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A Tribute to Charlie Hodge

Charlie Hodge died on March 3rd 2006 in Fort Sanders Regional Hospital in Knoxville, Tenn. He was 71 years old and leaves a wife, Jenny; a sister, Margie Poteet of Somerville; a nephew, Lyle Poteet of Somerville; one great-niece, Caitlin Poteet and several cousins. 
 
I and Maureen knew Charlie for 25 years and this is our tribute to an old friend.
 
In 1981 I commissioned the sculptor Jon Douglas to make a lifesize, coldcast bronze statue of Elvis Presley. It was decided to portray "Elvis in Concert" from the 1970's and the Aloha Concert was the theme for our magnificent statue. Jon, who was 76 years old, had many problems completing the statue and it took seven months to finish. During its construction I asked many fans who they thought should have the honour of unveiling our statue in London. The general consensus was Charlie Hodge as he was the closest person to Elvis having been with him in the Army, lived at Graceland for 17 years and was by Elvis' side each performance from the '68 Comeback until the last Concert in June 1977.

 

Statue curtain gradually rising at 
unveiling ceremony

Charlie on stage at unveiling ceremony,
 Baronnial Suite


I found Charlie's address and wrote to him, actually expecting a negative reply. But a week later Charlie called me 'collect' as I had suggested and said he would be honoured to unveil the statue. He said he would need to earn some money whilst he was out of America and wanted a fee of $2,000.00, plus airfare, hotel and expenses paid. I explained we could not afford anywhere near that amount for a fee but would cover his airfare, hotel and expenses and agreed a lesser fee but arranged for a photographer to take photos with fans and he received most of the proceeds from the sale of the signed photos.
 
I went to meet Charlie In Los Angeles where he was living at the time and made arrangements for his trip. Charlie had no sense of time zones and he would call me in the middle of the night, collect. On one occasion I said, "Charlie what time is it" and he said, "7.30 pm", I said, "in London it is 3.30 in the morning". I don't think it phased him because being around Elvis, a "night person", Charlie  believed 3.30 am was a normal time.
 
The day arrived when I would meet Charlie at the Airport. I got there in good time and waited in the Arrival Hall. There were huge crowds and Charlie's plane had landed on time but there was no Charlie...until suddenly, I heard a voice over the tannoy announcing my name and asking me to meet Charlie Hodge by the "information desk". Charlie was only tiny and I missed him as he came through the Arrival Hall from Immigration.

As with all guests I have had over from America, friends and family of Elvis, I took Charlie all over London to see the sights and entertained him at famous old and interesting restaurants. The big day arrived and we had so many fans for the unveiling that we had to run two unveiling shows with almost 2,000 fans.
Charlie was superb and enthralled the audiences with his wit, warmth and such great stories about Elvis. Charlie truly loved Elvis Presley and you could see the sadness in his heart; even though he was making you laugh, deep down inside Charlie was crying. I don't think Charlie ever recovered from the death of Elvis.
 
There had been pandemonium the night before the unveiling and the trauma did not end even the day of the unveiling. Jon Douglas, the sculptor had the statue in eight pieces the night before it was to be unveiled and had become paralysed in his arms and could not complete the statue. His sons and my staff, under Jon's instructions, assembled the statue all night. We had almost 2,000 fans coming from all over Britain and Europe and I kept on calling each hour checking on their progress. Somehow it was finished and then had to be polished by some female fans that had stayed up all night helping. You can imagine the shiniest bit of the statue. A truck trasported the statue to the Hall for the unveiling but was in an accident when a car jumped the lights. Everyone sitting around the statue went flying in the back of the truck and some got hurt but the only damage to the statue was the microphone was bent back and looked rather rude. We had to delay the unveiling until Jon could fix the microphone (Elvis always had problems with mics).

Charlie praising sculptor Jon Douglas for 
his masterpiece

Charlie with young fan at unveiling ceremony


Charlie, of course, took the panic in his stride and at last the big moment arrived. There was Charlie on stage with the statue covered by a pink satin curtain on a moving turntable. The music from "2001" blasted out followed by American Trilogy while slowly the curtain raised, the statue turned and fans were cheering, clapping, screaming, crying, laughing while a tear went down the face of Charlie as the statue was finally unveiled. Fans then came up, it seems in their hundreds, to place flowers at the base of the statue and take their photos. It was a very moving experience followed by a speech from Charlie and his stories of Elvis. He was wonderful, so professional and so charming. Suzie Quattro was a guest and gave a speech. Charlie was very concerned about security and asked after a short autograph session to be taken to a quiet area to recover. There were too many fans crowding around the stage so all we could do was to hide Charlie in a small room behind the stage until we could clear the crowd. I got some stick from Charlie for that but there was nothing else I could do to get him away....Charlie hadn't left the building, he was hiding in a broom closet. There was a film show, the photograph session and live music by rock 'n' roll groups and then we had to repeat the unveiling all over again.
 
