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Elvis Impersonators

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Paul Elvis Chan, an Elvis Presley impersonator from London.
Since Mr Vaughan could not be here, I have decided to come myself.
- US President  John F Kennedy jokes about his impersonator.

Elvis Presley, who was born on 8 January, 1935, passed away on 16 August, 1977, aged 42 years1, after a remarkable life during which he became an icon to millions. His recordings and memorabilia still sell well, decades after his death: 2005 was the fifth consecutive year that Elvis had topped the list of top-earning deceased celebrities2.

The distinctive Las Vegas concert jumpsuits, mannerisms and style of Elvis have been adopted by imitators and spawned a remarkable industry, that of Elvis impersonators. 'Elvisology', (an Americanism), is a thriving business and there are courses on offer to hone the skills of the more zealous.

Most of the people who adored Elvis but who cannot now see their idol in the flesh, will pay a good deal of money to see and hear an Elvis impersonator. Why? Because it's better than nothing. Elvis was a one-off, there has never been anyone to replace him, so even his impersonators, who are mimicking him - not trying to replace him - are celebrated and enjoyed.

Elvis is the most imitated person in history, with an estimated 85,000 impersonators, although professional impersonators prefer to be known as 'Elvis Tribute Artists'. You can book one to serenade you while you propose to your beloved, or arrange a special 'Elvisgram' for a bride-to-be on her hen night.

It is not essential to look like Elvis to be an Elvis impersonator: a black 'Teddy Boy' wig; large sunglasses; chunky jewellery; a white, blue or red studded jumpsuit and cape; and a guitar are all that is necessary. The ability to bend on one knee, throw out your arms and mumble the words:

Aa-hh wish I was..[pause]..in the land of cotton..[shake quiff]..old times..[pause]..they are not forgotten..[kiss woman in front row]..look away..[dab brow with donated handkerchief]..look away..[offer damp hanky to front row]..look away Dixieland..'
can send an audience into raptures.

At an Elvis convention you can expect to see black, Chinese and even female Elvis impersonators. Those who can actually sing have a job which lends them a kind of celebrity of their own. If you look the part you can have your own show on Blackpool Pier. Elvis buskers do remarkably well and there are Elvis stiltwalkers who appear in parades.

There is a Blackpool contest planned for January 2007, to find the 'best' Elvis impersonator. Competition is tough, with entrants being seeded to keep out the riff-raff.

In January 2006 you could have booked a 'Memories of 'The King' Caribbean cruise' with nightly performances by talented lookalike/soundalike Elvis Tribute Artists. Was this the last 'Elvis tribute' cruise? Now Elvis impersonators, who have previously used his likeness unbound by legalities, may lose their right to mimic 'The King', because an American entrepreneur, Robert Sillerman, bought control of the Elvis Presley name and likeness for $100m (£51m) in 2005. Sillerman runs the Presley family home Graceland Mansion in Memphis, owns the rights to his photographs, receives royalties from recordings, and revenue from sales of merchandise, CDs and films. It is possible that Elvis impersonators will require a licence now that the image of 'The King' has been sold3.

Up until early 2006 you could be married in the UK and Las Vegas4 with an Elvis impersonator serenading you, and have photographs taken with him (or her). Certainly a wedding with a difference. All good fun and great for the photo album and memories of your big day. There will be crying in the chapel if these popular services are no longer available.

