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Elvis almost LDS?

Upcoming film indicates singer had a Book of Mormon, wanted baptism

Has Elvis been sighted in Utah County? And did that Book of Mormon archived on the second floor of the LDS Church Office Building once belong to the king of rock 'n' roll?

A Book of Mormon — possibly Elvis Presley's personal copy, reputed to have been in his room when he died — is indeed in the archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

And a new Elvis movie is being filmed in Utah, inspired by that archived Book of Mormon and the story behind it.

"Tears of a King" is being directed by filmmaker Rob Diamond, who also wrote the screenplay. The movie is set for release next year to coincide with the 30th anniversary of Presley's death on Aug. 16, 1977.

The movie is being produced by 7 Films 7 of Salt Lake City in association with Matthew Reese Films of Orem. The producers of the film are Diamond, Joshua Pearson and Kels Goodman. Reese is the executive producer.

The background story goes like this:

The Book of Mormon was given to the LDS Church by members of the Osmond family, who received it from a woman named Cricket Butler, according to Diamond. Butler, a friend of Elvis, gave the Book of Mormon to him in the months preceding his death. The book was subsequently returned to Butler by Elvis' father, Vernon, two days after Elvis' death.

"She sat in on the missionary discussions at Graceland and knows the date Elvis was to be baptized, which never came to pass due to Elvis' death," Diamond said.

That baptism date will be revealed in a separate documentary being produced by 7 Films 7, to be released at the same time as the feature film. It will also feature interviews with Alan Osmond and other friends, fans and missionaries sharing their experiences with Elvis.

Elvis is being portrayed in the new theatrical movie by actor Matt Lewis, who bears a strong physical resemblance to him.

Lewis even sings several songs in the film, and visitors to the movie set have found it hard to distinguish Lewis' singing voice from actual Elvis recordings, according to Robert Starling, associate producer of the movie.

The first few days of shooting were completed in a replica of Presley's bedroom that was created from floor plans and photos of the original at Graceland, which has been sealed since Elvis' death.

"The entire film has been meticulously researched and is authentic down to minute details such as items found on tabletops and shelves in the room," Starling said.

Misunderstood man

"It is well known that Elvis Presley was a devout Christian who had deep religious convictions despite his personal weaknesses and struggles with a Hollywood lifestyle that was thrust upon him at an early age," Starling said. "What is lesser known is that he reportedly met on several occasions with missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that he studied carefully the Book of Mormon."

Much of his life and career will be retold in flashback sequences in the movie.

"I spent many months pouring my soul into the screenplay," Diamond told the Deseret Morning News. "The Book of Mormon changed my life as a young man, and I believe this movie will help people understand that it did the same for Elvis in the latter days of his life."

However, Diamond stressed, "this movie is not about preaching to people. It's a universal story about a wonderful man who was very misunderstood."

Diamond said the movie explores many areas of Elvis' life and will be entertaining and enlightening for all, regardless of religion.

"The Book of Mormon provides the pearls of wisdom and hope that hold the film together," he said. "Beyond the book, there are many other aspects of Elvis' life that we explore in the story. There are some beautiful musical performances as well, but the film focuses on Elvis' spiritual journey first, personal relationships second and music third.

"The 'chain of evidence' is pretty well documented to show that the book was indeed owned by Elvis," Diamond said.

According to Starling, LDS Church archives officials did not allow the film crew to take the book from its facility, but they were allowed to bring their cameras there and film in a room set aside for them.

"We shot inserts of Matt Lewis in costume reading the book. These shots will be inserted into scenes we shot in the studio in Orem," Starling said.

He also stressed the research done for the film. The movie crew videotaped an interview with Bobby Kauo, who gave the LDS missionary discussions to Elvis when Presley was in Hawaii to film "Paradise Hawaiian Style."

Genuine or fake?

Ken Sanders, who owns Ken Sanders Rare Books in Salt Lake City, said the Elvis book could easily be worth $5,000 to $10,000, if it is indeed authentic. That's pretty good for a soft-cover Book of Mormon of that period, generally worth $5 to $6.

He said $100,000 is the most any early Book of Mormon has been worth to date. However, Sanders said he remains skeptical the book was truly Elvis'.

"All my initial instincts are it's a forgery," he said, after examining four pictures showing pages from the book.

Sanders' philosophy is a book is a fake until proven genuine. He also believes more handwriting samples would have to be available from the book to test it thoroughly enough.

He said a woman came into his store just last week with two copies of the Book of Mormon reputed to have been owned by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Diamond believes the Elvis Book of Mormon to be genuine. He said Alan Osmond has a certificate of authenticity for it. However, Diamond is working with a handwriting expert in hopes of bolstering its authenticity.

Grant A. Anderson, church history specialist in the LDS Archives, confirmed the archives do have a book reputed to be Elvis Presley's, a 1976 edition common in its day.

"All we know is what has been told to us," Anderson said. He stressed that the book's history of transfer looks consistent and logical, but the church has conducted no handwriting tests on it.

Anderson said the church has copies of early Book of Mormon editions, but it is not common to have celebrity-owned copies like this.

Alan Osmond told the Morning News in an e-mail that he did receive the Elvis Book of Mormon from Cricket Butler.

"I interviewed her on cassette tape, had her sign a letter of authenticity and saw pictures of her with Elvis. She said Elvis had talked about the Osmonds and would have wanted us to have it. We had a private barbecue scheduled by Elvis at his house a couple of weeks after he died. We also knew him, met him, conversed with him and have had personal conversations with him."

Regarding the Book of Mormon's transfer to the church, Osmond said: "I did give the book to the LDS Church via my wife's cousin, Elder Rex Pinegar (now an emeritus member of the Seventy). This was for safety's sake, to protect Elvis' privacy, and to preserve the sacredness of this book! Several people that knew I had it were too anxious to see it and touch it. So I put it in a very safe place — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (archives)."

Former Salt Lake City police forensics expert George Throckmorton said he hasn't seen the book but understands there may actually be two separate "Elvis Books of Mormon" out there.

Diamond said Elvis apparently received another copy from the late Ed Parker, who was his karate instructor and bodyguard.