Legendary Memphis DJ and close personal friend of Elvis Presley, George Klein, died of pneumonia on February 5th in a Memphis hospice at the age of 83, according to The Memphis Flyer. Klein, who was among the original members of “The King's” famed “Memphis Mafia,” first became friends with Elvis in 1948 when the pair were attending North Memphis' Humes High School. Klein, who was always among Elvis' inner circle, gained game hosting by hosting WHBQ-TV’s Talent Party and George Klein’s Rock & Roll Ballroom on WMC radio. He is credited as being the first disc jockey to ever play Jerry Lee Lewis on radio.
Klein was featured in cameo roles in no less than eight Elvis movies and in 1970, Elvis served as the best man at his wedding. Klein, whom Elvis called “G.K.,” was among the pallbearers at Elvis' 1977 funeral. In 1986 when Elvis was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Klein gave the acceptance speech. In recent years, he was an on-air personality on SiriusXM’s “Elvis” channel, and published two books — Elvis Presley: A Family Album and Elvis: My Best Man: Radio Days, Rock 'n' Roll Nights, and My Lifelong Friendship with Elvis Presley. George Klein was inducted into both the Tennessee Radio Hall of Fame and the Memphis Music Hall of Fame.
Priscilla Presley first became aware of George Klein in Germany when Elvis spoke about his friends back home in Memphis. She told The Flyer, “The first time I met him was when I went to Graceland in 1962 for Christmas when (Elvis) had asked me to come there for Christmas. And we drove up the drive of Graceland and he opened up the door and all of his friends were there that he wanted me to meet. And he introduced me to family and friends. People that he thought were very special. George, of course, was right there among them. (Elvis) really thought George to be a great friend. They had gone to Humes High School. They kept their friends close to their hearts over the years — and beyond with George.”
She went on to talk about what set Klein apart: “His loyalty. His friendship. His support. I don’t think I’ve ever heard George say a bad word about anyone. He remembered everyone. He was charitable. He would emcee foundations. He was just a great human being. You loved having him around. His sense of humor. His relationships with all his friends. He had so many friends that embraced him and vice versa. It’s just hard to believe that he’s gone. I don’t know what Memphis will be like without George Klein. He’s an icon.”
Original “Memphis Mafia” member Jerry Schilling, who now serves as the president of the Beach Boys' Brother Records' Inc., explained, “At Humes High School, George was the president of the class. Elvis didn’t have any real friends at that time in school ‘cause he came up from Mississippi. George was just nice to him. It wasn’t like they were best friends in high school, but George was nice to him. And so right out of high school when Elvis made the record and everything, he trusted George. People Elvis remembered who were nice to him in high school became the nucleus of the Memphis Mafia. . . It was a family. We were all brothers. George was really kind of the glue of all the friends and stuff of Elvis. He knew everyone from every era, whether it was Hollywood, Memphis, early days, later days, George was right there.”
Not too long ago, we asked Jerry Schilling if there were actual tiers within Elvis' “Memphis Mafia” — his legendary and devoted gang of buddies, bodyguards, and confidantes: “Well, there were, but it would change from time to time — not dramatically. Y'know, sometimes you were, like, the closest thing to Elvis, and that may be for three months or six months, just according to what's happening in life. And then you may be there and not be — I don't know. I don't know how to explain that. But I have to say, my focus, day-to-day basis was Elvis. And the guys we all played an inner part. We were second-tier to ourselves, 'cause everybody focused on Elvis.”