News

Judge hears dispute over macabre collection of Elvis memorabilia

John Shiffman
The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)

PHILADELPHIA -- Who owns the black bag that Dr. Nick used to treat Elvis?

Or the bottles of prescription pills dated the day before Presley died? Or the glass nasal douche used to irrigate the King's nostrils before he took the stage?

Monday, a Wilmington, Del., judge will begin hearing a dispute over a multimillion-dollar collection of Elvis memorabilia once owned by one of rock-and-roll's most infamous physicians, George C. Nichopoulos.

"It's a big, damned mess, man, just the craziest thing you've ever seen," says Bobby Freeman, a lounge-singer/music-historian and a defendant in the case. "What's going on in that court in Delaware is absolutely disgusting."

The "Dr. Nick" collection -- temporarily padlocked inside a Nevada airport hangar -- includes a stuffed dog, a desk carved by Elvis' Uncle Vester, a .38 Smith & Wesson, the laryngeal scope used to examine the King's throat, and the official red strobe light issued to Dr. Nick in case he needed to race to Graceland for an emergency.

"It's amazing," Freeman says. "It's about the roots of rock and roll. It's about America, man."

A lawyer for the millionaire Californian suing Freeman does not disagree.

"There are items of genuine interest to Elvis fans, such as a copy of the book `The Prophet' with Elvis' hand-written annotations," says lawyer David L. Finger of Wilmington. He represents Richard Long, a Napa, Calif., executive who last year joined Freeman to buy Dr. Nick's collection.

Freeman and Long are not talking anymore.

Long alleges in his lawsuit that he put up $1.2 million to make the deal happen but that Freeman will not give him access to the collection for management and insurance purposes.

Freeman says Long failed to put up $3 million more he had pledged to the project, fumbled a big chance to do a show at the Stardust, and secretly intends to sell the collection overseas.

The issue for the Delaware Chancery Court, among the nation's most respected business courts, is whether the rift between Freeman and Long is now so severe that their Delaware limited liability company should be dissolved.

If that happens, the next step would be to determine who gets to keep the collection.

The stakes are high, Freeman insists.

"It's about you, your children and America," the entertainer says.

The best man suited to protect these treasures, Freeman says, is Freeman.

"See, I built this collection," he said by phone from Las Vegas, explaining that he entered a 50-50 partnership with Nichopoulos to show it to casinos in 2000.

"We opened it at the Hollywood Casino in Tunica, 15 miles from Graceland, and it was held over three times, and I did entertainment shows opposite of it in the ballroom. I have a big production. I'm a writer, a producer, and I play 30 instruments. PBS did a special on my life. I've been awarded by 31 United States governors."

The four-casino tour was so successful that Freeman came with the idea up putting the collection inside tractor-trailers and touring it nationwide.

Dr. Nick said OK.

It took three years to build a show, but by 2005, Freeman had installed it inside two custom-made 18-wheelers.

"It tells the story of an intimate relationship between Dr. Nick and his patient," Freeman says, describing the truck interiors. "Everything is beautiful: There's carpeting everywhere -- burgundy, two inches high, the best you can buy -- and every frame is carved gold. You got your crown molding . . .

"There's the nasal douche, the laryngeal scope, and drug bottles with the name `Elvis Presley,'" he says. "You might think that's tacky. Man, even I think it's morbid. But what right do I have to pull it out of there?"

Freeman plans to charge $20 a ticket. As a bonus, he says he'll put on a concert at the end. "I rock the piano with my feet. I play that thing any way I can, man."

But for now, the show is dark. Until the legal dispute is resolved, the trucks are parked in a secure, undisclosed location -- the hangar in Nevada.

"It's a shame," Freeman says.

A spokesman for Elvis Presley Enterprises in Memphis did not return a call for comment.

Freeman, 59, and Long, 63, are expected to fly to Philadelphia Sunday to prepare for Monday's hearing. The judge, Vice Chancellor Leo Strine, is scrutinizing the April 2006 deal the men made in Memphis, a transaction that includes the purchase of the collection from Dr. Nick.

At the time, Long and Freeman had known each other for only two years, having met at an auto show in Reno. Long, a multi-millionaire, is chief executive officer of Regulus, a California document management company that performs remittance work for major banks and corporations.

Freeman picks up the story:

"I was rocking a piano, a big one with flames that come out. Dick saw me and loved it and said, `I want you to do my birthday party.' I said, `I don't do birthday parties.' Well, man, he kept calling me, two straight weeks. I called back and gave him an outrageous price. He said, `I'll take it.'"

Long declined to be interviewed, but in his lawsuit he says Freeman kept in touch and ultimately persuaded him to finance the purchase of the collection.

Long, Freeman, and Freeman's girlfriend, Betty Franklin, formed a Delaware company, and met in Memphis to seal the deal with Dr. Nick.

"I wish I had been involved when this was going down because I think it would have gone down differently," said Michael Matuska, a Nevada lawyer who later advised Franklin but who is not involved in the Delaware case. "Bobby and Betty didn't get what they expected from Dick Long, and they also gave a release to Dr. Nick for a large debt he owed Bobby and Betty. So they're short on both ends of this deal."

What is not disputed is that during final negotiations, the deal snagged when questions were raised about Freeman's alleged undisclosed debts.

Freeman, whose real name last name is Gallagher, says none of this was relevant.

"So a woman got a judgment against me 20 years ago for $200,000? I didn't even know it existed . . . Look, I owe one creditor. That's Bank of America for $500,000."

Freeman also was sued in 1999 for money owed in Memphis. In 2004, when the creditor's lawyer tried to find out if Freeman had money, he took a few depositions, including one from Dr. Nick.

Lawyer: "Do you know the location of any asset of Mr. Freeman's?"

Dr. Nick: "I think the only asset he has is Betty . . . He kind of likes to put on the dog and talk a lot and flash."

Now in his 80s, Dr. Nick works as a benefits adviser for FedEx in Memphis. He lost his medical license in 1995 for bad conduct, including writing too many prescriptions for Jerry Lee Lewis. But Freeman and others say Dr. Nick gets a bad rap.

"Elvis would have been dead years before if it hadn't been for Dr. Nick feeding him placebos," says James F. Neal, the famed Nashville lawyer who successfully defended him in 1981 against criminal charges that he negligently prescribed drugs to Presley.

Nichopoulos didn't return a call for comment.

Freeman says he fears what will happen at tomorrow's hearing, which is bound to bring more publicity. At the end of a long interview last week, he said: "I expect you to you to write the same thing as other writers and slaughter me."

He paused, then laughed.

"But you know what? That's OK. Just spell my name right, and this thing will get bigger."


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Music

Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.

Music

IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.

Music

Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.

Film

NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.

Music

The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.