Weekend Reads: “My Brother Elvis,” by David Stanley
As my Memphis trip draws nearer (just 10 more days), I am doing my usual thing; reading books about, or set in, that city. This memoir, by Elvis Presley’s stepbrother, was one of the first.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I’m not going to lie: this is one of the most difficult and poignant memoirs I’ve ever read.
David Stanley was four years old when his mother married Vernon Presley, Elvis’ father. David’s father had been a sergeant in Elvis’ Army unit, and Dee left him for Vernon. She brought three young sons with her (Ricky, Billy, and David) to Graceland. Elvis immediately became a father figure for David in particular.
At age 16, David dropped out of high school to become one of Elvis’ bodyguards. As a result, he was intimately acquainted with what happened on tour, how many prescription medications Elvis took (despite Elvis’ hatred of street drugs, he took quite a few scrips and believed that if the doctors gave them to you nothing could go wrong)., and how much womanizing went on among the crew — including Elvis and Vernon.
As a very young man, David lacked the life experience to adequately make decisions about whether this was really acceptable … and so he went along with it. He enjoyed the social cachet of being Elvis’ brother, and rationalized the bad parts of the life right up until the time Elvis died. After that, he focused on kicking his own recently-realized addictions and getting his messed-up life together.
One of the most poignant and painful scenes in the book is when an increasingly paranoid Elvis threatens David with a gun — because David is gathering up the huge pile of medications from Elvis’ bedside table and is going to dispose of them. David describes Elvis as looking like a parody of the handsome man he’d once been, horribly overweight and losing his grasp on reality. Twenty-four hours later, Elvis tells him that he loves him and the next time they see each other it will be on a higher plane. Twelve hours later, Elvis Presley was dead.
Part of the reason David Stanley wrote this book, by his own admission, was to raise awareness that prescription medication addiction is not something that happens just to the underprivileged. There are resources listed at the end of the book for anyone who may be struggling with addiction and wants help.