(Photo courtesy of Thomas Nelson)
Loving Your Fellow Man
An Interview on The Faith Journey of Elvis Presley With His Brother, Billy Stanley
By Sarah Komisky
It’s not every day that you get to talk to Elvis Presley’s stepbrother and it’s not every day that you get to talk to him about Elvis’ spiritual life. As a follow-up to his best-selling book, “Elvis, My Brother” released in 1989, the newest book release, “The Faith of Elvis,” shines light in a new direction. With a near-death experience, Billy Stanley felt called to tell the story of the iconic rock ‘n’ roll artist from his own perspective in a generation that is longing for hope. As Marked Ministry had taken time this year to talk about purity at length, we felt the connection to the story worth telling. In light of Baz Luhrmann’s ELVIS biopic released this year, the resurgence of Elvis’ popularity in culture has brought a perfect space to talk about this unheard story. As Marked Ministry had the opportunity to sit down with Billy, here is a new angle to the narrative in this November’s showcase as we talk faith, legacy, and loving your fellow man. Take a look.
Marked Ministry: Let’s get into the book that is all about Elvis. I’m so excited about this. It’s told from your perspective as a brother. What about this time felt right to be able to release this?
Billy Stanley: When I found a publisher that said they wanted to talk about Elvis’ faith I felt overjoyed. The fans are missing a big part– they think they know Elvis– no you don’t. Because this right here [faith] was the biggest part of his life.
Marked Ministry: The recent film about Elvis’ life touched on that spiritual aspect. But I think this book is taking a deeper dive into the subject of faith and why it’s important. When we think about our culture today, how do you think he [Elvis] would have liked to see this book received or as it comes out to our culture now and where we even in our faith as a culture?
Billy Stanley: Well, I would think he would say It’s good timing because he always said that whenever I talked to him. In his career, he would say, “No Billy, I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. He would always say, ‘there’s only one king and that’s, you know, Jesus.’” This book is kind of like his message to the fans and the world. It’s what we all really need to do, is turn to the Lord and we can solve a lot of these problems going on in the world right now if we all loved each other like brothers and sisters. I don’t know how we came into a culture where now if you disagree with someone you have to hate them. It was a word that Elvis never liked. That’s the worse. That’s the total opposite of love and that’s what he was all about. And that’s what people saw in him, his love for his fellow man.
Marked Ministry: Exactly. That all seems so relevant to where we are right now. Like you said, we need to be able to hear that message and I think that’s interesting because the ELIVS 2022 film that came out has perspectives from all different people in his life such as Colonel Parker, Priscilla, and now, this perspective from Elvis’ brother. What has that meant to you – being able to share that perspective? To be able to share that part of the story that we haven’t heard?
Billy Stanley: I did grow up with that man from 1960 and it [EVLIS film] didn’t show anything of him reading the Bible, which pretty much every time I saw him or when he called me in his room, that’s what he was doing was reading his Bible. I truly feel honored, and I really feel this is what Elvis would want me to do to give his fans another perspective of what he was like. This [faith] was the biggest part of his life. I mean he could never get a Grammy for any of his rock music, but he did for his gospel music. And that’s what I’m very proud of, and there’s a challenge I always issue to the fans. Listen to any one of your favorite Elvis songs and then listen to a gospel song, you can hear the difference. Also, when people went to go see him in concert, there were two gospel songs in the middle of the show. Did they [the fans] understand why he did that? That’s my challenge to them [the fans]. Do you know why he did that? He was sharing his faith with you. That was his platform, that was his pulpit up there, and he’s sharing up there on stage his belief in God. But see, most people are so wrapped in the glitz and glamor that they fail to miss it. This man was talking to you and letting you know he was a Christian. And that he loved you just like Jesus loves you. One of the other things was, Elvis never wanted to be like any other person in the world except Jesus. Because his generosity is famous. Elvis gave to strangers because it says in the Bible, “the Lord loves a cheerful giver.” Well, guess what? That was the most cheerful giver I’ve ever met in my life. He would rather give than receive.
Marked Ministry: That’s beautiful and I think you’ve shared so many different pieces of your perspective in this book, but what was your favorite to write about? Was there a particular story that you could recall? And what was the best moment for you as you were working on this book and thinking about these stories?