Extraordinary Elvis Impersonators

Any Southern boy with a country voice can do Elvis.
- PJ Proby

  • PJ Proby appeared as Elvis in Jack Good's West End production of Elvis The Musical in 1977. Riding on the back of Elvis's shock death just a couple of months previously, it was lapped up by the public and ran for just under two years. Elvis The Musical won the Evening Standard Award for Best Musical of the Year in 1978. Proby reprised the role in 1996.
  • Japanese Elvis impersonator Yoshi Suzuki is the only one to record an album with Elvis Presley's own backing singers, the Jordanaires. He was also chosen for the audio version of Larry Geller's Elvis book, If I Can Dream.
  • A New Zealand policeman, Constable Brian Childs, a previous Australasian champion Elvis impersonator, was told to make a choice between his blue suede shoes and his blue uniform - he refused to surrender and resigned from the Force.
  • 'Elvis Herselvis' aka lesbian Leigh Crow wears an Elvis licence plate as a belt buckle for her performances which always include her version of Girls, Girls, Girls.
  • Ex-Mayor of Jacksonville, Bruce Borders was an Elvis impersonator before, during and after his eight years in office. He gave up politics to gig full-time because he 'didn't have time' to do both.
  • Evangelist Gary Stone's favourite Elvis song is Suspicious Minds. He wears a white rhinestone jumpsuit and cape while he sings for church groups and senior citizens in nursing homes.
  • A 25-stone (350-pound) San Franciscan Elvis impersonator known as 'Extreme Elvis' claims he looks like what 'The King' would look like now if he were still alive. His act is not for those with a sensitive disposition, as he strips on stage and doesn't bother to take comfort breaks in private.
  • People dress and sing as Elvis to raise funds for the NSPCC.
  • Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has recorded a CD of Elvis songs and sang a duet with American actor Tom Cruise who called Koizumi 'an extraordinary man, and a pretty good singer'.
  • British professional Elvis Tribute Artist Louis Rockafella walked the Macmillan Mile in 2005, dressed in his Elvis peacock jumpsuit. In 2004 Louis and his family helped raise £6,000 for his local cancer hospital by holding a Grand Charity Elvis Show Concert in memory of his mother Betty. Louis also held a Spirit of Elvis concert and raised over £3,000 for the Cookridge Cancer Hospital later the same year. Louis takes the time and trouble to visit his ailing fans like Margaret who has cancer. Previously Louis has raised funds for Shirley Nolan's leukaemia charity The Anthony Nolan Trust and Mencap.
  • The longest-lasting Elvis Presley impersonator was Belgian Victor Beasley who began singing The King's hits in 1955. He covered every stage of Elvis's career – from the early rock and hip-swivelling days right through to the iconic images of the Vegas performances. He had been impersonating Elvis for longer than The King had lived, when he died in 1999.

Film and TV

  • Bubba Ho-tep (aka The King vs The King of the Dead) starred Bruce Campbell as Elvis (who had 'sold' his life to an impersonator to get away from the trappings of fame) and 'JFK', a man who believes his brain has been transplanted following the shooting in Dallas. They both live in a retirement home in the deep south, and one of the reminiscences is when they take on an ancient Egyptian mummy.

  • Val Kilmer played Elvis in Quentin Tarantino's True Romance which was nominated for three Saturn5 Awards.

  • Honeymoon In Vegas starred Nicolas Cage as an Elvis impersonator, and featured 34 'Elvises' in total.

  • Longtime Elvis fan Nicolas Cage (in 2002 he was briefly married to Lisa Marie Presley, Elvis' daughter) also played an Elvis-type ex-jailbird and sang 'Love Me Tender' in Wild at Heart.

  • 3000 Miles to Graceland (aka Crime is King) starring Kurt Russell, Kevin Costner, Courtney Cox and Christian Slater, was nominated for several Golden Raspberry Awards in 2001. Nicknamed 'the Razzies', they are the alternative 'Oscar' awards for the worst performances/films etc. A 'razzie' award is a raspberry atop a film canister, made of plastic.

  • Almost Elvis featured eight characters who competed against each other to be crowned 'World's Best Elvis Impersonator'.

  • Into The Night starred Jeff Goldblum and Michelle Pfeiffer with cameos from David Bowie and Dan Aykroyd. It's basically an oddball chase movie involving international intrigue, priceless emeralds, crooked FBI Agents - and Elvis Impersonator Bruce McGill.

'Father Ted', 'Homer Simpson' and 'Johnny Bravo' have all impersonated Elvis in their respective television programmes.

Ask Elvis

Ask Elvis is featured on Steve Wright's programme on Radio 2. Viewers phone the show and an Elvis impersonator answers their questions in the unique Elvis style. If you have ever wanted to know why the sea is salty; why nobody makes brown cars; what an ice-cream head is; how long snails sleep for; if any foods contain rubber; how many spiders do we eat while asleep and similar types of questions, then this is the show for you. 'Elvis' also sings his own take on other artists' songs.

The Industry

The industry of Elvis impersonators has grown in leaps and bounds since the death of 'The King' himself. There are many books on the market available to teach you how to become an Elvis impersonator and how to promote yourself. The really good lookalikes and soundalikes can earn a great living from impersonating Elvis and indeed become minor celebrities themselves. It's all about perpetuating the spirit of the King of Rock 'n' Roll. Surely it's just a question of time before there's a University dedicated to the study of his contribution to the world?

1Ironically, his mother was the same age when she died.2Followed by Charles Schulz; John Lennon; Andy Warhol; Theodor Geisel; Marlon Brando; Marilyn Monroe; JRR Tolkien; George Harrison and Johnny Cash.3If you try and load US Elvis Impersonators' own websites you will find they are all closed down.4Two h2g2 Researchers were married in Las Vegas in April 2005, with 'Elvis' giving the bride away.5Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror films (USA).

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