The Inner Elvis

Sara Kelly reviews Peter Whitmer's book "The Inner Elvis: A Psychological Biography of Elvis Aaron Presley".

Published August 19, 1996 7:00PM (EDT)

There are a few important insights to be found in Peter Whitmer, Ph.D.'s ultra-serious dissertation about the inner life of America's greatest trailer-trash hero. But even the most diehard Elvis fans may lack the attention span necessary to wade through nearly 500 pages of Elvis-related pop psychology merely to discover that the icon possessed a smaller than average penis and a colon four times larger than most.

"The Inner Elvis" is impressive in its scope, if rarely in its acuity. Whitmer strains for deep-think analyses of such subjects as Elvis' interest in the martial arts: "Psychologically, karate can be viewed as an athletic extension of one's body boundaries, where someone 'invading' will actually be physically harmed, or even killed." Even more loopy is Whitmer's take on Elvis' shamanistic impulses: "In the study of circumpolar shamanism, there is a universally acknowledged 'watch out' sign, an indication of the waning of the mystical powers. Such a decline usually parallels the personal deterioration of the shaman. He finds it necessary, for example, to resort to heavy use of drugs in order to enhance his therapeutic potency. . . Again, Elvis Presley fits the prototype."

Despite his up-to-the-minute psychological jargon, Whitmer is fond of antiquated Freudian analysis. He boils down the King's many mental problems to this: Gladys Presley, an overbearing mother, insisted on sharing a bed with her surviving son (Elvis' twin brother, Jesse, had died at birth) until age 12; young Elvis felt he must satisfy all his mother's emotional needs; Elvis develops a narcissistic personality based on this obsession with Gladys; when Gladys dies, he makes Priscilla don a black pompadour to match those worn by both himself and his late mother; he then refuses to have sex with the re-designed Priscilla, opting instead to embark on a series of high-profile Hollywood affairs with women who less closely resemble him.

Whitmer goes on to suggest that Elvis had sex with Priscilla only once: to conceive Lisa Marie. Elvis, reportedly, would not copulate with a woman who had been pregnant (another supposed response to his Oedipal obsession). But those are just the sexy highlights. Whitmer spends much more time detailing his subject's unseemly origins -- namely the "poor white trash" from whence, he coldly explains, the King came. This tribute, if you can call it that, is as soulless as Lisa Marie's ill-fated marriage to Michael Jackson.

By Sara Kelly

Sara Kelly is executive editor of the Philadelphia Weekly.

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