The Man Who Knew the Man: Elvis Presley’s Bodyguard

(Blogger’s Note: Over the weekend, I took a quick getaway weekend vacation to Mountain View, Arkansas. When a friend shared with me the rumor that a local restaurateur had previously worked as a body guard to Elvis Presley, I couldn’t resist the urge to probe a little further. This is the result of that surprise, impromptu encounter.

For a related sidebar post on my secondary blog, you can check out: http://wp.me/p2wzTk-1Y)

“Famous” Tommy Miller was head of Elvis Presley’s security detail in 1975.

It was the most unlikely of interviews.

I hesitantly walked through the screen door, up to the counter, and the exchange began this way:

Tommy Miller: What can I do for you?

Me: Well, sir, I’m just an out-of-town visitor passing through, and I’m an internet journalist who enjoys writing about interesting people. I heard you were a bodyguard. Is that true?

TM: Do I owe you money?

Me: Nope.

TM: Do you have a subpoena in your hand?

Me: Nope.

TM: Are you an Elvis freak?

Me: Not even close. Would you mind if I asked you a few quick questions?

TM: I lay pretty low and this is not something I talk a lot about, but you seem like a decent enough person so go ahead.

***

And that was how we broke the ice. My journalists’ blood pressure went to new levels and my heart skipped a beat to bag such an interesting interview out of the clear blue sky.

***

“Famous” Tommy as he is known in his hometown, is the owner of Tommy’s Famous Pizza BBQ and Ribs in Mountain View, Arkansas. It’s a town of around 2,500 residents, and the self-proclaimed folk music capital of the world. Not exactly the place you’d expect to find a guy who was perhaps a heartbeat away from being a made man in Elvis Presley’s Memphis Mafia.

The former head of security for Presley’s protective detail, Miller said he is currently putting the finishing touches on his memoirs. He even asked me a few questions about copyright law because of a dispute he’s having over a photo he proposes to feature in his book, claiming he was in the last frame of the last scene of the last movie Presley ever made.

Elvis on Tour is a 1973 documentary portraying a behind-the-scenes look at Presley’s life on tour. It went on to win a Golden Globe award for best documentary film, and Miller says the film’s last scene shows him escorting Presley from the stage at the conclusion of a concert.

***

When you’ve interviewed enough people in your career, it doesn’t take long to get a certain sense of your subject. Tommy Miller’s forearms are massive. He’s built like an anvil. His words are straightforward and to the point. Miller may not have a Harvard MBA, but he commands respect.

I knew immediately my best strategy was to ask a few questions, get in, and get out.

***

Miller was hired as a detail guy on Presley’s security team in 1969. He finished his career with Presley at the end in 1975 as head of the security detail team.

“In the 60’s I ran my own private investigation firm in Memphis. Times were pretty tough in ’68 and ’69, and I knew if I could ever make it to Vegas, things would start looking up,” Miller said.

With Presley’s never-ending popular demand, it didn’t take long for Miller to ride Presley’s coat tails to his desired destination, and in the last years he managed the entire security team.

For the most part he coordinated security in the hotels where Presley stayed. The details ranged from 60 to 80 men strong, depending on the locale and logistics.

***

Ten minutes had passed, and I knew it was time to bring the “interview” to a close. Miller’s massive forearms continued to draw my attention, and the last thing I wanted to do was monopolize his time.

Hesitant, I asked if he’d mind if I took a quick photo. Sure, he said. Unprepared, I had to quickly run outside to get my camera where my wife and friend were waiting in the truck. They said they’d never seen me smiling quite so brightly.

I darted back inside, expecting Miller to strike a pose of some sort. But he just sat there, chin in hand, never flinching. I took one shot and one shot only. You never know how a flash may set a guy off. The result was the photo you see above. What you see is what you get with Famous Tommy.

One last question, I thought. I wanted to get something good. End on a high note. See my related post here: http://wp.me/p2bjEC-j4

***

“Did you ever rough anyone up?” … and I waited for the response.

“Yeah,” Miller said. “Especially the ones you had warned so many times. We were the toughest on the room-invading freaks. We put the hurt on some people. There were a lot of times I wish we hadn’t hurt people so bad, but it’s like I’m the lawn mower and you’re standing in the way of my job, so you get mowed down.

“Still to this day, I get a certain feeling when there’s a full moon. You just want to go out and punch somebody in the face. Strange as it may sound, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of someone’s face collapsing around your fist.”

***

Okay.

I don’t know what the moon phase was at that particular moment, and I didn’t take time to check the almanac.

This ain’t my first rodeo. Interview over. And I was outta there.

(This was a great example of how to take advantage of recognizing a freak writing opportunity. I’m currently in the midst of a series of posts on how to write copy that kills. You can view a recent post that sets the stage for opportunities like this at: http://wp.me/p2bjEC-kf )

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