Billy Stanley: Well, the one that always comes to mind that is basically one of my favorite memories is when Elvis wanted to go on a ride one day and he said “grab my wallet” because it had his driver’s license in it. So, I ran up to his room, put it in my briefcase, and we took a ride around town. He sees a man, probably homeless or down on his luck, you couldn’t really tell and we didn’t really ask. But Elvis did a u-turn and pulled up to him and before we got there he said, “give me the money in my wallet.” I said, “how much” and he said “all of it.” It had so much money you couldn’t bend it. I said “okay.” So, I hand it to him and he rolls the window down and starts talking to the gentleman. And the guy was surprised, he said “Mr. Presley,’ and he said, ‘No, please call me Elvis.’ The man said that he’s seen Elvis in all his moves and had all his records at one time and Elvis asked, “well how are you doing sir?” And he said, “Well, I’m a little bit down on my luck but I’m walking down to the unemployment office.” Elvis reaches out to shake his hand and when he does, the guy notices the money and kind of stops, “Um Mr. Presley.” And Elvis responded, “No call me Elvis. Please, sir, take it. This is my way of repaying you for watching all those movies and buying all my records.” And I’m sitting here looking at Elvis like I’ve never seen this. And this guy finally takes the money and looks at Elvis and says, “God bless you, sir.” Elvis looks at him and says, “Sir He has.” I still get a little choked up talking about it. Elvis told me, “Billy, we’re all put here to help our fellow man. What good is it if you can’t share it with others.” And I’ve been like that my whole life. And I can’t give as much as he did, but there are times where I’ll see someone standing on the corner like that with a sign, I’ll give them money or I’ll tip them extra money for you know being such a good person, or God just tells me to do this stiff all the time. So, I try to be like him in that area.
Marked Ministry: I think sometimes we think with faith is about what we say or those types of things, but Elvis seems like he just lived it out and you were watching him. Like you said, this story just illustrated that kindness and being able to share that with our fellow man. It impacted you in a really great way. So, I think that’s something we can all learn from when it comes to preaching through actions in love and kindness.
Billy Stanley: That’s what I was about to say. He had a genuine love for everyone in the world. I mean you know that’s what we’re all supposed to do – love each other and help each other. That’s what we’re meant to do here on this earth. I did have a near-death experience, that’s what a lot of people call it. But I call it a near-God experience. Well after you have a near-death experience, it changes your life.
Marked Ministry: Something I wanted to touch on real quick was, so much of the narrative that we’ve received of Elvis has really been on the negative side of his struggles and addictions and those things– shortcomings. But we don’t get to see more of the humanity of Elvis, the faith of Elvis. And I think it gives a message in this book that you can be imperfect and you can be human and still have faith. So, talk about that. Because I think that really helps people to know that they’re not disqualified in faith because they are human and they have struggles. So touch on that for a moment.
Billy Stanley: The only thing I can say is a lot of people think when you’re Christian you’re perfect, well you’re not. No Christian is perfect. We’re all imperfect. I mean that’s why Jesus came and died for us. You know, it’s mercy that’s getting us there and your belief that Jesus came and died for your sins– you believe that it’s very simple actually. But to be a Christian doesn’t mean your problems go away. They’re still there, it’s just now you know who to turn to. We’re all broken vessels. We all sin. We all fall short, but it’s the mercy of God and Jesus that gets us there. It’s our belief and your belief will also change your actions.
Marked Ministry: Yes, I think that’s really true, and we’ll leave on this note…I know that Elvis has always been an influence and now we have the term influencer on social media and different things. And so, when we’re looking at youth now, and a lot of our magazine readers are youth and young adults and teens that read it. Therefore, how do you think Elvis can live on as an influencer as we’re looking at this aspect with faith?
Billy Stanley: Just know this, there is a power greater than yourself and when you get to your lowest points, you don’t even have to get to your lowest point, but when you need help–turn to God. He [Elvis] did, in anything in his life, he always turned to God. And he prayed for forgiveness, he did that all the time. That’s what we all need to do. Let’s learn how to love and forget how to hate. That hate word is one of the worst cuss words in the world to me. That’s the way Elvis felt. Love is the answer to everything.
Pick up your very own copy of Billy’s new book by clicking the direct link here!