Rio Grande’s Lou Carbo, a Retired Policeman and Bodyguard, Tells of His Celebrity Encounters
RIO GRANDE – Not everyone gets to meet celebrities in their work, but for Lou Carbo, a retired Philadelphia police sergeant who now lives in Rio Grande, meeting people like Elvis Presley, the pope, Marlo Thomas, Phil Donahue, Andrea McArdle and others was just part of his job.
As a police officer for 32 years, Carbo, now 85, spent some of his time working a side job with a citywide limousine service that provided security protection to celebrities. He subsequently became part of the Philadelphia Police Department’s dignitary protection unit and served as a bodyguard for Andrea McArdle, a Philadelphia-born singer and actress best known for originating the role of Annie in the Broadway musical of that name.
Through these security roles, he found himself enjoying Philly cheesesteaks with Elvis, staying at Liberace’s house outside Las Vegas, driving for guests of “The Mike Douglas Show” and having dinner with Roger Moore, the third actor to play James Bond, doing so in seven films.
Carbo loves sharing his stories of how he met the celebrities and what they would do together with most anyone who will listen.
He started his career as a police officer and driver for celebrities with a job decision based on a family member’s experiences.
“My brother-in-law worked in the police department’s polygraph unit and would tell me stories about his police work,” Carbo recalled. “As I learned more about the job, I thought I would love it, so I applied. The night before I started at the police academy, I told my wife that I was starting a new job tomorrow … as a police officer.
“When I retired, it was the same thing. I told her tonight was my last night working. That I was retiring tomorrow. It was just matter-of-fact. That’s how I treated my job and all the celebrities: It was my job.”
Carbo grew up in South Philadelphia. “I was raised on the streets, and that’s where I worked,” he said.
He was acquainted with many of the people in the newspapers – from the mayor and other city officials to prominent businessmen to mobsters, and those relationships were enhanced by way of a family-owned flower store that served his South Philadelphia neighborhood.
“Back then, there was a real camaraderie among police officers, and everyone seemed to know everyone and helped each other,” he said. “Often, the celebrities wanted a police officer to provide security for them and be their driver when they were in town.”
It was that camaraderie that got Carbo a side job as the bodyguard for McArdle for 35 years. “I went everywhere with her,” he said, recalling her performance in 1979 when she sang the national anthems for both the United States and Canada at the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Seattle, Washington. He also stayed with her at Liberace’s house when she was his opening act.
One of the more memorable people he spent time with was Elvis Presley, just a few months before he died. “I was told to go to the airport and meet the plane ‘The Lisa Marie,'” Carbo said. “I sorta knew the name, but wasn’t really sure who it was. Philadelphia wasn’t much of a gospel music town at the time. Out of the plane comes Elvis.
“I didn’t really know much about Elvis, so I told him that he didn’t know me, I didn’t know him, so we would be Elvis and Lou. Elvis was really interested in my being a real police officer and asked me a lot of questions about the job. He was the nicest man.”
Presley told Carbo he was hungry, and, as anyone from Philadelphia would, Carbo asked him if he wanted a cheesesteak.
“Elvis said yes, so I took him to Pat’s and bought five cheesesteaks, three for him and two for me,” he said. “I realized that if Elvis got out of the truck, there’d be a riot with people wanting to see him, so I told him to sit in the vehicle, away from the windows. I went down the street and bought a six-pack of beer at a tavern owned by a former cop, and we ate in the parking lot of a local grocery store, just chatting away.”
Carbo thought it was time to get his charge back to the hotel, but once settled, Presley was not ready for bed. “He was a night person, and he wanted to discuss police work,” Carbo said. The evening was topped off with Carbo giving Presley a police bicentennial patch that is on display at Graceland.
Over the few days Presley was in Philadelphia performing, Carbo met his pilot and learned how much the singer liked banana and peanut butter sandwiches, which were made especially for him by a woman in Denver, Colorado.
After finishing his final gig, Presley offered Carbo a generous-paying service job. However, Carbo had family obligations and was unable to accept the offer.
Neither Carbo nor the City of Philadelphia realized Presley would never pass their way again; he died three months later.
Another memorable person was Pope John XXIII, whom Carbo met several times during his visits to Philadelphia. Carbo also was friends with a cardinal serving Pope John Paul II in the Vatican and met that pontiff as well.
He said that a place everybody should visit is St. Jude Hospital, the research and treatment center that seeks cures and means of prevention for catastrophic pediatric diseases. “I met Marlo Thomas and her husband, Phil Donahue, who are really, really nice,” he said of the couple, staunch supporters of the medical facility.
He said he was never “star-struck” during his years as an officer and believes he is lucky to have all the good memories. “I’m also lucky to live here,” he said about Cape May County and Rio Grande. “If I hit the lottery, I still would live here. I love it here.
“I had a stroke in 2021, and I thank God that I had no memory loss. I still do physical therapy twice a week, as my left leg is a bit weak. I’m 85, but to me, it’s just a number. I don’t feel 85, and I am lucky to still have my memories and to have met all these wonderful people.”
Contact the author, Karen Knight, at email@example.com.