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|TAKING CARE OF ELVIS BY TISH HENLEY
MEMORIES WITH Elvis' Personal urse
August 09, 2015 / WTVA Tupelo / Elvis Express Radio
For 38 years, Letetia Henley Kirk kept silent about her years with Elvis Presley.
That changes Monday when she releases her book, “Taking Care of Elvis … Memories with Elvis as His Private Nurse and Friend.”
She lived on the grounds at Graceland, Elvis’ home, with her husband and two young daughters from 1972 until 1983 and often traveled with Elvis on tour. The book is a collection
of short stories about her life around Elvis and his family and includes dozens of previously unpublished photos.
“He was not only my patient but a good friend,” said Kirk, who is 73. “That’s why I didn’t want to write a book all these years. I felt like he wouldn’t have written a book about me if it
had been the other way around.”
She changed her mind after a friend convinced her to attend an event during Elvis Week last August in Memphis. She talked to many of the fans, especially the Europeans, who
descend on Graceland each year to commemorate the death of Elvis on Aug. 16, 1977.
“I realized how hungry the fans are for stories about what life was like during a normal day at Graceland,” Kirk said by phone Wednesday. “They already know the stories about
drugs and sex and life on the road. They want to know what Elvis was like at Graceland during his private time.
“That’s what this book is, light-hearted stories of my memories and experiences with Elvis.”
The former Letetia Edwards grew up in the Dixie community of Obion County, about eight miles west of Union City and eight miles east of Reelfoot Lake.
She graduated from Dixie High School in 1960 and attended St. Joseph School of Nursing in Memphis, earning her degree in 1963.
“I dreamed of being a nurse from the time I was a little girl,” she said. “I really liked our family doctor, and my mother’s dear friend was a nurse, so that influenced me.”
She was hired at The Medical Group in Memphis, where she worked for 40 years. About 1968 she met Elvis when he came to the clinic for treatment of saddle sores from riding
“We treated him after hours, and he saw Dr. Nick,” Kirk said, referring to Dr. George Nichopoulos. “I was in the room assessing Elvis, and he was sitting in the corner talking to me
with his head down.
“I walked over, lifted his chin and said, ‘Elvis, if you talk to me, you look at me.’”
She thought she was in trouble when Dr. Nick called her to his office and, with a solemn look on his face, asked what she said to Elvis. When she told Dr. Nick, he grinned and said
Elvis liked her country ways.
She became his regular nurse when Elvis came to the clinic, and that led to her move to Graceland in 1972.
“Elvis said he would put a trailer behind Graceland for me and my family to live in so I could take care of him and his daddy and grandmother,” Kirk said. “I told him I wasn’t going to
be trailer trash for nobody. So he hired my husband, Tommy Henley, to do security and take care of the grounds and keep his toys running. Elvis had his way of getting what he
wanted, and I’m glad he did.”
The Henley family had just bought a new house, but they rented it out and moved into a three-bedroom trailer behind the Graceland mansion. Letetia’s two daughters were about 8
and 7, and they enjoyed playing with Elvis’ daughter, Lisa Marie, who was 4 in 1972.
“Elvis came in and out of our trailer like he was one of our kids,” Kirk said. “He was just part of the family.”
His nickname for her was Tashina or Tish for short.
She said Elvis did not have bad health issues at the time but needed attention with weight problems and his GI tract. And his father, who lived at Graceland, had heart issues.
She said she tried to monitor Elvis’ use of prescription drugs, but he got them from various sources.
“They came in from everywhere,” she said. “His access to medications was overwhelming, and you can’t catch them all. There were no street drugs, just prescription drugs, but it
was a nightmare. It was just sad.”
Letetia was working at the clinic on Aug. 16, 1977 when her husband called and told her to “get home quick.” She jumped in her car and saw the ambulance on Elvis Presley
Boulevard as it raced Elvis to the hospital. She drove through the front gate of Graceland and learned what happened. Elvis was dead at age 42.
“I was in total disbelief,” she said. “I never dreamed something like that would happen. I was worried because Lisa was there. It was horrific for days. I still get emotional about it, and
the book was very hard to write because of that emotional journey.”
She said major publishers wanted her story but insisted on using ghostwriters to produce the book. She didn’t trust them.
So she wrote the stories, and her sister-in-law typed them. She chose to self publish in Memphis with Wimmer, a division of Mercury Printing Co. Wimmer specializes in cookbooks
but prints various topics.
Kirk will have a book signing Monday at Marlowe’s at 4381 Elvis Presley Blvd. She will attend an Elvis event in Great Yarmouth, England on Sept. 3-17 and sell her books. When
she returns, she plans to have a book signing at Old Country Store in Jackson.
The 160-page, soft-cover book sells for $30. You can receive one by mail for $36.50. Contact Kirk at 901-491-8406 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Her first husband was killed in 1994, and Letetia remarried. But everyone in the Presley family remembers her as a Henley. She said she still talks to Priscilla, Elvis’ former wife and
Lisa Marie’s mother, a few times each year.
Among a variety of stories in the book are those she tells about gifts she received from Elvis, including how she turned down a black Cadillac.
“Elvis was extremely generous and just loved to make people happy,” she said. “He was so intelligent and kind and caring.
“I was a very blessed country girl.”