40 Years After His Death, Elvis Presley Is Still The King to Countless Fans

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Elvis Presley tribute artist Elvis E with his customized car, in Potomac, Maryland. (WTOP\/Rick Massimo)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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Potomac, Maryland, Elvis Presley tribute artist Elvis E shows off his collection of jumpsuits. (WTOP\/Ginger Whitaker)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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FILE \u2014 In this 1957 file photo, Elvis Presley performs on tour in the summer of 1957, with Scotty Moore on guitar, left, and Bill Black on the stand up bass, right. (AP Photo\/File)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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Singer-actor Elvis Presley is shown with six babies who appear in the movie “G.I. Blues” and co-star Juliet Prowse, left, on a set in Hollywood, Ca., on June 27, 1960. The babies are three sets of twins who double for one another in the movie. (AP Photo)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"ad","media":"

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Elvis Presley is assisted as he tries on clothes in 1956 at Lansky’s Men’s Store in Memphis, Tenn. Helping him is Bernard Lansky, whose family ran the shop on Beale Street until a few years ago. Presley bought clothes at Lansky’s throughout his career. Now the old Lansky’s building is about to become the first nightclub-restaurant opened by the Presley estate. (AP Photo\/File)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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American rock singer Elvis Presley (1935 \u2014 1977) serenades a basset hound in a top hat with the song, “Hound Dog” on the set of “The Steve Allen Show,” July 1956. (Photo by NBC Television\/Getty Images)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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Elvis Presley featured on a U.S. postage stamp in 1993. (iStock Editorial\/Thinkstock)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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FILE \u2014 In this May 1, 1967, file photo, singer Elvis Presley and his bride, the former Priscilla Beaulieu, appear at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas, after their wedding. Presley, 32, and Beaulieu, 21, both from Memphis, Tenn., met while he was stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army. (AP Photo\/File)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"ad","media":"

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A U.S. military policeman escorts Priscilla Beaulieu, 16, after she broke through a barrier trying to bid her boyfriend Elvis Presley goodbye at Rhine-Main air base in Frankfurt\/Main, Germany on March 2, 1960. (AP Photo)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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FILE \u2014 In this Aug. 16, 2007 file photo, the grave of Elvis Presley is covered with flowers on the grounds of Graceland in Memphis, Tenn., on the anniversary of his death. Graceland, where Presley lived, is a top Memphis attraction. (AP Photo\/Mark Humphrey, File)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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In this Aug. 10, 2017, photo, Douglas Masuda, right, Elvis of Japan, and Bam Angping, Young Elvis, perform on stage in Manila, Philippines, for the “Elvis Tribute Night: Young Once v.s. Young Ones” event. Elvis Presley, crowned as the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” will be celebrating his 40th death anniversary this year. To pay tribute to the legend, the Elvis Presley Friendship Club, Philippines International has organized a special event that brings together both veteran and up-and-coming Elvis Tribute Artists. (AP Photo\/Cecilia Forbes)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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In this Aug. 10, 2017, photo, female Elvis impersonator Anjeanette Japor performs on stage in Manila, Philippines, for the “Elvis Tribute Night: Young Once v.s. Young Ones” event. Elvis Presley, crowned as the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” will be celebrating his 40th death anniversary this year. To pay tribute to the legend, the Elvis Presley Friendship Club, Philippines International has organized a special event that brings together both veteran and up-and-coming Elvis Tribute Artists. (AP Photo\/Cecilia Forbes)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"ad","media":"

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FILE \u2014 In this Oct. 28, 1956 file photo, Elvis Presley receives a Salk polio vaccine shot in New York City from Dr. Harold Fuerst, left. At right is Dr. Leona Baumgartner, commissioner of the New York City health department. (AP Photo\/File)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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Piano virtuoso Liberace is shown playing the guitar with Elvis Presley at the piano in November 1956 at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas. (AP Photo)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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Pvt. Elvis Presley, accompanied by his girlfriend Anita Wood, prepared to drive from his home in Killeen, Texas to join his Army outfit at Ft. Hood, Texas late Friday night, September 21, 1958. The rock ‘n roll singer is being transferred to Germany. Anita, who had been crying, refused to face the camera because she said she was red-eyed. (AP Photo)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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American rock ‘n’ roll singer Elvis Presley smiles after he is promoted to army sergeant at the U.S. Army Unit’s maneuver headquarters in Grafenwoehr, Germany, Feb. 11, 1960. Presley is promoted to the NCO rank in the 1st Battalion, 32d Armor Regiment, 3d Armored Division. (AP Photo)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"ad","media":"

