Retired Denver police officer Bob Cantwell on the time the King's "nurse" made a house call
This Thursday, August 16, marks the 35th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death. The iconic singer spent a great deal of time in the Centennial State and had many adventures. In honor of the King, Backbeat is sharing some of these stories all week.
During Elvis Presley's second visit to Denver in 1970, security was understandably tight. Entire hotel floors were put on lockdown, and the King's own hired force of Denver Police Department officers had their hands full trying to keep unwanted guests away from the entertainer. One night, Officer Bob Cantwell turned away a female visitor he shouldn't have, which caused Elvis to nearly lose his mind. According to Cantwell, who served on the force for 27 years before retiring, it was all a case of miscues and innocent mistakes.
"Elvis had to have off-duty officers because the women go crazy," he related last week at Nick's Cafe in Lakewood during Jonny Barber's Memphis kick-off party. The King was still riding high on the success of his '68 comeback television special (in which he performed live for the first time in seven years, and which earned the highest ratings for a TV special that year), as well as the number-one hit he had with "Suspicious Minds" in late 1969.
On November 17, 1970, Elvis was scheduled to perform at the Denver Coliseum. He was staying at a hotel that was formerly the home of the Playboy Club, and had reserved the entire ninth and tenth floors.
Cantwell and another officer, Ron Pietrafeso, were stationed at a desk outside the elevator. Elvis's presence there had been kept a secret, but when a hotel employee presumably leaked the news, crowds flocked to catch a glimpse of the singer -- not that it was a very closely guarded secret. With all the logistics involved in booking two hotel floors and hiring a team of uniformed cops to patrol the premises, word was bound to get out. "There were women screamin' and hollerin', coming up and down the elevator," Cantwell remembers.
The off-duty officers were tossing folks out left and right. Around midnight that evening, after the show, Elvis -- or "EP," as Cantwell says he preferred to be called -- gave specific instructions that a nurse would be visiting him. Fine, Cantwell said. When a nurse showed up, she was to be allowed off the elevator.
Elvis had already made a concession to the officers regarding concerns over drug use. He had promised that all the doors to his and his entourage's hotel rooms would be left open. If the police wanted to peek in to make sure nothing illegal was going on, that was fine with EP.
Later that night, well after midnight, Elvis returns to ask: Where's the nurse? "I said I would've recognized a nurse," Cantwell says. A lot of women wanted to see him, but none of them were wearing medical garb. "So Elvis tells me that's not the kind of nurse he was talking about." The King was not amused; in fact, he "goes bonkers," Cantwell recalls -- and sent one of his associates to look for the woman.
Around 2 a.m., Cantwell was patrolling the halls, sniffing around for marijuana, and heard a noise coming from Elvis's room. There didn't seem to be any illicit activities going on, he says, "but I knew he had a woman in there -- I can tell you that much."
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