The men who would be king: Elvis impersonators who flirt with Jailhouse Rock

Weddings, bar mitzvahs, courtrooms? It turns out that being an Elvis impersonator can be criminal
  • @timwalker

Just as it seemed Paul Kevin Curtis would be doing the “Jailhouse Rock”, it turned out to have been a case of “Suspicious Minds”. Curtis, a 45-year-old Elvis impersonator, was last week accused and then cleared of posting ricin-laced letters to President Barack Obama, a Mississippi Senator and a local judge.

However, it emerged that Curtis was a conspiracy theorist who has made repeated claims about a government plot to harvest and sell human organs. He has struggled with mental illness, and has previously been arrested on misdemeanour charges.

Like the “King” himself, Curtis comes from Tupelo, Mississippi, where he has spent years performing not only as Elvis, but also Roy Orbison, Prince and Randy Travis, one of whose numbers he sang a cappella in an appearance on CNN on Wednesday (watch it here He and his brother Jack have even impersonated Elvis together: Jack playing the Vegas-era Elvis of the 1970s, and Kevin the more youthful version.

Curtis is far from the first Elvis impersonator to fall foul of the law. Just last Monday in Des Moines, Iowa, police ended a lengthy stand-off with a local Elvis tribute artist (ETA), Micky King, who had reportedly yelled at police officers before firing a gun at them and then shutting himself in his home. Only after 30 hours did they manage to persuade him to return to his porch, where he was subdued with a stun gun and arrested.

In March 2010, according to The Huffington Post, Darin Thrasher was arrested for trafficking drugs from the diner where he performed as Elvis, in Yukon, Oklahoma. In May 2012, a South Carolinan ETA named David Allen Credile allegedly assaulted a man after a dispute about a board game, and then fled from the scene with a pair of Blues Brothers impersonators.

Last February, Elvis impersonator Michael Conley, 64, locked himself in a Florida motel room after police arrived with a warrant for his arrest. During the siege, Conley claimed to be in possession of explosives, and threatened officers with a container of ricin. Following his surrender, he confessed the ricin was actually salt, and said his behaviour was brought on by diabetes.

The prevalence of criminally-inclined Elvis impersonators is likely due not to some inbuilt correlation, but rather to the vast number of Elvis impersonators: there are more Elvis impersonators than there are Abba impersonators.

The Elvis community is “huge around the world,” agrees Shane Paterson, a “jumpsuit-era” ETA who performs at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, “and there’s a great deal of camaraderie between impersonators”. Many ETAs were concerned their act might suffer following Curtis’s arrest, but then sympathised with him following his exoneration.

“It kind of sucks to be accused of such a thing,” says Paterson, who holds a PhD in marine biology. “I feel sorry for him not as an Elvis impersonator, but as a human being. “He wasn’t even exclusively an Elvis impersonator. Elvis is just part of his act, but it’s the part the news media grabbed on to… it carries a lot of weight.”