PHOTOS BY CHRIS NIERATKO
I love and collect all things Elvis. He is, to me, the definition of Americana and everything we hold holy. For my wedding in 2006, I rented a 1960 four-door DeVille because Elvis had one. We replicated Elvis and Priscilla's wedding cake and we had a sculptor make a four-foot Elvis bust out of ice. My home is full of Elvis memorabilia. Yet there is one piece of Elvis I can never have: his blood.
Pete Vallee, better known as Big Elvis, is the bona fide son of Elvis Presley. He has a DNA test to prove it. So to shake his hand is as close to the King as I'll ever get. (Unless Lisa Marie answers my emails or late-night phone calls. For the record, I believe I am way less creepy than Nicolas Cage and Michael Jackson.)
I have been seeing Big Elvis perform for ten years now, ever since the first time I went to Vegas. He is the only reason I continue to return. He has the voice of an angel. If you close your eyes you would swear you were actually hearing Elvis singing. Over the years, I have witnessed women fainting and crying and fans entranced by Big Elvis. But I often wondered how long he would be able to continue. When I first began to go to his shows, Pete weighed nearly half a ton—960 pounds, to be exact. My wife and I wanted to bring him out to perform at our wedding, but he was too big and unhealthy to fly. Over the past three years, he has lost more than 500 pounds the old-fashioned way: good eating and exercise. He is gunning to lose a couple hundred more.
For our tenth anniversary, my wife and I plan on renewing our vows in Vegas at one of those Elvis chapels. I'm happy to say that thanks to his extreme weight loss, Big Elvis will surely be there to sing us down the aisle for the next go-round.
Vice: What was your original fighting weight?
Big Elvis: My original weight when I was in shape—what I should be—was about 250, 260. But that was many, many years ago. If I could get down to 300 now I'd be ecstatic.
What's the secret to your weight loss? You didn't staple your stomach or take any drugs.
Stay away from fast food. Watch potatoes, bread, and pasta—real heavy carbs. I disagree with people who say, "Don't eat any carbs." You gotta have some, just small portions of it. Eat more proteins, a lot more vegetables and fruits, but a lot less carbs.
Have you considered calling The Biggest Loser? Seems like you have a great story to share.
My manager is trying to reach out to them. It can't hurt.
In 2006 when I got married I wanted you to come out to Jersey and play our wedding.
Yeah, my manager told me the whole story. I remember when it happened because I was at my sickest then and I wanted to do it, but of course I couldn't. At the time I was only able to travel via RV and that's just too expensive.
But I heard that due to the weight loss, you're traveling now.
We went to Hawaii last August and I bought a second house in Washington now that I'm able to fly. It's such a blessing. It's just so nice to get out of the house. I hadn't been out of the house in two years before that, other than playing the shows at Harrah's. Hawaii was monumental.
Hawaii played such a huge role in Elvis's life.
We got to do a show not two miles from where he played, and it was incredible. We played the Elvis: Aloha From Hawaii DVD on the big screens and it was just awesome being right there in the same city where he performed such an important show. Everyone had a good time.
The author and Big Elvis today, minus 500 pounds.
Did you and your fiancée meet before you started the weight loss?
No, she met me two years ago, so I was well on my way. But she has been very motivational through this. If she finds me wanting to go off the deep end—and we all want to sometimes—she'll let me have something bad, but after that she's like, "That's it. That's enough." And I know better too, but she's really conscious of everything.
You mentioned you were exercising. What kind of exercise are you able to do
Swimming. I love the water. I just put in an in-ground swimming pool this year and I swim every day. It's the best thing: It's easy on the knees, it loosens you up, and you're using all your body parts even if you're not doing that much. Whereas if you're walking, it's a little bit more strenuous.
Are you nervous that you'll get so small that you won't be able to call yourself Big Elvis anymore?
Ha! At 300 pounds, not a chance. I've always been built like a football player. I don't see anyone ever saying, "Oh, he's a tiny guy." I'll always be Big Elvis, but I'll be a healthy Big Elvis instead of an unhealthy Big Elvis.
What has changed in your day-to-day life as result of the weight loss?
I wasn't able to drive four years ago. I wasn't able to walk very far. I can do gigs now on my own. My manager doesn't have to be at every gig worrying if I can walk 200 feet without collapsing. Some of these casinos are two blocks long—I just walked through one on Saturday and I only had to stop once in the entire casino. Before, I couldn't do that. I'd walk 20 feet and I'd have to stop and sit down. It's a big thing to get healthy. For somebody who's been on the edge, whether it's drugs, alcohol, weight, or just being sick, it's a real big thing to come back from that.
It shows in your performance too. When we saw you years ago you'd get winded, and today you were cruising. And you do three or four sets in a row.
Oh, yeah. I'm able to do it now. I get tired and I have to sit down, but I'm able to get back up and do a few songs standing up and have some wind. I take some breaks, but anyone would when you're doing 15 shows a week at 45 years old. But it's light-years from where I used to be. There was a time for years where I would go out and sit on the stage and that was it. Now, thank God, I can get up and entertain the people.
Any plans for Little Elvises?
Well, I have two kids with my first wife, and we have two puppies that we call Fur People. We've talked about it, but we don't have plans in the near future.
Most people don't know this, but you are the son of the one and only Elvis Aaron Presley.
Well, you know what? It is a proven fact that I am the son of Elvis. It's positive. We did a DNA test about seven years ago and it came back conclusive. It's been put in with the estate—that's going to go on for about a hundred years.
How did it feel to have it be conclusively proven that you are the son of Elvis?I've pretty much felt it in my blood all my life, because I heard the stories from my family since I was this high. My aunt spilled the beans. I heard them talking with my mother about it. I mean, my mother ended up with a singing session in Nashville with DJ Fontana and Glen Hardin. She had a huge session in Nashville with no money. How do you figure that happened? So I wasn't surprised. I'm blessed and I'm happy. I got upset for a while when we couldn't get this thing to roll.
What kind of stories would you hear about Elvis from your mom when you were younger?
I just heard what a great person he was. I'm very good friends with his bodyguards and people who worked with him. I've gotten to meet his girlfriends. I've heard nothing but good about him. Everything you read about him is pretty much the truth. He loved God, and he was very giving and caring. He got on prescribed medication, but that wasn't his fault. They didn't have Betty Ford Clinics or drug rehabs back then, so by the time it was out of hand, who was he going to turn to? I feel bad. I wish something would've happened to help him.
You were a teenager when he passed away. If you could have said anything to him, knowing that you were his son, what would you have said?
Wow. A lot. It's hard to think of everything I'd want to say. "Have a hot dog! Cheeseburger! Whatever!" I would've wanted to have just sat with him and spent time with him.
Big Elvis plays three free shows a day, Monday through Friday, at Harrah's on the Vegas Strip. For more info go to bigelvis.biz.