She knew an Elvis no one else could fathom

Rafael Alvarez

May 13, 1992|By Rafael Alvarez

IT IS ONE of the great oddities of pop culture.

The official White House photo of Richard Nixon shaking hands with Elvis Presley in 1970 remains the most requested picture from the archives of the Library of Congress, a postcard from the outer vestibule of weird.

It shows the business-suited Nixon, a tight smile wired across his face, gripping palms with a bleary-eyed King of Rock and Roll, the high-collar of Presley's shirt lapping over a black jacket draped across his shoulders, a gold belt buckle above his fabled TC pelvis gleaming like a giant waffle.

Elvis, who looks bombed, said he wanted to warn Nixon about the threat of drugs to young people.

Nixon, hoping to get in good with teen-agers by posing with Elvis as the Woodstock nation spat on everything both men stood for, made Presley an honorary agent in the Drug Enforcement Agency.

You couldn't make it up better than this.

Who could explain such a summit?

Joyce Bova, the daughter of a Baltimore vice squad cop, says she can.

Ms. Bova claims to know a handful of the secrets left from a lush life grazed down to dust.

Even Priscilla Presley's autobiography cannot account for her husband's abrupt visit to Washington in December 1970.

Elvis didn't hop a commercial jetliner without his bodyguards just to show up unannounced at the White House.

The King was in the capital, says Joyce Bova, to woo her back into their secret romance, to beg forgiveness for mistreating her, ask the 1962 graduate of Howard High School to come back to him.

Richard Nixon and the drug-crazed hippie youth of America were merely an afterthought.

"He got on a plane all by himself and came looking for me," said Ms. Bova, sitting pretty in the lobby of an Inner Harbor hotel not too long ago, telling stories she has mostly kept to herself for the last 20 years, testing the media waters in her old hometown to see how the story plays. "He told me he just sent a note in with a guard at the White House gate. I said: 'You just waltzed in to see Nixon?'"

He did, stopping now and then along the way to show fans his rings and belts and collection of law-enforcement badges.

Joyce Bova is a House of Representatives Armed Services Committee aide who lives in a Greenbelt apartment building with her twin sister Janice and a three-legged poodle named Francoise.

She claims to have known an Elvis no one else could fathom, and to tell you about it she has typed out many hundreds of pages from her diary about their times together from 1969 to 1972 -- a book ghost written by a New York City author that has not yet found a publisher.

"He was drop dead gorgeous, the absolute picture of health, the most beautiful man I've ever seen or will see when I met him, a magnificent vision, but he was a very complex man," said Ms. Bova, who met Elvis before one of his Las Vegas concerts in 1969. "He needed stardom and adulation and fame and all that, but he also needed somebody to understand him and care about him not because of what he was but who he was, someone to listen to him ramble if he needed to ramble.

"He said to me that he could live without the wealth if he had to, that he grew up in poverty and he could live that way again. I said, 'Come on, Elvis, if somebody didn't stand next to you with a glass of water you wouldn't know where to find it.'"

Ms. Bova has more than a few stories to tell: how Elvis made her dress up the same way he encouraged Priscilla to dress, in beehive hair-dos and heavy make-up; how he sang "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" especially for her during a show at the Baltimore Civic Center in 1971; and how he was "sometimes fiery, sometimes tender" in bed.

"He was egocentric -- he never shunned a person who came up to him, never. He was gracious like a big kid. We'd pull over to the side of the street and he'd show these people his rings and his belt. He loved it, but God knows I could not have lived that kind of life for any stretch of time. He wanted me at his beck and call," she said. "But it was important for me to be my own person, and it baffled him how he could not control me."

Joyce Bova, the little girl from Edmondson Heights who grew up to be Presley's paramour, says she finally walked away from Elvis because the life he led would have destroyed her.

Often, she said, their arguments were about drugs.

"When I would bring it up, he'd say he didn't do drugs," she said, admitting an addiction to sleeping pills she developed while Presley's lover. "Because a doctor had prescribed them, he believed he was not taking drugs."

And there is one more dark chapter that Joyce Bova says she shared with Elvis, an intimate link that her ghost writer says she is not yet ready to discuss, a bombshell addressed in the book.

Ms. Bova protests that she doesn't want to be part of the traveling Dead Elvis circus, that she simply wants to fill in a few missing stories. The Elvis she loved "was reaching the peak of his powers and wanted someone capable of appreciating and understanding the even greater things he imagined for himself."

But even Elvis could hardly have imagined the vortex of sleaze that whirls with the hot air of Geraldo and "Hard Copy" and Oprah and "A Current Affair." All of them will be lined up to express their sincere appreciation and understanding for the love story Joyce Bova has to tell and the faint heartbeat that died with it 20 years ago.


If and when her book is published, they will eat her up.

Rafael Alvarez covers Elvis for The Sun.

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