For the second unveiling the sound broke down and American Trilogy was cut short. There was still great excitement and a great atmosphere and all the fans present for the second show had a great time and more time with Charlie. For Jon Douglas it was the highlight of his career and the fans showed great appreciation when he was introduced on stage by Charlie. Of course, the statue is permanently on display at the Elvisly Yours Shop, 233 Baker Street, London NW1 and often tourists and some fans ask how much it costs. My standard answer is "it's not for sale but if you offered me £1 million I would consider it". Charlie was on a high after the unveiling ceremonies and loved meeting the fans but still had this worry in the back of his mind about security. At the time I did not know Elvis and most of the guys carried guns just in case there was an assassination attempt on Elvis. Charlie coming from a "gun culture" did not realise Britain is much safer and Elvis fans do not carry guns here.
 
Whilst we were celebrating unveiling our statue of Elvis the Daily Mirror was planning a character assassination of Elvis Presley when they serialised the Goldman book "Elvis". Once I saw all the garbage I immediately phoned the Star and the Sun newspapers and told them I had in England Elvis' closest friend who could answer back for Elvis and destroy all the lies in Goldman's book. Both papers immediately sent around reporters and the Sun ran positive features about Elvis while the Daily Star ran a campaign with two page spreads for five days entitled "We Love Elvis". The Mirror lost thousands of readers while the Star received 14,000 letters thanking them for supporting Elvis, all courtesy of Charlie Hodge and Elvisly Yours.
 
Our agreement was to cover all Charlie's expenses for hotel and food for one week before and after the Shows. At the end of the week Charlie said he loved London and would like to stay longer. I said he could book into a hotel if he wished and jokingly said or you can sleep on our couch. We only had a one bedroom apartment but Charlie said that would be fine and we had Charlie stay at our apartment for two weeks. While he was in London I got a call from a famous clairvoyant asking to meet Charlie because he wanted to have a seance with Charlie to reach Elvis. Charlie agreed and one evening this clairvoyant came over and spent the next three hours trying to call the king "spiritually". I do believe there is some sort of spirit world having had so many strange experiences associated with Elvis but this guy almost made me a non-believer. He got 'nothing' and then actually asked Maureen to leave the room because she was breaking the signal or whatever...still he got nothing, perhaps Elvis was out. But Charlie enjoyed the experience and was a believer in life after death.

 

Charlie and Sid at the Baronnial Suite in
 the City of London

Charlie lighting candles on giant E-L-V-I-S 
cake for Elvis' birthday 1982


Charlie would drink a bottle of Canadian Club whisky every night because he said he could not sleep and he was a heavy chain smoker but he only ever smoked half a cigarette. He drank gallons of coffee and was only a small eater. Imagine having the memories of being with Elvis for almost 20 years and all those highs and some lows as Elvis was in the Army and started to rebuild his career, the wilderness years while he was contracted to movies when all he wanted to do was go back on stage and then the exhilaration of the '68 Comeback and the concerts of the 70's...what memories and now Elvis was gone. Deep down Charlie was a sad, lonely man and he missed Elvis terribly, probably more than anyone in the Elvis circle.
 
Often Charlie did not want to speak about Elvis privately, I think it brought back sad as well as good memories. Just like Elvis, Charlie was devoted to his mother and talked about her incessantly and their dog. He was from a tiny town, Decatur in Alabama and was very proud of his little town and his mother's little house. He had just one sister and a nephew at the time and was from a small family.
 
Charlie never had a bad word to say about Elvis. I know there were times when Elvis was very mean to Charlie but to Charlie "Elvis was his friend" and I believe the love of his life...he would have loved to have been Elvis' brother. However, much you prodded his memory there was never a bad word about Elvis, so I said one day surely there must have been something Elvis did that upset you, made you mad. He recounted a story I published in a previous Elvisly Yours Cyber Newsletter:
 
Charlie had a date with a gorgeous girl and he decided to take her way out of town for dinner in the hope that Elvis would not bother him. He picked up his date and drove to a far away restaurant. As usual Elvis needed to know where the guys were just in case there was an emergency.

