Five Elvis Impersonators Slip on Their Blue Suede Shoes and Get Personal
Mike Marchitto, 48
VICE: How did you first become fascinated with all things Elvis?
Mike: It started when I was a little kid. I used to dance in front of the mirror and my mother would play 45s. I guess that was to calm me down. I used to make-believe I was Elvis by giving out scarves and kissing the mirror, pretending there were girls there. [makes kissing sound] What a strange kid I was. Who knew I would be putting on a jumpsuit, wig, and sideburns one day?
How did you make the transition from performing at home to shaking your hips onstage?
That happened in 1999, after I fell 17 feet off a scaffold and onto the concrete. To make a long story short, a radio station put on an Elvis competition down in Forked River, New Jersey. Some friends of mine wanted to cheer me up after my accident, so we went down there to watch. I had never seen any Elvis impersonators at that time. I was listening to these guys and—no disrespect to anybody—I wasn’t impressed. I went up to one of the radio-station guys, and I said to him in an Elvis voice, “It’s amazing how many people there are who want to imitate me.” They were like, “Holy smokes! Do you sing like him too?” I said, “Yeah.” I walked away, and a few minutes later they called me back up. I wound up singing “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” and halfway through the song the crowd was hushed. When I finished, the response was overwhelming. They didn’t care that I was on crutches and in a walking cast, they just asked me to come back and look like Elvis. So I went out and bought felt sideburns, a black leather jacket, and black pants. I performed three songs and wound up winning the competition. I’ve been doing it ever since.
Does your impersonation work pay the bills, or do you have another profession?
I do construction during the day. I’m a union man. Right now we’re trying to help as much as possible around here.
What’s your favorite Elvis song or album?
My favorite Elvis song, believe it or not, is “In the Ghetto.” I don’t really have a favorite album. I have 45s from back in the 60s. I probably have a lot of money in my Elvis crate. There are times when I need money and I think about selling stuff, but I’d rather get on my knees. [laughs] No, there ain’t no way I’m selling that stuff. No way.
What other Elvis paraphernalia do you have?
The jumpsuits, lots of books, cassettes, CDs, pictures… But honestly—I don’t know what the other people’s houses look like—but you can’t tell that an Elvis guy lives here at all. I don’t need to display it. If you come to my condo, you will not see one bit of Elvis other than a picture I have of myself in costume at his house.
That sounds like a great photo.
Oh man, so many people see that photo and say, “Dude, that’s Elvis,” and I’m like, “What? That’s me!” I can tell you a quick story about that picture if you have a minute.
Lay it on me.
A couple of years ago, a family hired me to play a party for them. They were gigantic Elvis fans, and to make a long story short, a little while later the wife developed cancer. Her last wish was to see Elvis—me—before she died. When I arrived they were saying she had about 20 to 30 hours left. Even though I was playing the part of Elvis, everything I said to her was from the heart. I was saying, “You gotta get better, honey. I don’t wanna see you lying here.” Her favorite color was pink, so I gave her a pink rose and a pink teddy bear. After about an hour I left. Then, about an hour and a half later, I got a phone call from her mother. She said, “My daughter’s eating.” I was like, “What do you mean, she’s eating?” And she said, “Well, because Elvis told her to get better, she’s trying to eat cookies and milk.” So this lady, who was supposed to be dead within 30 or so hours, lived for four or five more weeks.
Then, the day after Mother’s Day, I called to see how she was doing. They told me she was on her way out, and would I mind coming down to do her two favorite songs? Of course I went. When they wheeled her in, she was incoherent. I sang her two songs, the last one was “As Long as I Have You,” and all of a sudden her eyes opened up and then she mumbled something to me. I said, “I told you I didn’t want to see you here,” and she said something like, “I’m trying…” Once I finished, I packed up my stuff and left. Then she died.
A while later, they called me up and said, “Michael, where are you?” I said, “What do you mean, where am I?” They wanted me to come to the funeral and decided to hold it up an extra day so I could make it. At the funeral, the picture of me dressed up as Elvis was IN THE CASKET, on top of her body.
Yeah, that was really eerie.
Photos by Brayden Olson, Interviews by Jonathan Smith and Brayden Olson
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