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Orion: The Man Who Would Be King

John Updike’s comment about celebrity being a mask that eats into the face occurred to me watching this desperately sad film. It is the story of Jimmy Ellis, a singer from Alabama who was cursed with having a voice identical to that of Elvis Presley. He travelled to Nashville and tried to break into the music business – but found that everyone was only interested in his eerie soundalike resemblance to The King. Poignantly, he even released a single entitled I’m Not Trying to Be Like Elvis.

Then an extraordinary disaster-cum-opportunity occurred; in August 1977, the real Elvis died, and cunning record producer Shelby Singleton – who had become owner of the legendary Sun Records – marketed Ellis as a mysterious singer called Orion who wore a mask. This tongue-in-cheek publicity campaign tried to imply to an excitable and credulous public that it actually was Elvis, and the mask was to conceal botched plastic surgery Presley had undertaken after faking his death to escape the burden of world-fame. Jimmy Ellis’s preposterous career more or less created the Elvis-is-alive myth that persists to this day, and Ellis became imprisoned by Elvis’s ghost. There is some intriguing speculation about Ellis’s background and a sad and shocking ending. This is a movie that might have interested cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard, that connoisseur of simulacra. Jimmy Ellis’s story really is stranger than fiction… H/T >

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