'King' looks behind rock throne

New Presley feature focuses on musician's last days

While most studio home entertainment divisions are repackaging old Elvis Presley films to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the King of Rock 'n' Roll's death on Aug. 16, 1977, Echo Bridge Home Entertainment is taking a different tack.

The studio is accepting orders for an independent film produced by Presley's stepbrother David Stanley that details Presley's fast decline and final days. "Protecting the King," which stars Tom Sizemore and Matt Barr, will debut Oct. 9 on DVD; it premiered in May at the Festival de Cannes. While the millions of Elvis fans worldwide are a natural target, Stanley warns, "This is not your mother's Elvis. It's not from a fan perspective but from a young man who grew up with it, lived in it and survived."

The film focuses on the time Stanley spent working for his stepbrother from 1972 until Presley's death five years later. It was a tragic period and a difficult time. "We were on the trail of destruction," Stanley said.

Presley had gotten hooked on prescription drugs after his 1972 divorce, and Stanley and other members of the King's inner circle looked on helplessly as Presley spiraled to his doom. "His medication went from use to abuse," Stanley said. "We did Madison Square Garden in 1972, and he was 165 pounds. By the time he died, he was 255 pounds, and he was taking a handful of sleeping pills and up to nine shots of Demerol just to go to sleep (anywhere) from midnight until 7 or 8 in the morning, and a bunch of amphetamines to wake up around 5 in the afternoon."

Stanley was among the first to discover the King's lifeless body in the bathroom at Graceland, Presley's Memphis mansion, a moment also recounted in the film.

"It was in the middle of the afternoon," Stanley recalled. "That moment just stays in my brain. There's no closure for me. Everybody else remembers when he died, but not very many people go through every year and say this is the anniversary, like I do. When I walked in and discovered him dead, he was no rock star, no king. He was the guy who 17 years earlier had picked up a 4-year-old kid and welcomed him into his family."

Stanley, who also wrote and directed the movie for his Dallas-based production company, Impello Films, moved to Graceland as a toddler in 1960, along with his two older brothers. His mother, Dee Stanley, had broken up the family to marry Vernon Presley, who two years earlier had lost his wife, Gladys, Presley's mother.

"All I knew was we had moved out of this trailer in Virginia and into this mansion in Memphis," Stanley said. "The first day we got there, Elvis bent down and said, 'I always wanted a little brother, and now I've got three.' "

When he was 16, Stanley said, he went to work for Presley, and the next five years had such an effect on him that they led to a book and now the film.

"I personally raised the money," Stanley said. "I remember when I used to go the studios with Elvis, and he would say, 'I wish I could direct.' I've always loved movies, and now I got to do something Elvis never did."