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Long Live The King

Long live the King
August 3 2002

From the cradle to the grave and dinner in between, there’s an Elvis to suit the occasion, writes Tony Davis on the 25th anniversary of the performer’s death.

Elvis Presley is sitting across the table in a slightly dusty accountancy office on Sydney’s North Shore, writing cheques and flicking through manila folders, surrounded by a hunka hunka tax returns.
The bequiffed number-cruncher who would be Elvis – and on certain nights is Elvis – can be counted among thousands keeping the Presley name, image and sound alive in Sydney on the eve of the 25th anniversary of his death. Or disappearance.
Want an Elvis wedding? To send an Elvis telegram? Can do. Uh-huh, uh-huh. You can even book an Elvis funeral when it’s time to return to sender. And, if you want the jumpsuited, hip-swivelling man from Memphis to rock up to your function in a powder pink 1960 Cadillac with sky-high fins and break into your favourite Elvis song, Dial Elvis’s Paddy Twohill, suburban accountant, is your man. Or King.
Twohill is one of the city’s best, known Elvis impersonators, though he prefers the term ”tribute artist”. He has played clubs, pubs and birthday parties for toddlers through to senior citizens, often with his singer, songwriter daughter, Jenny, playing the part of Lisa Marie Presley. ”There’s a mystique about the guy,” Twohill says. ”He’s the king of rock ‘n’ roll, the best, looking. Simply the King.”
Whether you regard Elvis as a supreme monarch or – as do less kind souls – a handgun-loving, cheeseburger-munching fool, it’s hard to dispute his enduring pop culture supremacy. Sydney does not boast Mick Jagger pizzerias or Chinese Bob Dylan tribute artists. And the chart-topping remix by Dutch DJ JXL of A Little Less Conversation has won Elvis a new generation of fans, who will no doubt mark the August 16 anniversary on dance floors across town.
”A lot of people said he wouldn’t last five years after his death,” says Jim Porter, president of the Elvis Presley Fan Club of Australia. ”We’ve certainly proved them wrong.”
This 30-year-old club has 3000 members in NSW, from ”six to 86”. This means many were not even born when Elvis died, let alone began his recording career. It also means they missed Presley’s career before his 1958-60 induction into the army, which was when the blue suede shoe-wearer made his biggest impact and produced what many believe to be his finest work (not Porter, though, who says ”Elvis was always at his best”).
As well as being club president for the past 11 years, Porter has a collection of Elvis memorabilia running to more than 15,000 items. He owns nearly 2000 Elvis vinyl records, a full-size Elvis Presley estate-authorised Wurlitzer jukebox that plays the 50-CD collection (”that’s only about 60 per cent of the output”), porcelain plates, music boxes, beer steins, posters, badges, 67 films or concerts on video and a 7kg Aloha cape from the same company that made the one Elvis wore for his 1973 Aloha From Hawaii televised concert.
Porter’s cape was designed by Gene Doucette, Elvis’s embroiderer (yes, he had one), and features 10,500 semi-precious stones forming the shape of an eagle. But it is not Porter’s piece de resistance. That honour goes to a tassel of small glass beads from a genuine 1974 Elvis jumpsuit. Porter can’t begin to put a value on it: ”Let’s just say, to me, it’s worth plenty.”
Porter says there are about 30 substantial collections of Presley memorabilia across Sydney. These are generally hidden away because they can’t be insured for anything like the amount their owners feel them to be worth. His own collection has cost him more than $300,000, but he believes it could be worth twice that.
Obsessed? Perhaps the sign is not that Porter has watched G.I. Blues 167 times, but rather that he can pull the number straight out of the air.
Elvis never played outside north America and Hawaii and seeing him live in concert is something very few Australians have done. But many, including Porter, have ”almost” stories. As a teenager in the 1970s he heard constant rumours of the King’s first world tour. But he wasn’t going to wait and, in 1977, while he was finalising plans for a trip to a US concert, the news came through. ”I never thought Elvis was going to die”, he recalls. ”I was only 18. I thought I had my whole life to see him.
We all did.”
He has met only one person in Australia who did see Elvis perform live: the president of Victoria’s main Elvis club, Wayne Hawthorne, achieved this Holy Grail in 1975.

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