When Joe Esposito went to work for Elvis Presley in 1960, the two were already friends.
They met in the Army, and in the years to come, Esposito would serve as Elvis' road manager, bodyguard and go-to guy. He was the King's best man when the entertainer married Priscilla Beaulieu, and it was Esposito who administered CPR to Elvis on Aug. 16, 1977. He later was a spokesman for the entourage, and remained with the estate, helping catalog the inventory.
Since then, he has been a champion of the Elvis legacy, including having written the 2006 memoir, "Remember Elvis."
On Tuesday during the 35th anniversary of Elvis Week, friends of the King and Esposito gather in concert to help the person known as Elvis' right-hand man.
In March, Esposito lost his wife of 31 years, Martha, to a particularly brutal form of cancer, and the family's health insurance didn't cover all the expenses of the treatment.
"We did all we could," Esposito said. "And she hung in as much as she could over a year fighting it." But on March 16, with her family present, she died from neoplastic meningitis.
In doing all he could for his wife, Esposito ran through their savings, spending up to $12,000 a month to send her to New York for treatment.
To help get back some of those expenses, friends of Esposito have organized a benefit concert for 3-6 p.m. Tuesday at Handy Park on Beale Street, featuring Tony Orlando, T G Sheppard, Jimi Jamison and Kelly Lang. Several of Elvis' associates are also expected to attend.
The event will be hosted by George Klein, another longtime friend of Elvis and a radio personality from the early days of Memphis rock and roll.
"When Martha passed, Joe told me about his situation," Klein said. "Some of his friends came up with the idea for the fundraiser and he asked me to emcee it. I said sure, and that the fans would be here during Elvis Week and I certainly wanted to help."
Esposito has long been friends with Tony Orlando who agreed to come. Klein contacted Sheppard and Lang, and someone got in touch with Jamison and the talent was soon in place.
"Herb O'Mell, Jerry Williams and I worked to put the show together," Klein said. "Herbie had all these clubs in town and he knows all this stuff, and Jerry managed Paul Revere and the Raiders and the Guilloteens. Esposito, who is 74, met Martha Gallub in New York in 1981. The actress and model was featured in some film and TV shows in the 1980s. They soon married and had a son, Anthony, born in 1985. She died at 66.
‘The King’s Fanfare’
Tuesday from 3 to 6 p.m. at Handy Park on Beale Street, featuring Tony Orlando, T G Sheppard, Jimi Jamison and Kelly Lang. Proceeds benefit the Joe & Martha Esposito Family Charity Fund. Admission is $20 at the gate. For more information, go to kingsfanfare.com.