There can never be another Elvis because the culture in which Elvis grew into legend is irretrievably lost.
That was the opinion conveyed by Priscilla Presley on Saturday night, hours before she formally accepted her award as Nevada Ballet Theatre’s Woman of the Year during the NBT’s annual Black & White Ball.
The gala was held in a lavishly bedecked ballroom at Aria. A VIP cocktail reception was held at the jeweled and jammed Cartier boutique at Crystals. In a rare union of four generations of her family, Presley was joined by her daughter, Lisa Marie; her son, Navarone Garibaldi; her mother, Ann; and her granddaughter, Riley Keough, Lisa Marie's daughter.
At the end of the red carpet at Cartier, Presley stopped for a few minutes to talk about Elvis, and I asked if any performer could have the same sort of impact as he when he ascended to worldwide fame in the mid-1950s.
“It would be hard to fathom, having someone come in like Elvis,” she said after a bit of a pause. “He was such a force, so unique. I think it’s different, too, because we’re in such a media-crazed world now, to have someone start off as he started off and to do it the way he did, with no media around to send everything he did out virally, would be hard.
“The way things happen today, I think it would be very, very difficult to have someone work their way up the way he did. We live in a world where things, as you know, travel so fast. News travels fast, so it would be difficult to grow in the same way he did.”
What about the concept of Elvis on an “American Idol”-type show? When Elvis was toiling across the country, playing county fairs and learning how to be a rock ’n’ roll artist, there was no such powerful vehicle as “Idol” to bring a would-be star into living rooms across the country in an interactive contest show. “The Ted Mack Amateur Hour” was that era’s version of “Idol,” but the weekly talent showcase was hardly the star factory “Idol” has become.
“Who knows if Elvis would have performed on ‘American Idol?’ There’s always speculation,” Presley said. “He was so much of a talent, and he grew in an organic kind of way, back in the day, and that worked. Listen, I can’t put down ‘American Idol.’ They have made some great talents. It’s a different world, a different day, a different format.”
As Presley, who herself has appeared on “Idol” as a mentor, spoke, a few costumed members of “Viva Elvis” passed through the crowded entrance at Cartier. One donned a rhinestone-encrusted jumpsuit, the type Elvis wore at the International and Las Vegas Hilton.
“I’m just happy that we had Elvis to actually be the center of that culture,” Presley said, “and we have people look to him as their idol and icon.”
More from the show:
• “So You Think You Can Dance” creator and “American Idol” producer Nigel Lythgoe introduced Presley and got off what may have been the night’s best line: “After the Golden Globes, I was surprised anyone would allow an Englishman onstage.” It was a none-too-oblique reference to Ricky Gervais’ biting appearance at the Globes a few weeks ago, and Lythgoe ensured that his introduction was not written by Gervais. Lythgoe also told a funny story about once walking Presley across the Strip and coming upon a young Elvis impressionist. Presley rushed up to the kid and announced, “Remember me?”
The guy had no idea who she was.
• Unlike the chaotic 2007 NBT gala, when Paula Abdul couldn’t be counted on to even recite Nevada Ballet Theatre’s proper title (referring to it as Nevada City Ballet in a distracted and daffy appearance), Presley clearly understood NBT’s rich tradition. She repeatedly referred to NBT’s important role in advancing the arts at a time dance and music programs are lopped from public schools. “I take this very, very seriously,” she said. Similar to Marie Osmond’s commitment of time and energy in 2010, Presley spent at least 4 hours at the event and spoke willingly about the honor in the days leading up to the gala.
• As a little girl, Presley didn’t listen to Elvis records when she wanted to become lost in fantasy. “I would listen to Liberace, I would dance to his songs. It was a feeling of liberation, a feeling of freedom,” she said in her closing remarks from the stage. “For a child growing up whose father was traveling all over, and there was no outlet for me except to dance and to pretend to be in my own world.”
• This might not count as an interview, but I did meet Lisa Marie and told her I’d seen her perform years ago at House of Blues. “Really? That was a fun show,” she said. “It was, yeah. I stopped short of rushing the stage.” She responded with a quick laugh, “Oh, come on.” That would be the night’s brush with greatness.
• Garibaldi might not be as famous as Lisa Marie, but he has often appeared with Priscilla Presley at gala events, including the premiere of “Viva Elvis” last year. Navarone is the son of Presley and writer-director Marco Garibaldi, who had a two-decade relationship with Priscilla.
• Vince Neil took the stage, as previously reported (and here is the previous reportage), to speak briefly about Presley. The two have been friends for years, as Neil once stayed in Presley’s guest house in Beverly Hills. He recalled his first meeting with Presley, when he nervously toppled a glass of water on her lap during dinner. He followed by spilling a glass of red wine, also on Presley, saying he was as nervous then as he was giving his speech Saturday night. As Neil spoke, Priscilla and Lisa Marie smiled from their table.
Neil stopped and posed for photos with energetic Motley Crue fans on his way from Cartier to Aria. He’s coming up on his incarceration in Clark County Detention Center for DUI charges (15 days, set to start Feb. 15, followed by 15 days of house arrest) after being stopped driving his black Lamborghini in June.
It also has been reported that the IRS has filed a $740,000 lien on the 6,800-square-foot home owned by Neil and his estranged wife, Lia. The IRS filed the lien back in April, but Neil says he has since resolved the issue with the federal agency. The manse in Spanish Hill has been featured on MTV’s “Cribs.” The home, I mean. Not the CCDC.
• A strong 600 people turned out for the event. The highlight, again, was the auctioning of two cockapoo puppies from The Animal Foundation, along with 6 months of free (well, free if you pay for the puppies) puppy food from the Good Dog Food Co. Wynn Las Vegas counsel and Smith Center for the Performing Arts board member Kim Sinatra paid $5,000 for the male, and Vanessa Houssels, daughter-in-law of NBT co-founder Nancy Houssels, turned over $2,000 for the female.
• Presley spoke sadly of the death of mutual friend, longtime entertainment journalist and publicist Frank Lieberman, who died on Jan. 22 at Summerlin Hospital. Lieberman had arranged to interview Presley over the phone on Jan. 20.
“We're scheduled to have the interview, but he had to cancel and said, ‘Let’s reschedule it for Tuesday,’ ” Presley said, “and he passes on Saturday. So sad. … My heart goes out to his family.”
Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.