When nurse Letetia Henley Kirk first met Elvis Presley, she gave him a talking-to.
He came to her clinic in Memphis to have his saddle sores treated in 1968. While in the exam room with her and a doctor, Elvis talked to nurse Letetia with his head down.
“I walked over, lifted his chin and said, ‘Elvis, if you talk to me, you look at me.’ “
Apparently, the rocker liked her “country ways,” and soon enough, she became his regular nurse. By 1972, she moved to Graceland with her family to be his on-site nurse.
Now 73, Kirk has published a series of short stories about her five years with him at home and on tour, entitled Taking Care of Elvis … Memories with Elvis as His Private Nurse and Friend, the Associated Press added. But it’s a project the dedicated nurse had never planned to do
“He was not only a patient but a good friend,” she told the Jackson Sun. “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.”
But Presley‘s passionate fans craved more tales about the legend, and not just about his time on the road, but his normal life. So she set out to publish her unique story, but hit obstacles even though major publishers expressed a serious interest.
They wanted to use a ghostwriter, but the retired nurse wasn’t having it — she didn’t trust them. So, she wrote up her own stories the way she wanted, her sister-in-law typed them up, and Letitia self-published the book herself.
As evidenced by their first meeting in 1968, Kirk — nicknamed Tish by Elvis — wasn’t one to be pushed around. And he found that out when he invited her live at Graceland, where she remained six years after his death in 1977.
“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. 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 nurse lived on the grounds with her family, where her daughters — aged 8 and 7 — played with Lisa Marie, who was then 4. And soon, Elvis became a member of the family, coming “in and out of our trailer like he was one of our kids.”
And that’s why, all these years later, Elvis’ death is still hard on his nurse, who tried her best to watch over his weight and monitor his prescriptions, but found herself fighting against something she couldn’t control.
“(The drugs) came in from everywhere,” she recalled. “His access to medications was overwhelming, and you can’t catch them all … it was a nightmare. It was just sad.”
Then she got the call while working at the Memphis clinic, on August 16, 1977. She was told to “get home quick,” and by the time she arrived at Graceland learned that Elvis, her friend, was dead at only 42.
“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 … Elvis was extremely generous and just loved to make people happy… He was so intelligent and kind and caring.”
[Photo Courtesy Getty Images]