where are you going?”
I said, “I’ll take care of him.” I rolled him backstage, took him to Elvis’s dressing room, and asked the police to keep an eye on him for a second. I walked into Elvis’s dressing room, and he was getting ready for the concert.
He asked me, “What is it?”
I said, “I want you to meet somebody.”
He said, “David, this is not the time. I have a show in five minutes.”
I said, “Take a minute.”
He said, “Okay, this better be good.”
I rolled the guy in. Elvis saw him, fell on his knees, dropped his head on his lap, and began to cry. He was so overwhelmed that this crippled, broken man wanted to meet him. Elvis was so overwhelmed by it. The guy took his broken hand and said, “Elvis, I love you.” He still had the frame in his hand, which Elvis did not see yet.
Finally, after six or seven minutes, I said, “Boss, you have a show to do.”
He stood up, still crying, and wiped the tears from his eyes. He said, “Take care of my boy. Make sure he has the best seat in the house.”
I said, “You got it, boss.” I rolled the guy out and sat him next to the stage. Elvis came out on stage. 500 young ladies rushed the stage. Two minutes later, 500 old ladies rushed the stage. The historical event was doing what it did best: entertaining the people. The boy was overwhelmed with excitement. I said to the conductor, Joe, “Dream the impossible dream.” Mind you, Elvis had not seen the lyrics. He had not seen what the guy’s frame said. He was dealing with the guy. So they break into the song. Toward the end of the song, I looked at a buddy of mine and said, “Help me out.” We lifted the wheelchair onto the corner of the stage. Elvis saw him out of the corner of his eye and walked over, singing the lyrics to him. It was a phenomenal moment. The guy was lighting up, so excited. It was a beautiful thing to see. Suddenly, Elvis sang that last note, dropped on one knee, and the guy pushed the frame out at Elvis. Elvis took the frame from the guy. The song was over. All of the spotlights went to black except for one on the boy and one on Elvis. In a concert with Elvis Presley, there was never not a standing ovation after a song. That night, there was no standing ovation; the only thing you could hear was the teardrops dropping on the concrete floor of the Boston Gardens. That is the impossible dream. That was the most unbelievable thing I would ever see in my life. I tell people that today, that I saw Elvis make that boy’s dream come true. It was one of the most incredible moments. People say to me, “What is your dream, and what is keeping it from coming true?” With that story, in the spirit of giving, I created the My Brother Elvis Foundation to help people reach their impossible dreams, to reach their unreachable stars, and to turn their lives around and let them know that they are loved by God, by the people. There is much more to life than addiction and self-destruction.
Hugh: David Stanley, amazing. Thank you for sharing your stories today.
David: Thank you, Hugh. I am looking forward to working with you. For those who will read this article, thank you for reading it. Go to mybrotherelvisfoundation.org, and give, give, give. You can help us reach them.
The Transformational Leadership Strategist
Here’s the transcript of the interview: