And now, Elvis impersonations to die for

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The Independent Online
Today I am bringing you the conclusion of our exclusive interview with Jerry Bonaventura. Jerry Bonaventura is the American author who has just published Elvis Presley - The Posthumous Years, which is the first of Elvis's biographies to concentrate on what has happened to Elvis's story since he died.

Can you explain the rocketing popularity of Elvis lookalike contests? Especially as most of the contestants can have no idea - outside film - what Elvis looked like, being too young to have seen him?

Whoa there, whoa there! Let's take that all one at a time. First off, these are not lookalike contests. It isn't much use looking like Elvis if you can't also sound like him, and vice versa. There are guys out there who sound incredibly like Elvis but who are short and thin and bespectacled. What can they do, poor guys?

Well, they could take to hamburgers and pills and overeat till they expand and get fat and become like him.

Wise guy, huh? No, the answer for them is to change their voices a bit and become Buddy Holly clones. Now, I am not an expert on Elvis Presley's lifetime, only on his deathtime, but I am reasonably sure that there were very few Elvis Presley impersonators during his life, only after his death. What does this tell us?

I don't know. What does it tell us?

It tells us that anyone who dared to imitate Elvis Presley in his lifetime would find himself sued for millions of dollars by Colonel Tom Parker. It also tells us that it was only when Elvis died that people really missed him. They missed him so much that they wanted to recreate his presence in any way they could. Now, this never happened to any other singing star. Nobody has ever become a Frank Sinatra impersonator or organised a Frank Sinatra impersonator contest. Why not?

Because Frank Sinatra is still alive.

Wise guy. But isn't it remarkable that nobody ever went into the business of imitating Bing Crosby or Jimi Hendrix ... or John Lennon? Ah, John Lennon! Now there was a guy whose death sent shock-waves through the world! When John Lennon died, people felt a great man had gone. But they didn't start impersonating him. Why not?

Too easy.

Wise guy. All I'm saying is that people impersonate Elvis and nobody else. People try to look like Marilyn Monroe, and they walk like John Wayne, and they talk like Humphrey Bogart, but it's only Elvis they sing and wiggle and try to BE like. The problem is: which Elvis Presley are they going to be like?

How do you mean?

Well, Presley impersonators can imitate the young, slim, lovely Elvis. Or they can imitate the older, fatter, slightly debauched Elvis. Or - and this is where it gets tricky - they can imitate Elvis as he would have been had he not died.

And how is that?

Some Elvis impersonators think that Elvis would have been grey-haired and slim and serious in his sixties, something like Johnny Cash. Some people think he would be a fatty. Some think he would be a rather ridiculous ageing rocker on a motorised Zimmer frame. One impersonator I know thinks that at the age of 62 Elvis would have been a balding Japanese performer in black leather!

Why would he think that?

Because the impersonator I'm thinking of IS a balding Japanese singer in black leather. But then there are other spin-offs in the competitive Elvis field. There are Elvis diet-alike contests...

Diet-alike? What does that mean?

All the contestants have to cook and eat a meal from Elvis's repertoire in a certain time, without being sick.

When you said diet-alike contests, I thought you said "die-alike" for a moment!

Well, it is rumoured that such things do exist, but if there ever was an Elvis Presley Die-Alike Contest, I never met anyone who had gone in for it. For obvious reasons, I guess. No, the new thing that's going on in the States is the rise of Elvis Impersonator Impersonation Contests.

What on earth are they?

Well, some impersonators are so good in their own right that they have acquired their own following. They have put new twists to the King's stage presence, added new things of their own, so people are now imitating the people who imitate Elvis. An expert will be able to look at an Elvis act and tell you which impersonator it is based on.

Incredible. Finally, Mr Bonaventura, do you have any last words of advice for Presley fans?

Yeah. If you are going to get any one new book about Elvis Presley, kids, for heaven's sake make sure it's mine! Don't get anything written by a Jerry Bonaventura impersonator!

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