Elvis Impersonators: Celebrities Pay Tribute to the King
On the anniversary of Elvis’ death, consider these celebrities’ imitations the sincerest form of flattery.
As a 20-year-old college student, comedian Andy Kaufman wrote a fan letter to his idol, Elvis Presley. Several years later, Kaufman had worked the King into his act. Kaufman would come onstage in his awkward Foreign Man character (the precursor to Latka on Taxi) and purposefully do bad impressions. Then he would tell the audience that he “would like to impersonate the Elvis Presley”—and then blow them away with a dead-on rendition of a Presley song. It was rare to impersonate Elvis at the time (especially since he was still alive), but Presley considered Kaufman’s the best he ever saw. Another way Kaufman imitates Elvis: There are those who think he’s still alive.
He may be a Grammy Award–winning singer-songwriter now, but at the age of 4 Bruno Mars was known as the world’s youngest Elvis impersonator. In the 1990 documentary Viva Elvis, little Bruno was asked what he admired about the King. "I like his singing and his dance and his lips," he said, dressed in a full Elvis jumpsuit. And Mars’ impression can also be seen in the movie Honeymoon in Vegas, starring another huge Elvis fan: Nicolas Cage.
Nicolas Cage is such a big Elvis fan that in 1990 he used Presley as the inspiration for his character in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart. Cage even recorded two songs as the King—“Love Me” and “Love Me Tender.” Twelve years later, Cage took his Elvis obsession to a new level when he married Presley’s only daughter, Lisa Marie. But after three months, they checked into Heartbreak Hotel when he filed for divorce.
Say one thing for former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, he certainly has the right hair to impersonate Elvis. In 2009, while facing federal corruption charges, Blagojevich made an appearance at a Chicago block party and performed Presley’s “Treat Me Nice”—alongside Fabio. And on his way to court before his sentencing—he was eventually found guilty of 17 corruption-related charges—Blago looked to the King’s words for inspiration. "It's in God's hands," he said, and then quoted "All Shook Up": "My hands are shaking, my knees are weak. I can't seem to stand on my own two feet." Pending an appeal, the next Elvis song Blagojevich will presumably sing is “Jailhouse Rock.”
On Dec. 4, 1956, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins took part in a legendary jam session at Sun Records Studios in Memphis that came to be known as “The Million Dollar Quartet.” Three years later, while Presley was in the Army, Cash appeared on the TV show Town Hall Party and had a little fun at Elvis’ expense. Cash teased his hair into a pompadour, swiveled his hips, amped up his drawl, and belted out a tune worthy of a quarter million.
In real life, John Stamos has rocked alongside the Beach Boys, touring as a drummer and guitar player. But back in his Full House days, he got to pay tribute to the King on a regular basis—his character even adopted the name Jesse after Presley’s late twin—when he performed as an Elvis impersonator. Have mercy!
Chilean Miner Edison Pena
Among the things that sustained Edison Pena when he was trapped for 69 days in the Chilean mining accident were running underground and singing Elvis songs. And when the rescued Pena came to Manhattan to participate in the 2010 New York City Marathon (he finished) and appear on Late Show With David Letterman, he couldn’t resist shaking his hips and belting out “Suspicious Minds.” A few months later, Pena’s Presley-thon continued when he attended the Viva Elvis show in Las Vegas and got a private tour of Graceland on what would have been the King’s 76th birthday.
After ventriloquist Terry Fator won season two of America’s Got Talent in 2007, he performed at the Las Vegas Hilton on the very stage where Elvis appeared when it was known as the International. Two years later, Fator signed a $100 million contract with the Mirage—one of the most lucrative entertainment deals in Las Vegas history—and now performs with a dummy named Maynard Tompkins, who is, in Fator’s words, “the only Elvis impersonator who doesn’t know any Elvis songs.” Fortunately, his creator has a few up his sleeve.
If any performer could understand what it was like to be adored by millions of screaming women, it was Frank Sinatra. And so in March 1960, when Presley returned from service in Germany, the Rat Pack leader threw the 25-year-old singer a party on television—Welcome Home, Elvis—for which Presley was paid an astonishing $125,000. By far, the highlight of the show is the duet they performed at the end, a medley of “Love Me Tender” and “Witchcraft,” in which the two men trade verses in each other’s style. Elvis, dressed in a tuxedo and looking eerily like Robert Pattinson, clearly charms Sinatra with his crooning, causing Frank to quip, “We work the same way—only in different areas.”
Lisa Marie Presley
Of all the would-be Elvises, only one can truly claim the right to his throne: his daughter, Lisa Marie Presley. In August 1997, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of her father’s death, Lisa Marie performed a duet with a video of Elvis singing “Don’t Cry Daddy.” Ten years later, she recorded another father-daughter song, “In the Ghetto,” with proceeds going to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. “I do think this idea would mean a lot to him,” Lisa Marie said at the time. “Singing this particular duet was more emotional for me than anything I’d done before. I wanted to focus on something important, and not just do something silly.” It was a tribute fit for the King.