Like many Americans, some of Elvis’s favorite toys were his guns. And when he wasn’t shooting, he liked to pretend he was a karate champ. (This article was first published in Uncle John’s Legendary Lost Bathroom Reader.)
Shot off the Can
You never knew when Elvis might get the urge to engage in a little shooting practice, so it paid to be on guard at all times. On one memorable night, Elvis and some friends were relaxing in the Imperial Suite on the 30th floor of the Las Vegas Hilton after his show. “The very elegant Linda Thompson [Elvis’s girlfriend] was sitting in the well-appointed and luxurious bathroom,” writes Steve Dunleavy in Elvis: What Happened? “when her reverie was rudely interrupted by a resounding blast. At the same time, a tiny rip appeared in the toilet paper on her right side [and] the mirror on the closet door splintered into shards of glass.”
“I think Elvis was trying to hit a light holder on the opposite wall,” explains Sonny West, Elvis’s bodyguard. “Well, he’s a lousy shot and he missed. The damn bullet went straight through the wall and missed Linda by inches. If she had been standing up next to the toilet paper holder, it would have gone right through her leg. If it had changed course or bounced off something, it could have killed her, man.”
Playing it Safe
Elvis had hundreds of guns, and he liked to keep them loaded at all times. But he always left the first bullet chamber empty. “It is a habit he got from me,” says Sonny West. “I had a friend who dropped his gun. It landed on the hammer…fired and hit him right through the heart, killing him instantly.”
But Elvis had another reason. “Elvis knew what a real bad temper he had,” says Sonny. “When he flashed, anything could happen. If he pulled the trigger in a rage, it would come up blank and give him just enough time to realize what on earth he was doing.”
It paid off. One evening when the Elvis entourage was at the movies (Elvis rented the entire movie theater and brought his friends with him), Elvis went to the men’s room and stayed there for a while. One of the group—a visitor who wasn’t part of the regular “Memphis mafia”—started joking around, pounding on the bathroom door. West recalls:
“Elvis yells back ‘Okay, man, okay.’
“But this guy just kept banging on the door…Apparently Elvis flashed. ‘Goddammit!’ he yelled as he charged out the door. Then he screamed, ‘Who do you think you are, you m—f—r?,’ whipped out his gun, pointed it right at the guy and pulled the trigger. Jesus, thank God, he didn’t have a bullet in that chamber; otherwise, he would have blown the man’s head clean off his shoulders.”
Elvis was fascinated with karate. He dreamed of making his own karate movie, starring himself as the evil karate master, and liked to drop in at various karate studios to shoot the breeze and workout.
Dave Hebler, a seventh-degree black-belt, remembers their first sparring session in Elvis: What Happened?
“He came in with his usual entourage and shook hands all around. Then he wanted to show-off some moves. Within seconds, “it was obvious to me that one, Elvis didn’t know half as much about karate as he thought he did; and two, he hardly knew where he was.
“He was moving very sluggishly and lurching around like a man who’d had far too much to drink…I mean he was actually tripping over and damn near falling on his butt.
“While I couldn’t make him look like an expert, I tried to react to his moves in such a way that he wouldn’t look half as bad as he could have.” Hebler became a regular member of Elvis’s entourage.