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This unidentified teenager found Elvis Presley “too much” when he appeared at the Philadelphia Arena in Philadelphia, Pa., on April 6, 1957. (AP Photo\/Bill Ingraham)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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Underneath the Army helmet is none other than Pvt. Elvis Presley as he arrived in Friedberg\/West Germany, as a tank crewman with the U.S. 7th Army in Oct. 1958. (AP Photo)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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This is a 1956 photo of Elvis Presley performing. This photo was used for his first RCA Victor album cover. (AP Photo)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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Elvis Presley with his girlfriend Yvonne Lime at his home Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee around 1957. (AP Photo)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"ad","media":"

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Elvis Presley boards a U.S. transport ship bound for service with the U.S. Armed Forces in Germany, 1958. Also wearing Army uniform at company \u0093D\u0094 1st. Battalion 32nd Armory at the barracks, Friedberg, Germany. (AP Photo)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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Elvis Presley in a 1964 portrait. (AP Photo)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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ELVIS PRESLEY WEDDING: … to Priscilla Beaulieu, in Las Vegas, Nevada, on May 01, 1967. (AP-Photo)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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Singer Elvis Presley gestures during a news conference inside his private railroad car at Los Angeles Union Station, California, as he arrived on April 20, 1960 to make a movie. (AP Photo\/HPM)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"ad","media":"

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Elvis Presley is shown at the International Hotel where he made his first public stage appearance in 9 years in Las Vegas, Nev., in Aug. 1969. (AP Photo)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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FILE \u2014 This 1972 file photo shows Elvis Presley, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, during a performance. (AP Photo, file)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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Elvis Presley performs in 1971 at an unknown location. (AP Photo)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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Elvis Presley is shown performing in Providence, R.I. on May 23, 1977, three months before his death. (AP Photo)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"ad","media":"

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A string of white vehicles follow the hearse carrying the body of rock ‘n’ roll musician Elvis Presley along Elvis Presley Boulevard on the way to Forest Hills Cemetery in Memphis, Tenn., Aug. 19, 1977. Thousands of people line the route for the city’s final tribute to Elvis. (AP Photo)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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Pallbearers carry the flower covered coffin of Elvis Presley into the Forest Hills Cemeteries mausoleum in Memphis, Aug. 18, 1977. Flowers covered the area around the mausoleum and were later handed out to mourners. (AP Photo)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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** FILE ** In a file photo Chelsea Weir walks past the grave of Elvis Presley while taking a tour at Graceland in Memphis, Tenn., Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2005. Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc. announced a new ad campaign on Monday, Akpril 16, 2007, as part of its effort to make the rock legend’s former home Graceland a tourist destination on par with larger theme parks. (AP Photo\/Mike Brown)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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This 78 rpm single record “You’re A Heartbreaker,” autographed by Elvis Presley, was auctioned for $10,000 Sunday, Jan. 8, 2006, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP Photo\/Ric Francis)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"ad","media":"

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A group of runners dressed as Elvis Presley prepare before the start of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in San Diego, Sunday, June 4, 2006. Over 20,000 runners took part in the annual music themed race. (AP Photo\/Denis Poroy)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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A group of runners dressed as Elvis Presley lead at the start of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in San Diego, Sunday, June 4, 2006. Over 20,000 runners took part in the annual music themed race. (AP Photo\/Denis Poroy)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, carrying a pair of Elvis style sunglasses, walk past Elvis’ pink Cadillac after their tour of Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley, in Memphis, Tenn., Friday, June 30, 2006. (AP Photo\/Charles Dharapak)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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Filipino Elvis Presley impersonators dance during a contest in suburban Manila on Sunday Aug. 19, 2007. The event was held as a tribute to the 30th death anniversary of Elvis Presley. (AP Photo\/Aaron Favila)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"ad","media":"

