It was raining in Los Angeles when I caught the Elvis Presley shuttle plane to join his next concert. There were about ten musicians and two members of the Sweet Inspirations singing group when I got there. And as usual, we were to stop once again in Las Vegas to pick up more band members before heading for Portland, Maine to join the rest of the troupe. The people I can remember being on the chartered Holiday Airline Electrojet that day were Marty Harrell, bass trombone player; Pat Houston, trumpet; Myrna Smith, and Estelle Brown of the Sweet Inspirations singing group; James Burton, Jerry Scheff, Ronnie Tutt, Glen D. Hardin, all musicians; and Jacky Kahane, a comedian. Also two men from Colonel Parker's office were aboard. I think they were Tom Diskin and Ed Bonja.
Much of the excitement was gone about being on tour again. After all, I had been singing with Elvis for seven years and we had traveled thousands and thousands of miles, criss crossing the country hundreds of times. But it was always nice to see the old gang. No question about it, we were all veterans of Elvis Presley tours and we had all been trough a lot together.
Since everyone knew I had a close relationship with Elvis and he telephoned me whenever the mood struck him, night or day, it was understandable that some aboard the plane would ask me: "How's Elvis doing?" Everyone knew he was sick, that each public appearance brought him to the point of exhaustion. I didn't want to say much, didn't want to alarm everyone, but I was really surprised that we were even going to do a concert in Portland, Maine. Because of Elvis' worsening health and the way he talked to me the last time we had been together about a month earlier, I thought Elvis' touring days were over. I don't remember it now, but my sister said I told her the night before: "Don't be surprised if I'm back home in a day." "Why?" she asked. "Because, I don't think it will ever happen, not the way Elvis is feeling," I told her.
However, Elvis said we were going to give a concert in Portland and that's what we set out to do. The plane droned on and since I had gotten up so early, I curled up in my seat and went to sleep. The next thing I remember is waking up to find out we were landing. I couldn't believe we had already arrived in Portland. And we hadn't.
"The pilot was told to land in Pueblo, Colorado so we could call for further orders," someone told me later, but I was asleep and it was only the plane wheels touching on the ground that woke me up. We made a rough landing in a heavy wind and everybody got out of the plane to get fresh air and stretch.
Marty Harrell had gone to call Memphis, but I didn't know what. If I had been told we had orders to call Memphis, I would have known right away that it was some kind of crisis. we all strolled near the plane, waiting for a report on why we were being delayed. It all happened so quickly that I had no time and was still too sleepy to do any rational thinking. Marty came out of the airport terminal and walked up the plane steps. "Everybody gather around, I have something to tell you," he said. We all moved slowly toward Marty and then he said in a soft, clear voice: "Elvis died this morning. We are to head back to Las Vegas and Los Angeles right away."
It was a simple statement that brought moans from some and others looked disbelieving. I felt numb and suddenly very drained. After all those years together, Elvis was gone from my life and even though I had known for months that the ending was near, it was still a shock to hear that it had finally happened. My feelings were mixed. Relief for Elvis because he would no longer suffer, yet there was my own sense of loss far beyond tears. In fact, years went by before I could really cry about the greatest hurt of my life. My friend, my fun loving, unpredictable Elvis was dead. Even now it's difficult to realize.
From the memories of Kathy Westmoreland.