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Email Interview With Bill Burk

Feb 13, 2000
Bill Burk is well known by most fans for his articles about Elvis in the Memphis Press Scimitar, his own publication Elvis World and his presence in alt.elvis.king, where he is always available as "old wise man". The "007" in the interview isn't the well know secret agent, but Burk, Bill Burk.

Can you share a little about yourself with us?

007: I am born in Memphis and have lived here most of my Life. I was educated at Memphis State University with major subjects of Psychology, Journalism and History, with a minor in Physical Education (athletics).
For 26+ years I wrote a column in the Memphis Press-Scimitar newspaper and I wrote almost 400 stories about Elvis 1957-77. When I would write something about Elvis, some person in Memphis would make a photocopy and send it to a friend, who would make a photo copy and send it to a friend in a foreign country, who would make a photocopy and send it to a friend in yet another country. And I would begin getting letters from all these people. Normally, the letters from Norway were the last I would receive after writing a story, and this normally took 2 months, so when I began getting letters from Norway, I knew I needed to write more about Elvis if I wanted to get more letters from worldwide fans!

In addition to writing, I have coached athletics 22 years in Memphis schools; and as a pilot (both military and civilian), I have logged some 9,500 hours flying to EVERY continent but Australia. I started my military career as a low private and finished 37 years later as a "real" Colonel (as opposed to Andreas Van Kuijk, who made himself a "colonel").
I actively played baseball (I played on a world military championship team 2 years); American football; and basketball (our University team lost the national championship by one point in Madison Square Garden in my last college game). I love golf.

I have 4 children by a former marriage. I am currently married to a Dane, Connie Lauridsen Burk, since 1987, though we have been together since 1985. Connie is not only my wife, but my best friend, and the editor of my magazine and books.

How did you meet Elvis and do you consider yourself an Elvis fan; and, if so, was this from the beginning or did it grow?

007: I met Elvis in late September 1957. I was then working the night shift at the Memphis Press-Scimitar with one photographer, Bill Leaptrott, who had attended Humes High School 4 years with Elvis. Our city editor assigned the two of us to go down to Graceland each afternoon about 17.00 (about the time Elvis was waking up) and see what all was happening with Elvis, and between Elvis and his fans, and to write it . . . ALL of it.

Elvis was dating Anita Wood at that time and, via a friend of Anita's, we arranged to be at Anita's apartment when Elvis came to take her to the Mid-South Fair (in Memphis) where she would receive a Lifetime pass to the Fair for having won the Miss Mid-South Fair beauty contest the year before.

I don't consider myself to be an Elvis "fan," in that the word "fan" comes from "fanatic," which means a person is 100% involved in being a fan.
In other words, I don't know how many sequins Elvis had on any of his jumpsuits; I don't know who was playing 2nd violin in the orchestra that backed Elvis on stage at the Las Vegas Hilton on 13 December 1976; and, sorry girls, I don't know the length of "Little Elvis."

I was a friend to Elvis for 20 years. I respected the many wonderful things he did with his life. We shared a background of having been born poor and growing up to become successful in our separate careers. No one ever "gave" us anything. We "worked" for everything we ever got. I still do!
But my life is far more varied than most people who are "fans." I love travel, flying, photography, reading history and detective novels, writing, and I spend as much time doing this as I do going across the world finding new Elvis stories and rare photos. I have appeared in 5 movies and on many, many Elvis documentaries for TV networks all around the world.

What, in general, is your favorite Elvis stuff?

007: Not sure what you mean by "stuff." If you mean "things," then I would have to say it would be Elvis T-shirts. At one time I was credited with having the world's largest collection of T-shirts (more than 1,100). I can NEVER get enough T-shirts. My 2nd greatest Elvis collection would be my Elvis books by all authors. I have maybe 200+ books, many of them signed by the author. Many people writing new books have visited in my home to "research" what others have written about Elvis.

Name your favorite Elvis song, movie, album.

007: My favorite song is easy to name -- "In The Ghetto." I have long felt Elvis put more emotion into recording that song than any other he ever recorded. I felt Elvis, having grown up poor in Tupelo, could relate to that young black boy roaming the Chicago streets at night. I know every time I hear that song I stop whatever I am doing, listen to it and even sing along with Elvis on it.
Favorite movie would be "Jailhouse Rock."
And my favorite albums (2) are the vinyl "Worldwide Hits," Vols. I & II. I listen to these more frequently than any other Elvis music I have (and I have a lot of it).

What is your favorite Elvis site?

007: I rarely look at Elvis sites. I know many of them are excellent. But when I do look, it will be either Jordan's Elvis World, ElvisNews, or Elvis Information Network. These are among the very best in the world.

Probably you have told the story a million times before, but how do you remember Elvis' passing?

007: This will be # 1,000,001 ! I had just finished taping my daily sport show for WMPS Radio in Memphis, got into my car and was driving on the expressway south to meet my #2 son, Michael, and we would play 18 holes of golf before sundown. As I passed the Elvis Presley Boulevard exit, I saw an ambulance -- sirens wailing and red lights flashing -- going north toward the hospital center. Little did I know at that moment that that was Elvis being transported to Baptist Memorial Hospital; and that his death would affect my future Life as greatly as it has.
After we had played 9 holes of golf, we went into the clubhouse to have a lemon drink, then we planned to go back and play the final 9 holes.

When I walked into the clubhouse, the golf pro said to me: "To bad about Elvis, ain't it?" I asked what he was talking about and he said: "Dead." And I almost shouted, "The sonofabitch can't be dead! He's only 42!!" (A note of explanation here. Elvis and I always called each other "sonofabitch." It was not being said in a disrespectful way.)

That was a Tuesday. I had been awake since 06.00 that morning. When I finally went to sleep at 24.00 on Friday, I had slept a total of 4 hours in 4 days because that is how busy I was not only researching as much information as I could about Elvis' life, his finances, his health, but also helping journalists from all around the world.

What is your "own" favorite Elvis book and what is your favorite Elvis book written by somebody else?

My own favorite (of the 12 that I have written) would have to be "Elvis: Through My Eyes," because these are my personal stories involving the highlights of a 20-year friendship with the world's all-time #1 entertainer!

Next, I enjoyed writing the "Early Elvis" trilogy -- 3 books covering all of Elvis' life from birth to 1956. These books were "The Tupelo Years," "The Humes Years," and "The Sun Years." By conducting all our own interviews (and not relying on what other books had printed), we have been able to discover many Elvis myths and to tell the fans the true story, like:

Elvis was driving a truck for Crown Electric when he paid $4 and recorded "My Happiness."

Dewey Phillips was the first DJ to play Elvis' record on the air.

Elvis was thrown off the Humes High football team because he had long sideburns.

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