MEMPHIS, TN — He’s probably a couple of biscuits shy of 300 pounds which spread rather disproportionately over a frame that’s 6-3, maybe 6-4. A couple more biscuits and those already stretched seams on that too tight white jump suit with sequins will burst wide open. It’s obvious he’s spent too many evenings eating the large rack of wet ribs followed by a big bowl of cold banana pudding over at Corky’s over on Poplar Street. The muttonchop sideburns are distinctive. He says Just for Men keeps the gray away and doesn’t turn his scalp purple like Grecian Formula used to do.
He makes the rounds on the street outside Graceland every day, another one of the many Elvis impersonators that you’ll find in this south Memphis neighborhood that’s just seven-minute ride from the airport. Only Las Vegas has more fake Elvises than Memphis. Wherever there’s an Elvis impersonator and tourists, it’s a never-ending photo op.
“Thank you, thank you very much,” he says to a group of tourists from Japan. He sounds just like Elvis. He’s got that little sneer on his face, the same one Elvis always had. I gotta admit, he’s got this Elvis thing down pat. Watch a late night TV re-run of “Blue Hawaii” where the real Elvis is acting. Not a whole lot of difference between the real Elvis and this guy who makes everything from the speech to the mannerisms to the look seem so real. Elvis would be 72 now. This guy looks late 50s but they say Just for Men can make you look at least 10 years younger the way it covers up the gray.
It doesn’t matter that this Elvis is a little long in the tooth. Maybe it’s because he’s so comfortable doing it, almost like this alter ego has taken over his real identity. That’s the sign of a good actor when folks start thinking you’re the real deal and not just another one of those impersonators. It’s pretty obvious he likes being Elvis and likes the attention he gets.
I’m talking to “Elvis” on a Friday in Memphis, the eve of Florida’s first SEC road game an hour down the road in Oxford against Ole Miss (Saturday, 11:30 p.m. CDT, Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium, Lincoln Financial TV). I ask “Elvis” how many days a week he’s out here and he says at least once a day he takes a break from the service station he owns nearby and pays a visit to Graceland. I laugh and tell him there are folks in Michigan who say Elvis lives up there, north part of the state, and he owns a service station that specializes in auto repairs.
“Well, I did use to live there,” he says. “People were nice. Friendly, too. Left me alone when I needed some time alone. Didn’t come up to me in the middle of lunch and ask for my autograph. A couple of folks asked me to sing ‘Love Me Tender’ at their wedding and I obliged but just too damn cold in the winter and you’ve seen the Michigan football team. Big 10 football sucks. So does Ole Miss and Memphis can’t even beat Ole Miss, but at least Ole Miss is in the SEC. Had to come home.”
There is this fine line that separates reality from even the most vivid imaginations and just when I was about to believe his reality ship is lost somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle, he starts talking football. About that time, some Gator fans across the street chomp him and he and I chomp back.
“You a Gator?” he asks me. I say yes and tell him that writing about the Gators is what I do for a living.
“I’m a big Tebow fan,” he says. “Most exciting quarterback that’s been in the SEC since Archie. One day, you watch, Tebow will have a game like Archie had against Bama in 1970.”
That was 402 passing yards and 104 rushing yards in what Bear Bryant called the greatest single performance he ever saw by a college football player. Alabama beat Ole Miss that Saturday night. Alabama had the best team but Archie Manning was by far the best player and Bear said he was maybe the best player he ever saw other than Lee Roy Jordan. Archie could run and Archie could throw, but some folks are already saying Tebow might be the best ever in the SEC by the time his college career is over, especially if he keeps on playing like he’s playing now.
“Elvis” tells me that even here in Memphis the legend of Tim Tebow grows every single day, that he’s already bigger than life and you have to figure that he’s on a collision course for at least one Heisman, maybe two if he stays at Florida all four years.
“He could get multiple national championships the way Urban recruits,” he says. “You win championships, you’re gonna win a Heisman or two and with the studs Florida’s got at every position and Tebow … makes me hate to think what’s gonna happen tomorrow to poor Ole Miss. You got Tebow, Percy, CI, Riley Coop, BJ … I mean David Nelson would be the best wide receiver at Ole Miss and he has to fight to get on the field at Florida but it all starts with Tebow. He’s the king.”
I tell “Elvis” that it’s true about Tebow in the state of Florida and by the time he finishes playing, Tim Tebow might be the king of all of college football. I tell “Elvis” that wherever Tebow goes, people want his autograph or just to shake his hand so they can say they touched greatness, sort of like it was when Elvis was alive.
“If Superman could impersonate someone, he would impersonate Tim Tebow,” says “Elvis,” who leans over and whispers in my ear.
“I AM Elvis,” he says.
I tell him I understand that since he’s assumed the part of Elvis for so long that he walks like him, talks like him, sings like him and thinks like him. I tell him I’m reminded of Marvin Barnes, who once said, “I ain’t me, I’m someone else” and I tell him it’s okay to be an Elvis impersonator but Elvis is dead.
“I’m NOT dead,” he says and I ask well just who is it that died at Graceland back on August 16, 1977?
“That was an Elvis impersonator, my stunt double actually,” he says. “He had cancer and died and it was the perfect opportunity. We had it planned out. We paid off his family and the coroner to say it was me that was dead and concocted this story that I did an OD on drugs … peanut butter and bananas maybe, but never drugs. Anyway, the right folks here in Memphis understood and went along with it. Grease the right hands, they’ll help you out.
“I’d been king so long, I had to have a life of my own and this is the perfect cover. People think I’m an Elvis impersonator when actually I’m just Elvis impersonating Elvis. They think I’m so good that I am Elvis. Well, I am Elvis. Anyway, I gotta life now. It was a stroke of genius, actually. I’m gonna talk to Tebow about what I did, too. You know someday he might need a little something like I did just so he can have some privacy for a change. And by the way, I’m gonna see if Urb will let me talk to the team before a big game, maybe even LSU. I could fire up the troops and they’d be a churnin’ urn of burnin’ funk.”
He sees that look in my eye and asks, “You do believe me, don’t you?”
I tell him … what? Are you crazy? Of course I believe.
And all you Gator Country folks believe, too, don’t you? Well, whether you do or not, that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.
FEARLESS FORECAST (WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM ELVIS): Fired up by a capacity crowd, the Rebels put up a gallant fight for the first quarter and a half, then just like that, the Gators pour it on and it goes from 14-3 to 35-3 at the half. In the second half, we see a glimpse of the future as Cameron Newton, Jarred Fayson and Chris Rainey strut their stuff. By the fourth quarter, there are more Ole Miss fans in The Grove than there are in the stadium.
I like it something like Florida 56, Ole Miss 10.