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British Elvis Presley impersonators, from left to right, Ian Coulson, Elvis Shmelvis and Gary King, perform during an event outside a rock memorabilia shop in central London to mark the anniversary of the singer’s death, Thursday Aug. 16, 2007. The event to mark 30 years since the death of Elvis also raised money for a local charity. (AP Photo\/Lefteris Pitarakis)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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Elvis Presley impersonators take part in the first annual Running of the Elvises on the Nicollet Mall Friday, Aug. 17, 2007 in Minneapolis. The two-block race was part of a tribute to remember Presley. (AP Photo\/Jim Mone)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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Shawn Klush from Pittston, Pa., performs during the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest on Friday, Aug. 17, 2007 in Memphis, Tenn. Klush was named the winner of the contest, the first such contest sanctioned by Elvis Presley Enterprises. (AP Photo\/Chris Desmond)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"photo","media":"

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A new exhibit is going up at Masur Museum in Monroe, La., features photographs of a young Elvis Presley on the stage of the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport, La. The show focuses on 40 black and white photographs taken by Shreveport photojournalists Jack Barham and Langston McEachern, most depicting Elvis in his final performance in Shreveport on Dec. 15, 1956. (AP Photo, file)\n","ampmedia":"\n\n\t\t","alt":""},{"type":"ad","media":"

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WASHINGTON — The 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death arrives Wednesday, but fans in the area and across the world say the appeal hasn’t waned for the man they call The King.

In Potomac, Maryland, Elvis E — who in civilian life, goes only by his first name, Richard — is keeping the Elvis flame alive through his post-retirement career as a Presley tribute artist.

He figures he’s done roughly 1,400 performances, from 10- to 15-minute singing telegrams to three-hour shows for the Metro Performs program, since he began at age 52 in 2005. Now 65, he views it as a nostalgic way to make “mad money, to pay the bills and [have] a nest egg.”

It’s not a cheap profession.

He owns six or seven jumpsuits — “The Dragon” replica of a jumpsuit worn in 1974, a jumpsuit from the 1973 “Aloha from Hawaii” concert film, the black leather suit from the 1968 TV comeback special and more — each costing $750 to $1,500.

It takes about 15 minutes for him to transform, though Richard doesn’t endure an elaborate psychological transformation: “I don’t have to psych up; I do try to sing” in his decorated car.

Richard had some stage experience at record hops and live appearances in a 30-year career as a DJ at D.C.-area radio stations, but he hadn’t sung since the boys’ choir in high school. He began impersonating The King at a karaoke bar in New Orleans during a convention he attended as part of his last job, as an IT worker at a trade association in Alexandria, Virginia.

Angie Marchese, at Graceland, the Memphis mansion where Elvis lived and died, said the home embraces such artists as honest tributes that help perpetuate the legend, pointing out that tribute artists, often called Elvis impersonators, were plying their trade even while Elvis was alive.

This week, Graceland will host the Official Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artists Contest.

Marchese said the key to being an Elvis tribute artist isn’t strictly about looking or sounding the part.

“It’s all about a feeling and an emotion that Elvis would give people during his shows and that these tribute artists continue to give people today,” Marchese said. “Personally, if I’m going to an Elvis tribute show and I know ‘OK, this is the next thing he’s going to do because he’s copying every step that Elvis [did],’ it doesn’t mean as much as if its somebody who’s making it their own but still honoring the legacy.”

Indeed, African-Americans, Asians and women have imitated the King, but the lack of resemblance doesn’t seem to matter.

“Even if you’re not familiar with Elvis, you get the joke,” said George Plasketes, professor of media studies and popular culture at Auburn Univeristy and author of “Images of Elvis Presley in American Culture, 1977-1997: The Mystery Terrain.” “You get the reference. You recognize the sideburns; you recognize the sunglasses.”

‘Everything’s Going Crazy’

At Graceland, every Elvis Week, as the week of the anniversary of his death is known, is a busy time. But Marchese said “everything’s going crazy” as the milestone anniversary approaches. She said it’s shaping up to be the biggest Elvis Week ever, with “masses of people” headed to Memphis.

A lot of people who take the tours of Graceland and pay homage to The King aren’t even 40 years old themselves. That doesn’t seem to matter; the appeal of Elvis Presley continues.

“Even though he has been gone for 40 years, he continues to cross generations and to speak to people, just like he did back in the 1950s,” Marchese said.

