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News createt: 22-11-2010

The King and I: Travels in the pulpit with Elvis' stepbrother

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The King and I: Travels in the pulpit with Elvis' stepbrother 

SELMA, N.C. - His sermon complete, the visiting preacher offers a benediction, then steps out into the vestibule to shake hands and perhaps sell a few copies of his testimonial book.

From the mob that forms, a girl pushes to the front and thrusts out her hand to reveal a bejeweled Elvis Presley wristwatch. The preacher smiles graciously as a white-haired woman bends his ear about her pilgrimages to Graceland and confesses to keeping a cloth painting of "the King" on her bedroom wall.

The pastor beams. He knows most of the people who have turned out for evening service at Branch Chapel Freewill Baptist didn't come to hear Rick Stanley, evangelist.

They came for Elvis' stepbrother.

"Those little ladies, telling them stories. ... They think I'm Elvis," Stanley whispers, almost conspiratorially.

Elvis has been dead 33 years, but his stepbrother is still on the road. For about 10 months of the year, the silver-haired evangelist crisscrosses the country, speaking in school auditoriums and preaching for "love offerings" in churches big and small, his message equal parts Holy Spirit and Elvis' ghost.

A former heroin addict, he uses the story of his own journey from Graceland to grace as an example of Christ's redemptive love. Stanley makes no apologies about using Elvis' name to minister. But there are those who feel he should. Some of those who were closest to Elvis question the sincerity of Stanley's conversion.

Worst of all, they say, he has yet to come clean about the day "the King" died.

Says Jerry Schilling, Elvis' boyhood friend and manager: "He doesn't exist to me, OK?"

A heady youth

The future preacher was 5 when he and his brothers - Billy and David - entered what he calls "E World."

It was 1958, and the family was living in West Germany, where father Bill Stanley was stationed with the Army. That same year, a young draftee named Elvis Presley arrived, with his dad Vernon in tow.

Bill Stanley was an alcoholic, and his wife, Dee, was very unhappy. Then she met Vernon.

Before they knew it, the boys were in the back seat of a shiny Lincoln Continental en route to Memphis, Tenn. When the car finally stopped in front of 3764 Highway 51, now Elvis Presley Boulevard, "it was like the Magic Kingdom for me."

At 16, Stanley quit school and went on the road with Elvis as part of the "Memphis Mafia" - the singer's inner circle. Soon, he says, he was strolling the hallways of the Playboy Mansion, and partying with the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and Led Zeppelin.

As his stepbrother's aide, Stanley was often entrusted with the "black kit" - the small, leather-sided makeup bag containing Elvis' cash, credit cards, jewelry and, as the years progressed, a growing array of prescription drugs. Stanley was taking pills, too, but also became addicted to heroin, something even his stepbrother wouldn't touch.

As the disco era dawned, the aging Elvis had ballooned to 250 pounds and was taking handfuls of pills a day. Things were so bad that members of Presley's entourage were taking 24-hour shifts to watch over him.

On Aug. 16, 1977, Stanley's shift was supposed to begin at noon. Stanley says he had some errands to run before they left on tour, and asked his brother David to take his shift. He says he was at a Memphis restaurant when he had a sudden feeling that something was wrong and raced back to the mansion.

But according to Dick Grob, Elvis' chief of security, David Stanley admitted that he and his brother had been partying with women all night at a nearby motel and were passed out when Elvis died.

David Stanley, the youngest of the three brothers, insists the interview with Grob never happened.

Rick Stanley acknowledges having taken drugs the night before, but he says he was sober when he left Graceland that morning. Even if he had been there, he doubts it would have made a difference.

"Well, if everybody would have done what they should've, we'd have got in the guy's face a long time ago," he says. "But that didn't happen."

After Elvis

After Elvis' funeral, Stanley drifted to California, then eventually made his way to Fort Walton Beach, Fla.

It was there, in a little storefront church on Oct. 16, 1977, that he says he had his "Damascus road experience." His hands were shaking when he stood up to give his first public testimony, but the core of his life's message was already firmly in place.

Louisiana evangelist Moody Adams heard about Stanley's conversion and asked him to speak at a revival he was holding in Pearl, Miss.

When he arrived on July 2, 1978, police were directing traffic, and people were waving signs - only this time, it was for him.

"And I realized at that minute why I went through everything I did as a child and a teenager," he wrote in his 1986 book, "The Touch of Two Kings."

In the years of his ministry, he says he has visited more than 4,000 churches, and held revivals here and in Europe. He gives a secular stay-off-drugs version of his presentation at about 200 high schools a year.

But there are those who don't buy his tales of his spiritual rebirth.

"The Stanleys, including Ricky, would lie to you with two Bibles in his hand," Marty Lacker, Elvis' friend, former bookkeeper and one of the best men at his wedding, wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

If he has gotten some things mixed up over the years, Stanley attributes it to faulty memory, the fog of addiction or "adult ADD."

Back in Selma, the pastor asks the ushers to take up an offering for Stanley. They take in about $700.

         By Gerry Broome The Associated Press -       Rick Stanley, Elvis Presley