MEMPHIS, Tenn. — George Klein, the deep-voiced radio personality who became friends with Elvis Presley in high school and stayed close to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll throughout his career, has died. He was 83.
Presley’s former wife, Priscilla Presley, told The Associated Press that Klein died Tuesday at hospice in Memphis. Priscilla Presley said Klein had been suffering from illness, including pneumonia, for about two weeks. She said she had been in constant contact with Klein and Presley’s other close friends, including Jerry Schilling and Marian Justice Cocke, while Klein was ill.
“He was a Memphis treasure,” said Kevin Kane, president and CEO of Memphis Tourism. “He was Memphis personified.”
Klein met Elvis Presley in 1948 at Humes High School in Memphis and they were close friends until the rock ‘n’ roll icon died in 1977. Klein was part of Presley’s entourage, known as the “Memphis Mafia,” and enjoyed telling stories about the times he and Presley spent together.
But Kane said Klein’s legacy went far beyond Elvis — as host of radio show “Talent Party,” he helped introduce the world to other Memphis music greats, including Sam the Sham, The Gentrys and the Bar-Kays. He continued his public role for six decades, but never left his home in Memphis and probably never missed a Memphis Tigers game, Kane said.
Elvis Presley Enterprises released a statement Wednesday on Klein’s passing:
“Priscilla, Lisa and all of us with Elvis Presley Enterprises are deeply saddened that we have lost our dear friend George Klein. Elvis and George met at Humes High School in Memphis and formed a lifelong friendship. Elvis stood up as George’s best man at his wedding and George remained a close confidant throughout Elvis’ life. After Elvis’ passing, George continued as a great friend and supporter of Graceland, Lisa and Priscilla and continued to honor Elvis’ legacy through sharing stories and memories with fans around the world as a DJ on Elvis Radio at Graceland. Our hearts are with George’s family, friends and fans – as we celebrate his life and his important place in the history of Memphis music.”
Priscilla Presley said her former husband liked Klein’s outgoing personality, his loyalty, and his sense of humor. She called their friendship a “guy’s thing,” with their own inside jokes and “their own language.”
Elvis Presley used to affectionately call Klein “GK.”
“Their friendship was golden, truly golden,” she said in a phone interview from Los Angeles on Tuesday night. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard George say anything bad about anybody.”
Presley served as Klein’s best man, and Klein was a pallbearer at Presley’s funeral. Klein appeared in his friend’s film, “Jailhouse Rock.” When Presley was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, Klein made the acceptance speech.
“Personally, Elvis was a great friend to me,” Klein said in the speech. “You know, I never saw Elvis refuse an autograph. I never saw Elvis refuse a handshake. I never saw Elvis refuse to take a picture with anyone.”
Klein hosted a radio show featuring Presley’s music on Sirius XM. He had also hosted radio and television shows in Memphis dating to the 1960s. Klein was known throughout the city, speaking at charity events for no pay, Priscilla Presley said.
University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari, a former head coach at the University of Memphis, said on Twitter that he would talk basketball with Klein before and after games.
“He has been an unbelievable ambassador for the city, for Graceland, for Elvis Presley and his family,” Calipari wrote.
Congressman Steve Cohen released a statement saying, “George Klein was a friend of Elvis, a friend to many and a friend of mine. A member of the Memphis Mafia and always TCB, George kept Elvis’ music at the forefront from the days of “Jailhouse Rock” to “Elvis Time” on SiriusXM satellite radio. He was always a nice guy and we were mutual friends of the late Irvin Salky. His was a life well lived and he will be missed.”
In recent years, several friends of Elvis Presley — Scotty Moore, Red West, D.J. Fontana — have died. Priscilla Presley said she has thought about that, and calls it “a reality check.”
“It hits home,” she said. “He’s the last of our history, in many ways.”
Funeral arrangements have not been released.
Priscilla Presley tweeted her condolences after learning of his death.