Remembering 'The King' in Orange County
August 16 marks the 37th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. Most are familiar with his history in Memphis and Vegas – but Orange County? Yes, Orange County too!
Elvis – Jailhouse Rock
Several years ago, the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum had a fascinating exhibit, “The Day Elvis Met Nixon.” As the museum described, it was “A montage re-creating the famous encounter in the Oval Office between the King of Rock, Elvis Presley, and President Nixon, showcasing the clothing worn on that day by both men.
Elvis meets President Nixon
“The Presidential flags that served as the background to one of the most popular images from NARA will also be shown with the badge the President gave to Presley, as well as the Presidential cufflinks and a Presidential seal pin given to Priscilla Presley. From the Nixon Presidential Materials Staff, the letter that Elvis wrote on American Airlines stationery will be shown for the first time.” Hopefully it will return someday. But the Elvis myth looms larger in the OC beyond just a museum exhibit. After all, Presley performed not once, but twice, at the Anaheim convention Center - in 1973 and ‘76.
Elvis Sings in Anaheim
At the April '73 show, the Anaheim Bulletin reported, "Elvis Presley once more affirmed his role as the ‘King of Rock 'n' Roll’ to overflow crowds at the Anaheim Convention Center. Reminiscent of his recent TV special, Elvis illuminated the stage in a beaded, white pants suit as he strutted out to the pulsating rhythm of ‘2001’ - an appropriate introduction for the man whose genesis was ‘Hound Dog’ and who has left an indelible impression on the evolution of Rock and Roll."
And in November '76, less than a year before his death, the Los Angeles Times wrote,
"While his audience don't seem to mind the lack of challenge in his work (Presley's concerts are invariably sold out), it sells his own talent short. There are, however, points in virtually every performance where he seems to assert himself, almost as if it were a teasing reminder of what he can do. At Anaheim, they came during a tender, engaging version of his old ‘Blue Christmas’ and on a nicely spirited treatment of the punchy ‘That's All Right’ that reflected far more of the original, intense Sun Records flavor than he brings to most of his early work. Most importantly, the loss of weight may be a sign of increased discipline that will now carry over into Presley's recordings.”
Anaheim Convention Center Arena
But those are not the only times that Presley came to visit our area.
Horses and Karate Lessons
The story begins in the late 1960s, when a Hawaiian-born martial arts instructor named Mike Stone met Elvis and his wife Priscilla at a karate competition. Stone, who would eventually relocate to Huntington Beach, ran into the couple again in 1972 at one of Elvis's Las Vegas performances. Soon, at the suggestion of Elvis, Priscilla began learning martial arts under Stone’s tutelage. By this time, Stone had opened a school in Westminster, which Presley would drive to from her Los Angeles home. Eventually, she gave up commuting and began training with Chuck Norris, who ran a program closer to her home.
But she also began a romantic relationship with Stone.
This love affair would eventually be the undoing of her marriage with Elvis. In 1975, the couple split and Priscilla had one of her horses, Domino (a gift from Elvis) shipped from Graceland to Huntington Beach where it lived at the Reynolds Boarding Stables.
In the early 1970s, Presley had also had started taking martial arts lessons from Mike Stone (who had become a 10th-degree black belt). However, Elvis was too big a celebrity to take classes at Stone’s Westminster studio. Rather, Presley would visit the trainer at his home, located in a housing tract on Edwards Avenue between Warner and Heil Avenue.
Jay Meyers, who lived just around the corner from Stone in the early 1970s, explained to me how he would often see Elvis in the neighborhood. “I was in my early teens and as kids we would see the limo pull into the tract. We'd be riding our bikes and recognized the limo after a few times and he would roll down the window down and wave to us. It made us feel on top of the world that Elvis waved at us.”
He may have left the proverbial building, but the legacy of Presley remains in Orange County, where some kids in Huntington Beach remain all shook up.
Elvis performs in Anaheim: