The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

83° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Save the Elvis impersonators

    Justyn DillinghamEditor-in-Chief
    Justyn Dillingham

    Elvis may never leave the building, but all those guys who look like him might have to.

    Alarm flickered through nightclubs, bars and third-rate Las Vegas shows everywhere earlier this year when a story flew around that CMX Inc., the new owner of the King’s trademark, might decide to require Elvis impersonators to apply for permission.

    In other words, if you want to put on a jumpsuit and a ridiculous-looking belt, dye your hair black and bleat the words to “”Jailhouse Rock”” in public, you’d need a license. If you want to perform weddings, christen ships or parachute out of helicopters dressed as the King, you’d better have your permit ready.

    Otherwise, you just might get slapped with a hefty lawsuit.

    “”It’s not even on the radar screen right now,”” Robert F. X. Sillerman, head of CMX, recently told the press. But make no mistake: If there’s a chance to make money, “”unauthorized”” impersonators, as Sillerman called them, may find themselves out of a job.

    The Presley estate has long been embarrassed by the Elvis-alikes and generally refuses to allow them to perform at officially sanctioned Elvis events.

    But now that big business has gotten its claws on Elvis Presley Enterprises, the concern has shifted from preserving whatever shred of “”dignity”” the King’s name still has to a far more familiar showbiz motive – money. If they think they can make a buck, they won’t hesitate.

    Greedy estates have hurt the legacies of far more sophisticated artists than Elvis. The James Joyce industry, once the most thriving in the academic world, has all but dried up because of his estate’s unwillingness to allow anyone to quote the master’s writing.

    It’s particularly ironic because if it weren’t for the impersonators, there’s a good chance that Elvis’s name would be worth a lot less than it is today. Cracking down on tribute artists may, in fact, permanently mar his legacy.

    The King’s reputation sure has come a long way since 1957, when a Southern preacher, incensed by Presley’s “”vulgar”” televised antics, declared him “”morally insane.””

    It’s come a long way since 1977, when his death wasn’t even the first thing announced on the evening news.

    “”Elvis died when he went into the Army,”” declared John Lennon, a fan. “”Good riddance to bad rubbish,”” sneered Johnny Rotten, a non-fan.

    Though he was long past his prime by the time he died, Presley’s reputation seemed consigned to permanent oblivion by 1981, when Albert Goldman’s muckraking biography “”Elvis”” dismissed the King as a drug-sodden wreck and a talentless plagiarist.

    “”Straight-up racist that sucker was, simple and plain,”” rapped Public Enemy, reviving an old (and untrue) attack.

    But during the next decade, as Elvis impersonators filled the nightclubs and Elvis sightings filled the tabloids, the King made the most unexpected and bizarre comeback in the history of show business. Suddenly Elvis dead was even more popular – and omnipresent – than Elvis alive.

    Think about it. You can watch hundreds of movies and TV shows without seeing a single reference to James Dean or Marilyn Monroe, but it’s unlikely you’ll go long without seeing one or two to Elvis.

    Scorned by the mainstream and the underground alike, at once the ultimate symbol of cool and the lamest, most easily mockable figure in the history of music, Elvis truly belonged nowhere – and yet, somehow, was everywhere.

    “”Was he even an artist?”” wondered Greil Marcus in “”Dead Elvis,”” his study of Presley’s strange posthumous cultural existence.

    The weirdest thing of all about Elvis’ “”comeback,”” Marcus argued, was that it culminated in the election of Bill Clinton, whose approval ratings soared after he declared his love of the King and appeared on television playing “”Heartbreak Hotel”” on his sax.

    Spotted everywhere from Burger King to Mars, capable of electing a president and racking up yet more hit singles – was there anything this dead man couldn’t do?

    What was the source of this strange cultural craze? It’s hard to say, but surely it has something to do with the fact that anyone who wants to can dress up as Elvis – can be Elvis, in a way. There is something strangely democratic about the Elvis phenomenon.

    Elvis impersonators are an irreplaceable part of the King’s weird legacy. Any attempt to regulate them would be like trying to regulate Halloween costumes. Elvis, for better or worse, belongs to the world.

    But if worse comes to worst, there’s still a market for Little Richard impersonators.

    More to Discover
    Activate Search