Elvis’ cousin on lavish Christmases at Graceland ‘He gave from the heart’
Graceland: Take a live virtual tour of Elvis' Memphis home
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Imagine spending your whole life with Elvis. Eight years his junior, Billy wasn’t just a central member of the Memphis Mafia, he was also the star’s cousin. They grew up together in Tupelo before both their families moved to Memphis. When The King began his rise to unimaginable fame and fortune, Billy lived nearby, and then actually on the grounds of Graceland. With his wife Jo, he has released a new video describing the extraordinary Christmases they all spent together, and the incredible simple, generous man behind the famous mask. SCROLL DOWN TO WATCH THE FULL VIDEO
Elvis bought Graceland in 1957. Christmas was already a special time for his family, even when they were extremely poor back in Mississippi. So, when the young star moved into his huge new mansion, he went all out and started Christmas traditions that would last his whole life.
Billy, only a teenager that year, remembers how overwhelming it all was: “In 1957, he had it decorated, his first Christmas. I’d never seen anything like that. Christmas at Graceland was magical. To be 14 years old and see all this, was, golly, just an extraordinary feeling.”
“It was always a lot of fun. Most of the time we had certain routines, opening presents, get into our fireworks battles. Several times he tried to burn the office down or blow up my car or something.”
Elvis himself, however rich or famous he became, always retained his own wonder and delight in simple things, and Billy recalls one incredibly special Christmas in particular.
“I think one of my most memorable Christmases was in 1965, it was snowing to New Year’s Eve. They said it was 50 years since it had snowed on Xmas Eve and it was beautiful, golly. We watched it snow for a while and he told everybody, ‘Don’t go out on the lawn, I don’t want footprints out there!
“We walked down to the curb and looked at it. He said, ‘Man this is so pretty, don’t y’all think? I’ve always liked snow. I thought I got enough of it in Germany…’
“Just the look on his face, he went to clowning around, he said, ‘See I told you all I could do it, make it snow at Christmas!’
And, of course, then it was back to the house because Elvis liked nothing better than to lavish gifts on his nearest and dearest.
That first Graceland Christmas, Elvis famously gave each member of his entourage a crisp thousand-dollar bill. HIs generosity only grew with every year, although he also enjoyed a chance to prank everybody.
Jo recalled: “Elvis would have a stack of envelopes with Xmas bonuses as well as personal things. One year he gave out little certificates and said, ‘This year has been a little tougher than every year but I hope you all enjoy this.’ He handed them all out first and when you opened them it was a little MacDonald’s gift certificate for 50 cents. I thought (Elvis’ schoolfriend) George Klein would have a heart attack.
“He (Elvis) acted real serious, ‘Merry Christmas everybody, I appreciate all your gifts’… And then he started dying laughing…”
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Jo added: “Then he came out with another stack with Christmas bonuses. He gave us a Christmas bonus every year I can ever remember. He wanted to make sure everybody had enough to see to their families. On top of that, he gave cars and different things. One time he gave me this beautiful yellow gold and diamond ring. It was beautiful. I could not take my eyes off it.”
Priscilla Presley has described how a jeweller would come out to Graceland with gifts for everyone and, of course, Lisa Marie was lavished with gifts from the beautiful hot air balloon under a dome for her first Christmas to a golf cart from her father on his last Christmas in 1976.
Billy said: “You could never talk about Elvis’ generosity and not know that he was a giving man. He loved to give and see people’s reactions. He loved people. He gave from the heart. Regardless of what he gave, you couldn’t ask for a better present than that.”
But what could anyone get the man who had everything, in return?
Jo said: “Everyone would gather around in the dining room and he would open up presents . Nobody would get him anything expensive because he had everything in the world. But the guys would get together and have special things made for him. One time, Red got him a humungous loaf of bread, French bread, longer than that coffee table. He thought that was hilarious.
“He would open every gift and make comments, but if you got your feelings hurt easy you might not want to be there because there was no telling what he would say…”
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