Go to pretty much any corner, of any street in Las Vegas and you’ll find an Elvis impersonator. But let’s face facts, there can only be one Elvis – or can there?
There are tens of thousands of Elvis Presley impersonators, but the one that stands out above all others is, Jimmy ‘Orion’ Ellis, who sounded so much like the King that people were truly convinced he actually was Elvis.[image type=”rounded” float=”left” src=”https:rockmyworld.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/2B6715F900000578-0-image-m-141_1439698587713.jpg” alt=”Jimmy ‘Orion’ Ellis”]
‘Orion: The Man Who Would Be King’ is a wonderful new documentary that exposes the phenomenon of a man who sounded and acted so much like The King that he filled stadiums around the world and lived the life of the dead superstar. The movie gives an amazing insight to the man who was haunted by the fact that he would never be recognized for himself and the artist he wanted to be.
Jimmy ‘Orion’ Ellis is a singer born down south in Mississippi and then raised in Alabama, and lived for the dream of fame and glory as a singer – but instead of hit albums and tours in his own right, he found himself wearing a glittery mask
(that he never took off) and performing as an Elvis-like singer called Orion.
It’s not all bad though, Ellis became so popular that he went on to release nine studio albums, and even toured Europe, and even open for mega-stars Kiss.
Director, Jeanie Finlay, said, ‘I think Orion’s the reason that Elvis is still sighted today, they created a myth and let it just fester and grow in people’s imaginations.’
Amazingly, Finlay first came across Orion 12 years ago when she bought an album of his from an old vinyl shop in Nottingham, England.
‘It sounded like songs Elvis might have recorded but you just never heard them,’ she said.
Here’s the spooky side of the story, the similarities between Elvis and Ellis didn’t stop at their uncanny resemblance vocally – both of them had moms named Gladys. The difference being, ‘Jimmy’ as he was known was put up for adoption when he was two.
The amazing thing about Ellis is that he sounded naturally like Elvis – he did not try to impersonate him – yes, his persona was most definitely honed in that direction, with similar onstage moves and outfits, but his vocal style was all Jimmy.
Ellis eventually signed with, Shelby Singleton, Singleton had acquired Sun Records, the very same label that had made Elvis famous years before.
With Singleton at the reins, he began to mold Ellis in the image of Elvis, even having Ellis record covers of two of Elvis’ more famous songs, ‘That’s Alright, Mama’ and ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky.’
It was all hands on deck following Elvis’ death in 1977, through a big PR campaign and Sun record’ manipulation, Ellis became the ‘new Elvis.
The plan worked, but for Ellis, this was not what he wanted to be. – he wanted to be himself, but Sun Records had other ideas – Ellis never stood a chance – not when you sound just like the most famous singer in the world at the time.
To counteract this, Ellis recorded a song in 1978 called ‘I’m Not Trying To Be Like Elvis.’ But, ironically, it wasn’t until Elvis’ death that Ellis was given any attention – mainly because the world wanted a new Elvis.
‘I think that’s the ultimate tragedy at the heart of the Orion story. He wanted to himself and be taken seriously and loved for himself,’ said Finlay.
What makes this story compulsive viewing is that Ellis’ career was stalled by the fact that he sounded like himself and in reality he needed to sound like someone else, why?- because his natural self sounded exactly like someone who had become famous before him, and certain someone was Elvis Presley.
Unfortunately, when it came to the ends of their lives, Elvis and Ellis were poles apart. Where as Elvis went into self-destruction mode and died in a haze of prescription drugs – Jimmy Ellis was shot in 1987 as he fled two men who had tried to rob him. He survived and soon was back performing but in 1998, he was murdered in his Alabama pawnshop during a robbery.
Photo: Sun Records/ Picopa Pictures.