A judge will decide the fate of the morbid memorabilia of rock's "Dr. Nick," who lost his medical license in '95.
PHILADELPHIA — Who owns the black bag “Dr. Nick” used to treat Elvis Presley?
Or the bottles of prescription pills dated the day before Presley died? Or the glass nasal device used to irrigate the King’s nostrils before he took the stage?
Monday, a Wilmington, Del., judge will begin hearing a dispute over a multimillion-dollar collection of Elvis memorabilia once owned by one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most infamous physicians, George Nichopoulos.
“It’s a big … mess, man, just the craziest thing you’ve ever seen,” said Bobby Freeman, a lounge-singer/music historian and a defendant in the case. “What’s going on in that court in Delaware is absolutely disgusting.”
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The Dr. Nick collection — temporarily padlocked inside a Nevada airport hangar — includes a stuffed dog, a desk carved by Elvis’ Uncle Vester, a .38 Smith & Wesson, the laryngeal scope used to examine the King’s throat and the official red strobe light issued to Nichopoulos in case he needed to race to Graceland for an emergency.
“It’s amazing,” Freeman said. “It’s about the roots of rock ‘n’ roll. It’s about America, man.”
A lawyer for the millionaire Californian suing Freeman does not disagree.
“There are items of genuine interest to Elvis fans, such as a copy of the book ‘The Prophet’ with Elvis’ handwritten annotations,” said lawyer David Finger, of Wilmington. He represents Richard Long, a Napa, Calif., executive who last year joined Freeman to buy Nichopoulos’ collection.
Freeman and Long are not talking anymore.
Allegations in suit
Long alleges in his lawsuit that he put up $1.2 million to make the deal happen but that Freeman will not give him access to the collection.
Freeman said Long failed to put up $3 million more he had pledged to the project and intends to sell the collection overseas.
The issue for the Delaware Chancery Court is whether the rift between Freeman and Long is so severe that their Delaware limited-liability company should be dissolved.
If that happens, the next step would be to determine who gets to keep the collection.
The best man suited to protect these treasures, Freeman said, is Freeman.
“See, I built this collection,” he said by phone from Las Vegas, explaining that he entered a 50-50 partnership in 2000 with Nichopoulos to show the collection at casinos.
“We opened it at the Hollywood Casino in Tunica, 15 miles from Graceland, and it was held over three times, and I did entertainment shows opposite of it in the ballroom.”
It took three years to build a show, but by 2005, Freeman had installed it inside two custom-made 18-wheelers.
“It tells the story of an intimate relationship between Dr. Nick and his patient,” said Freeman, 59.
A spokesman for Elvis Presley Enterprises in Memphis, Tenn., did not return a call for comment.
The judge, Vice Chancellor Leo Strine, is scrutinizing the April 2006 deal the men made in Memphis, a transaction that includes the purchase of the collection from Nichopoulos.
Long, 63, declined to be interviewed, but in his lawsuit he says Freeman persuaded him to finance the purchase of the Elvis collection.
Long, Freeman, and Freeman’s girlfriend, Betty Franklin, formed a Delaware company, and met in Memphis to seal the deal with Dr. Nick.
What is not disputed is that during final negotiations, the deal snagged when questions were raised about Freeman’s alleged undisclosed debts.
Freeman, whose real name last name is Gallagher, said none of this was relevant.
“So a woman got a judgment against me 20 years ago for $200,000? I didn’t even know it existed … Look, I owe one creditor. That’s Bank of America for $500,000.”
Freeman also was sued in 1999 for money owed in Memphis. In 2004, when the creditor’s lawyer tried to find out if Freeman had money, he took a few depositions, including one from Nichopoulos.
Lawyer: “Do you know the location of any asset of Mr. Freeman’s?”
Nichopoulos: “I think the only asset he has is Betty.”
Now in his 80s, Nichopoulos works as a benefits adviser for FedEx in Memphis. He lost his medical license in 1995 for bad conduct, including writing too many prescriptions for Jerry Lee Lewis. But Freeman and others say Nichopoulos gets a bad rap.
“Elvis would have been dead years before if it hadn’t been for Dr. Nick feeding him placebos,” said James Neal, the Nashville lawyer who successfully defended him in 1981 against criminal charges that he negligently prescribed drugs to Presley.
Nichopoulos didn’t return a call for comment.