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Rick Stanley says he’s willing to accept his portion of the blame for Elvis’s death _ but not all of it.

“People don’t know the guilt I’ve carried,” he says softly. “I’m the guy that was supposed to be there to keep him alive, you know? And I’ve never run from that.”

___(equals)

On a crisp October evening, “Brother Rick” arrives in Selma, an old railroad town 30 miles southeast of Raleigh, in the passenger seat of a loaned Cadillac SUV _ blue, not pink. About 300 people have come to hear him, triple the usual attendance for a Wednesday evening service.

As Stanley shakes hands in the vestibule, Sue Bunn, 62, stops to snap a few photos of the celebrity speaker.

“Can’t wait to hear what his message is going to be,” she says, beaming. “Being that he’s lived in that fast life, he’s a witness.”

Stanley does not disappoint.

Dressed in a suede vest, dark jeans and tooled orange-and-brown cowboy boots, the lean, 6-foot-3 preacher stalks the altar, snapping his fingers like a hypnotist attempting to awaken a subject from a trance. His sentences are punctuated with words like “buddy,” “man” and “friend,” and his Tennessee-tinted baritone occasionally sounds a bit like an Elvis impersonation.

Stanley covers a lot of ground, from the reconciliation with his dying father to allusions to his younger daughter’s own drug and alcohol arrests. But the spotlight is on Elvis.

The Elvis of Stanley’s sermon is not the bloated, drug-addled one, blue and cold on a Graceland bathroom floor at the age of 42. He’s the kind, generous Elvis who gave cars to strangers and welcomed three young boys into his home; the deeply spiritual Elvis who longed for salvation and was terribly wounded by the things the church said about him.

When Elvis died, Stanley says, “I was lost. I was undone. I was unforgiven.”

“What do you do when your dream dies before you?” he asks the people staring up at him from the pews. “When everything you’ve looked to and longed for, your dream dies?”

But somehow, through the haze of drugs and booze and women, he says, God found him.

“And He gave me a heart transplant,” he says. “And He put his new spirit within me.”

“AMEN!” a man somewhere in the sanctuary shouts.

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