Definition of “in a vacuum“: “If something is done in a vacuum, it is not affected by any outside influences or information.” (Collins English Dictionary)
Recently I watched a video of Billy Smith and Jo Smith recorded in the early 1980s talking about August 16, 1977, and how they were notified that Elvis was having a medical emergency. Billy has told this story numerous times over the years since then, and to his credit he pretty much sticks with the same general points, the main one being that Patsy (Presley) Gambill called him at “somewhere around a quarter to two” (video here @2:10) to alert him that Elvis had been taken to the hospital by ambulance. However, like so many other accounts in Elvis World, this account exists in a vacuum. That is, the story is told without regard for other accounts where the details are in direct conflict. In this case, Billy says he was alerted at 1:45pm, even though he knows that the time recorded in the history books for the emergency call from Ginger Alden to be 2:20pm. Each time Billy Smith tells this story (spanning 43+ years) and mentions that by 1:45pm Elvis had already been removed from Graceland and taken to Baptist Memorial Hospital, he is ignoring the fact that “official” accounts (from Ginger, Joe Esposito, and even Patsy Presley herself) do not align with his account. Even if he wasn’t fully aware of this in the early 1980s, he is certainly aware of it in 2021, so why not correct the record? Let me be clear on this: kudos to Billy for talking about the events of August 16 on so many occasions, but to speak about this sequence of events knowing that his account differs greatly from other accounts is disingenuous. The point is, Billy knows his account is different but he either fails or refuses to address the disparity.
Several decades later, the time reference is repeated in this video (here @34:57), though Billy also references 1:30pm:
“At about one-thirty, quarter to two, the phone rang and it was my cousin, Patsy…”
We must also consider these time references by Billy Smith, as quoted directly, from the early 1990s:
From “Revelations from the Memphis Mafia,” page 862: Patsy called Billy Smith “sometime after two.”
From “Revelations from the Memphis Mafia,” page 875: Ginger called downstairs at 2:00pm.
See what has happened here? Billy Smith has claimed that by 1:45pm, according to information he received from Patsy Gambill, Elvis had been removed by ambulance and was en route to Baptist, which means Ginger’s emergency call had to have occurred before that point. In “Revelations,” however, Billy places the emergency call from Ginger at 2:00pm, and the call from Patsy “sometime after two.” These two quotes run directly counter to his earlier (and later) claims and time references. In this account, the call from Patsy is moved ahead in time by at least 15 minutes; the emergency call from Ginger has also been moved ahead by an indeterminate time.
And to be sure, it’s not just Billy Smith…this problem exists in countless examples from friends, family, and associates of Elvis.
Let’s continue with the same early 1980s video and look at Jo Smith’s statements, and Billy Smith’s full statement, starting @01:28:
Jo Smith: “I had gone out to get a few last-minute things that I needed to take on tour because we were leaving with him and I had already packed and everything, and I was right in front of the gate and I saw, um, an ambulance come down the drive and I saw a few of the guys that were running behind the ambulance and I…the first thing I thought of was his grandmother and so I went on up into my house and the phone rang and, um, I can’t remem-, I think Patsy told me, uh, that Elvis had been taken to the hospital.”
In Jo Smith’s account, she was not at Graceland in the Smith trailer during the entire time the paramedics were attending to Elvis in the upstairs bathroom, but arrived at Graceland as the ambulance was driving down the southwest part of the driveway towards the front gate. The “few” guys running behind the ambulance are not identified, nor is it clear what “running behind the ambulance” means. Assuming Jo entered through the gate after the ambulance had turned north on Elvis Presley Boulevard and did not stop for any reason, she would have arrived at the trailer and been inside in roughly 60-120 seconds, at which time she would have received the call from Patsy. Here, Jo does not mention the presence of Billy.
[Note that in the not-always-reliable ambulance video, there are no cars “right in front of the gate” at the time the ambulance exited.]
Billy Smith: “My cousin called me […] somewhere around a quarter to two and, uh, said they had taken him to the hospital […], I just kinda dropped the phone and headed for the first thing I could find which was my motorcycle at that time, it was the only thing parked there, and Jo had gone out in the car so I was gonna get on it and about that time David Stanley came up in his car and we immediately got in it and went to the hospital.”
