Movies You Might Have Missed: Jeanie Finlay’s Orion: The Man Who Would Be King

The heartfelt story about the Elvis soundalike Jimmy Ellis, who resurfaced in the late 1970s after the King died, gave rise to the idea that the star wasn’t dead

Jimmy Ellis aka Orion was the masked performer who sounded just like Elvis Presley
Jimmy Ellis aka Orion was the masked performer who sounded just like Elvis Presley

We just might be living through the golden age of the documentary. In films like West of Memphis, OJ: Made in America and The Act of Killing, filmmakers are producing important, enthralling works that are as gripping as any fictional narratives. Jeanie Finlay’s Orion: The Man Who Would Be King (2015) proves the old adage that the truth is stranger than fiction and is one of the most fascinating films of recent years.

The story is so extraordinary that it’s hard to believe nobody has tackled the subject on screen before. Jimmy Ellis was a man born with the voice of an angel but, for better or worse, that angel went by the name of Elvis Presley. When the King passed away in 1977, the public felt they needed something or someone to fill the void. Enter Ellis, a man with a voice almost indistinguishable from Presley’s and a face that wasn’t entirely dissimilar.

In 1978, Ellis signed with Shelby Singleton and recorded a single on the legendary Sun label with a question mark on the record in place of the artist’s name. This shrewd move was just the start of a marketing gimmick that would see Ellis aka Orion give rise to the idea that the King wasn’t dead, long live the King.

This is one of those documentaries where the director has made her own luck by diligently pursuing every line of inquiry imaginable and coming up trumps more often than not. After reading a novel in which an Elvis type faked his own death, Singleton overdubbed Ellis’s uncredited vocals onto Jerry Lee Lewis tracks and Orion began performing in a mask that obscured much of his face. For the performer this was both a blessing and a curse since he now had a ready-made fan base but a niche that stifled creativity at every turn.

Here is the story of a man who sold his soul for a shot at pop stardom, the closest the apocryphal tale of Robert Johnson and the devil at the crossroads has ever come to a reality. Finlay uses archival footage and new interviews with those nearest and dearest to Ellis in order to build up a picture of a man who was trapped in a life so close and yet so far from the one he’d envisioned. It is a heartfelt, moving tribute to a figure like no other in the history of American music with the kind of twists that would seem implausible had they been concocted by a scriptwriter.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in