Elvis: Frank Sinatra’s desperate phone call to save The King’s life

Bing Crosby chats about ‘feud’ with Sinatra in 1972

On May 12, 1960, Elvis Presley appeared on Frank Sinatra’s television special, something Old Blue Eyes was not happy about at the time.

Not only was The King was sleeping with the Rat Pack legend’s fiancée at the time (and he knew it), but Frank had been scathing about his superstar guest in the past.

He called rock and roll “the most brutal, ugly, degenerate, vicious form of expression it has been my displeasure to hear.

“It fosters almost totally negative and destructive reactions in young people.

“It smells phony and false. It is sung, played and written for the most part by cretinous goons.”

Elvis went on Frank Sinatra’s show and slept with his girlfriend

Sinatra didn’t stop there. He added: “By means of its almost imbecilic reiterations and sly, lewd—in plain fact, dirty—lyrics, and as I said before, it manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the earth … this rancid-smelling aphrodisiac I deplore.”

Before he met Elvis, Sinatra said of the young pretender in 1957: “Only time will tell. They said I was a freak when I first hit, but I’m still around.

“Presley has no training at all. When he goes into something serious, a bigger kind of singing, we’ll find out if he is a singer. He has a natural, animalistic talent.”

Fair enough, The Chairman of the Board had been a major and respected star since the early 1940s, while The King had only just been catapulted to global success with his first major hit, Heartbreak Hotel, in 1956.

Within a few years, though, Elvis was guest of honour on a special edition of Sinatra’s TV show, which celebrated his US return from military service in Germany.

Sinatra was very aware that his guest was becoming more famous and popular than he himself was but all things pass in time and a mutual respect grew between the two men. By the late 1960’s both found their chart-topping days were (mainly) behind them as they became the centre of the Las Vegas show scene.

At the same time, both also became friends with Tom Jones, who was headlining his own show there.

Years later, Jones’ publicity man, friend and journalist Chris Hitchens revealed a candid conversation where Sinatra confessed he had tried to save Elvis: “Tom Jones and I met up for a drink with him in New York and he told us that he had just been on the phone to Elvis.”

The King has been admitted to hospital in August 1975, with liver problems exacerbated by his heavy drug use. Friends and family were starting to worry about him, which prompted an extraordinary intervention from his fellow star.

Hitchens described Sintatra telling them: “When I called the hospital in Memphis, the girl on the switchboard asked: Who’s calling?’ and when I replied: ‘Frank Sinatra”’I fully expected her to say: ‘Oh, yeah, and I’m the Queen of England”’or some such dumb line. But she must have recognised my voice because, a few seconds later, Elvis came on the line.

“I told him he’s got to look after himself and quit fooling around. He’s too young to die, and I told him so.”

Exactly two years later Elvis was found dead in his bathroom at Graceland. He was, indeed, too young, at only 42.

When he heard the news, Sinatra said: “There have been many accolades uttered about Elvis’ talent and performances through the years, all of which I agree with wholeheartedly. I shall miss him dearly as a friend. He was a warm, considerate and generous man.”

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