Plenty of artists who died decades ago are largely forgotten — or certainly not remembered with the same kind of fervor as Presley, including many artists whom Marchese acknowledges as great in their own right.

She said there are a couple of reasons for that.

“His artistry. Even if you’re watching him on a TV or a video screen, it’s the presence about him and the music,” Marchese said. “That’s what still connects and resonates with people; it’s like he’s singing just for them, even though it might have been filmed back in 1968.”

Nowadays it’s easier than ever to find audio and video clips of the man himself, for younger people to clue themselves in on what Presley was all about.

“They get sucked into this lovely world of Elvis, and they find out who he was,” she said.

“It’s history,” Plasketes added. “It’s cultural history. We have to acknowledge these marks that people [leave].”

And while Elvis was what we often call “merely” an entertainer, the reality is “we place a lot of value on that culturally.”

‘Larger than Life’

Richard points out that Presley’s career fit into three phases — the Young Elvis rockabilly phase in the 1950s; the Movie Elvis phase, which took up most of the ‘60s; and the Jumpsuit Elvis phase beginning in 1970. That “really helped, how he kept reinventing himself,” he said; the latter phase “was a Liberace moment for him. He became larger than life.”

It was also a professional opportunity for Richard, who was 52 when he started off as Elvis E (already 10 years older than Presley was when he died).

“The younger guys can do the young Elvis, where they’ve got the young energy. And I’m 65 years old — [I] kind of do the jumpsuit shows where he wasn’t doing as many moves,” Richard said. “It allowed [people my age] to get up there and emulate Elvis. And it was his most popular phase.”

He politely declines requests to do Young Elvis: “I do ’68 Comeback Special and later.”

Richard said he has about 120 songs in his repertoire, all available on his website, but sometimes he gets bizarre requests from audiences, whether it’s songs that Elvis never performed or ahistoric requests, such as to leave his shades on for the entire show.

That’s one of the apocryphal stereotypes, but in reality, Presley seldom wore his shades on stage. The ability to look his audiences in the eye is one of the factors that made Presley “one of the two greatest performers of the 20th century,” he said, “the other being Frank Sinatra.”

The other factor in Presley’s enduring appeal, Marchese said, is Graceland itself.

“Graceland is this physical embodiment of who Elvis was” and a geographical center for people to see artifacts and videos that reinforce and propagate the legend.

“A lot of artists — great artists — who passed away 40-plus years ago don’t have that physical place that people can go to,” Marchese said.

The estate was left to Elvis’ father, grandmother and daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, who was 9-years-old at the time (her mother, Priscilla Presley, controlled her share for several years until she came of age).

In the early ‘80s, “Priscilla was faced with the question, ‘What do we do with Graceland?’” Marchese said. She considered selling it, but instead “her guts and her business mind and her leadership … really was the pioneer of what Graceland became.”

It wasn’t just a business move: Elvis Presley was a shadow of his former self in his last years. Upon his death at age 42 on Aug. 16, 1977, he was known just as well for his bloated, pudgy appearance and half-finished concerts as anything else he had done.

Preserving Graceland, Marchese said, was a way to reclaim his artistic legacy.

“It was really a focus of the company to preserve his legacy, and to remind people why he was important, why he changed the world, why he was such a force to be reckoned with back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. It wasn’t about the last couple of years of his life.”

Richard said his days as Elvis E are numbered: “I’m starting to get the turkey neck, and I don’t plan to do any plastic surgery.” He’ll continue “as long as I semi-resemble him and can sing half-decently, but I can’t see, probably, doing it past 70. So five more years.”

Still, the appeal of The King will live on.

“There are so many different aspects to Elvis’ life and his career … that he’s a million different things to a million different people,” Marchese said. “Very few people, if you ask them what it is about Elvis, will give you the exact same answer.”

Plasketes agreed.

“There are so many reference points with him” — including the music, the films, Graceland, sunglasses, fat jokes, peanut butter jokes, jumpsuits, Las Vegas, Memphis, sideburns, the phrase “thank you, thank you very much” and so much more, he said.

“It’ll be interesting to see how long it maintains. But here we are, 40 years after his death.”

Listen below to our full conversations with Elvis E, Angie Marchese and George Plasketes:

WTOP's Rick Massimo chats with tribute artist Elvis E of Potomac

Jason Fraley

Download audio

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