Elvis Presley – Denver – Colorado and the Denver Police Department
Elvis Presley came to Denver to perform on four occasions – three at Denver Coliseum; April 8th, 1956, November 17th, 1970 and April 30th, 1973. His final concert was on April 23rd, 1976 at the late McNichols Arena.
It was during his second concert in 1970 when Elvis would establish a friendship with the Denver Police Department in general and more specifically with three narcotic officers, most notably Division Chief Jerry Kennedy, along with detectives Ron Piettrafeso and Robert Cantwell, the author of “The Elvis Presley I Knew – Beyond the Headlines and Scandal to the Heart of the Superstar” (quite a title for a small account – 174 pages).
After listening to Cantwell recently on a Denver morning talk show interview, I had to pick up the book if for no other reason just to satisfy my craving for all-things-rock-and-roll-Denver. I went through the book in less than a day. I have never been overly enamored with “The King” and since his passing. I locked in on his early output (not the Sun recordings) but up through his tour of duty in the Army and now and then a tune here and there. But back to the book.
What I liked about Cantwell’s interview was his straightforward attitude toward Elvis. Back in 1970 Cantwell was anything other than a fan of rock and roll, more inclined to enjoy a good gospel song. In fact, when Elvis asked him what song he would like him to perform for his wife Jody, the only one Cantwell could think of was “How Great Thou Art”, and Elvis did indeed sing the song for Jody in Denver.
Cantwell’s first King-Assignment was to provide security inside the hotel where the Elvis entourage was staying in 1970, the Radisson Hotel located at 1776 Grant Street in downtown Denver. The top floor of the hotel at the time housed The Playboy Club a floor above the 10th where Elvis resided. The hotel today is The Warwick and the Playboy Club is long gone.
Elvis was enraptured with all thing law enforcement, and the Denver Police Department via Kennedy and company embraced him heartily. Elvis was presented honorary Lieutenant status and soon thereafter, per his request, Captain status, both honors bestowed with badges and a uniform.
In Cantwell, Elvis discovered a straight shooter who expected absolutely nothing in return from Elvis other than friendship. Elvis obviously craved this kind of friendship and it wasn’t always easy for him to assume the role of a friend with someone on equal terms.
Cantwell was often very blunt with Elvis when they would break away and talk-on-one. He once told Elvis that “I notice you change the way you are talking depending on who you are talking with”, which took Elvis by surprise. On another occasion not long after receiving a car from Elvis, Cantwell asked him in so many words what he wanted in return, which initially offended Presley but something he later came to understand. Cantwell and his wife Jody were never comfortable with the 1976 Cadillac Elvis bestowed on them, feeling self conscious having that car in residing in a working class neighborhood where Caddys were seldom seen passing through let along parked in a driveway. They sold the car shortly after Presley’s death.
Elvis came to Denver often to visit his police friends. He paid for a memorial gym in the name of a slain officer and he attended the funeral of Jerry Kennedy’s brother and fellow office Eugene who took his own life in 1976. (Elvis sat far in the back of Holy Family church during the mass to not distract attention away from the service.) Colorado officials did look into the propriety of police receiving gifts but in the long run it was determined that no wrongdoing occurred.
Elvis often donned a Denver Police uniform and never passed on an opportunity to talk about detective work. He flew the officers and wives to Las Vegas for royal treatment at his performance. He flew his friends to Graceland on more than one occasion just to hang out.
I was intrigued to learn that Elvis once stayed a couple of blocks from where I live today, at then Ramada Inn at 4735 north Kipling in Wheat Ridge – a very moderate motel then and the location of today of a very low-priced transient residence.
That’s it for my review. The book is brief so I won’t go into anything further in order to save it for the reader. It is a simple and honest treatment of a small chapter in an intriguing history of The King, complete with many Cantwell memento photos.
Cantwell went on to a long a rewarding career in law enforcement rising eventually to the position of Director of Prisons for the Colorado Department of Corrections and then Director of the Colorado Bureau of Investigations.