The ambulance exits the property and within a short time Patsy Gambill called Billy Smith at his trailer to alert him that Elvis had been taken to the hospital. This had to have been immediately after the ambulance left the property. Billy notes that Jo was not present, as she had taken the car. It would have been at this time that Jo arrived at the trailer, or had already arrived at the trailer, because Jo says that she arrived at Graceland as the ambulance was approaching the gate to exit. As noted, she would have then arrived at her trailer within one to two minutes. However, it is at this exact same time that Patsy was speaking to Billy. The conclusions we must draw, then, going by these accounts, are that immediately following the departure of the ambulance, Patsy called Billy and Patsy called Jo, and yet Jo did not note Billy’s presence and Billy did not note Jo’s presence. Since the ambulance left literally at the same time Jo claims she arrived, Billy would have still been at the Smith trailer on the north side of the property, and yet Jo does not encounter Billy. Why not? How did Billy leave the property without seeing Jo in the Smith family vehicle? Does any of this sound reasonable?
If Patsy called Billy, and then Patsy called Jo, then these calls had to have been placed literally within seconds/minutes of each other. But if Patsy called Billy and told him about Elvis, why did she then call a second time to inform Jo? Wouldn’t Patsy have assumed that Billy informed his wife of the news?
Here is a more recent telling of the story from Billy, as featured on the Memphis Mafia Kid channel on YouTube, February 2021 @08:16: “The phone rang, and if I remember right I think Joey was the one that answered the phone and it was my cousin Patsy, Elvis’s first, double-first cousin, my first cousin, she called and she said, um, they’ve taken Elvis to the hospital, she said Elvis is gone […], so I hung up the phone and the first thing I could think about, you know, Jo, I knew she couldn’t [go to the hospital] cuz the kids were there so I ran out and I jumped on my motorcycle and about that time David Stanley was coming in in his car, so I just parked my motorcycle and I said David, take me to the hospital…”
This is, to my knowledge, the first time that either of the Smith kids has been brought into this story. We are told by Billy that his son, Joey, answered the phone when Patsy called to tell him (Billy) that Elvis had been taken to the hospital. Billy then says that Jo could not go to the hospital because the kids were there, and yet it appears that Billy left the kids there when he got in David Stanley’s car and headed to Baptist Hospital (since he said that Jo was not there). If the argument is shifted a bit and Billy is saying that Jo couldn’t go to the hospital because she had to watch the kids, then what is the rationale for Billy to get on his motorcycle? In other accounts, he says he gets on the motorcycle because Jo is out with the car.
Taking the story away from the Smiths for a moment, let’s look at one key point regarding David Stanley. According to Billy Smith’s accounts (older or more recent), David Stanley was arriving on the property just after Patsy Gambill alerted Billy that Elvis had been taken to the hospital. The timeline is clear and unambiguous: if David Stanley was arriving in his car just as Billy Smith was alerted to the emergency, then it is impossible that David was upstairs during the resuscitation efforts as he claims. If David was just driving in and did not know what was going on, and yet the ambulance had already left, then he was not onsite during the critical time period. There is no argument or debate on this: Billy Smith’s account and David Stanley’s account are mutually exclusive; they cannot both exist at the same time. This is yet another perfect example of information in a vacuum, where anyone talking about this part of the story should immediately address the differences between the two accounts. Simply, if David arrived when Billy was getting on his motorcycle, then David was not upstairs in the bathroom with Elvis. The fact that these stories exist in a vacuum is one of the greatest weaknesses in all of the informational side of Elvis World, and is an insult to the fans and to the Elvis historical record.
To close, it is somewhat amusing that after all these disparities and anomalies, we are still left with the primary question: Why does Billy Smith say all of this occurred at “around a quarter to two”?
And a few other questions remain unanswered:
What time does Jo Smith say this happened?
When the Memphis Mafia Kid team sits in front of the camera to talk about this sequence of events, they all know that “a quarter to two” does not align with the “official” story, and yet they do not mention this obvious and critical disparity. Why?