The date was going great and they were about to start dinner when suddenly there was a message that Charlie had to get back to Graceland right away. You don't say 'no' to Elvis Presley so Charlie made his apologies to the girl, said he'd be back as soon as he could and drove at great speed to Graceland. He rushed into Graceland, into the TV room where Elvis was sitting and while trying to catch his breath Charlie asked "what's wrong ?". Elvis then replied, "change the TV channel Charlie"..... 

Charlie after unveiling the Elvisly Yours Statue

Elvisly Yours Statue knee deep
 in flowers

The British fans loved Charlie Hodge so I booked him to come back to England to celebrate Elvis' birthday January 1982 and Charlie started our large Birthday Conventions in the 1980's. We had our Elvis Birthday Show in De Montford Hall Leicester. Of course, we had to have a snowstorm on the day of the convention and the truck carrying the statue broke down in the snow. The show started late to allow fans travelling from all over Britain to get to Leicester even then the sound system broke down and it seemed "Elvis had NOT left the building" . In life Elvis was a practical joker and in death perhaps he still plays his tricks because we have had so many traumas over the years with our Elvis Events. Again, Charlie was superb and the fans loved him so much so that one of the fans Barry White invited Charlie to stay with him and I believe he stayed in Britain almost one year. We continued to see Charlie when he came back to London. 

Over the years we met many times in Memphis and especially when he was working with Charles Goodman to publish his book "Me 'n' Elvis". It was a best seller for us for a long time through our Elvisly Yours magazine, in our shop and wholesale to fans clubs around the world. Almost every Elvis Week in the 1980's and early 1990's Charlie was in Memphis for Elvis Week. Fans always had nice things to say about Charlie and he was always friendly, courteous and charming whenever a fan would approach him to sign an autograph or pose for a photo. I chastised him for his drinking and smoking but Charlie was Charlie and it helped him relax and sleep.

When we stopped going to Memphis in 1993 we lost touch with Charlie. I tried to get an email address for him but don't know if he had a computer. He was not a good letter writer and I only ever got one letter from him, phone calls were the way you had to contact Charlie. To the day he died he was the consummate showman performing regularly at the Memories Theatre, Pigeon Forge, Tn. He had the gift to capture an audience of Elvis fans and make them believe he was not only a friend of Elvis but their friend for life. The years of smoking finally took their toll and he died from lung cancer and complications brought on by radiotherapy treatment. Just like Elvis he made people happy and that is a great epitaph to put on your grave. The fans loved Charlie because they saw in him the love he had for Elvis and they could share with Charlie that love and those wonderful memories.

Instead of RIP I think a more appropriate abbreviation is RIH, "Rest in Harmony" with Elvis now you are both rocking and harmonising in Blue Suede Heaven. Instead of the scarves and water Charlie is probably adjusting Elvis' halo and both sharing in that raucous laughter when they were cracking up on stage.

One final thing, I never managed to apologise to Charlie for something he has said when we first met in Los Angeles and I just did not believe him at the time. Charlie had said, when Elvis missed a note he would carry it for him. I thought, Elvis miss a note who is he kidding? Until I met Al Dvorin I always believed Charlie was bragging. But I was wrong, so sorry Charlie...Al Dvorin explained the truth. Just imagine Elvis had sang Polk Salad Annie followed by Suspicious Minds (long version), had been doing his stuff and karate kicking all over the stage...of course, Elvis would miss the occasional note and there was Charlie to cover it, so you never knew. Look out the next time you watch Elvis exhausting himself on stage on your favourite concert DVD , the note you next hear was probably from Charlie Hodge.

Thank you Charlie for all those wonderful memories and sharing in your love for Elvis,
Our sincere condolences to his wife Jenny and his family. 

Elvisly Yours,

Sid and Maureen.

Write your Personal Tribute to Charlie

More rare photos of Charlie and our Statue from Elvisly Yours Archives


The funeral of Charlie Hodge

Tuesday March 7th 2006, at 2 pm. Roselawn Funeral Home in Decatur, Al.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that you make donations to your favorite charity in Charlie’s memory.

To view, and sign Charlie's Guest Book, please click here:

Your condolences may also be sent to: Jennifer Hodge, Memories Theatre, 2141 Parkway, Pigeon Forge, TN 37863, USA (Charlie's wife)

 


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