By Steve Ryfle
With a new miniseries, new records and new fans, Elvis' celebrity looms largeWill Elvis ever leave the building?
Nearly 30 years after his death, the King of rock 'n' roll remains larger than life. He's still making records. He's still a movie star. His family is A-list famous. His dangling forelock and curled front lip are instantly recognizable worldwide. When it comes to pop icondom, Elvis Presley is the immortal standard bearer.
So forget all those jokes about peanut butter and banana sandwiches. And erase all those images of Fat Elvis, with his ill-fitting white jumpsuit, cheesy cape and karate chops, from your memory. The King still reigns, and he ain't relinquishing his throne.
: As if anyone had forgotten how huge Elvis is, CBS reminds us with a two-part miniseries, economically titled "Elvis," airing in May. Taking his star turn as the country boy from Tupelo is enigmatic, rebellious young Irish actor Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, who plays vintage Elvis (from age 27 to 33) at the height of his musical and movie-star trajectory.
It could be the role of a lifetime for Rhys-Meyers, or just a minor highlight on the road to Hollywood obscurity; some fine thespians have tried to fill the King's platform shoes before, but that Elvis mojo didn't exactly rub off on all of them.
Kurt Russell left his Disney-flick past in the dust by playing our boy in the 1979 TV biopic "Elvis." The role made Russell a grown-up actor and led to a fine career; he reprised his take on the King--sort of--a few years ago in "3000 Miles to Graceland."
On the other side of the spectrum is Michael St. Gerard, an Elvis look-alike who starred in the 1990 miniseries "Elvis," which was sanctioned by the Presley estate. A few years later, St. Gerard gave up acting and became a priest in Harlem.
Somewhere in between is Don Johnson (yes, that Don Johnson), whose nasal, high-pitched voice just didn't cut the Elvis mustard in the 1981 TV movie "Elvis and the Beauty Queen." But our vote for the best screen King goes to Bruce Campbell, whose mummy-slaying senior citizen Elvis in 2002's "Bubba Ho-Tep" was sheer brilliance.
Interpretations: With more Elvis movies, books, postage stamps and souvenir commemorative plaques than you can shake a swiveling hip at, no wonder other mediums are offering new readings on the cultural phenom that is Elvis. Now Broadway has gotten into the act with "All Shook Up!", a musical set in 1950s teendom a la "Grease," with songs the King made famous as the musical backdrop. The show opened in March to so-so reviews, meaning it's probably not going to challenge "Cats" in the longevity department.
Relations: Elvis owes a tip of the posthumous hat to the women of his erstwhile life for helping to keep his name, or at least his surname, in the public discourse. Last year, the Presley chicks--ex-wife Priscilla, daughter-turned-wannabe-rocker Lisa Marie, and granddaughter model Danielle Riley Keough--graced the cover of Vogue magazine. Little Riley (she goes by her middle name), though just 15, is already well groomed in the Versace-wearing life of a young female celeb, and media queen. She's even got the familial little sneer--even if she doesn't seem to get how truly huge her gramps was. Too early to tell yet if she'll chuck the designer threads for a sequined jacket and flares someday.
Rotations: With so much media overkill, sometimes it's easy to forget how it all started. It's all about the music, thank ya very much, and Elvis Presley records still sell--over a billion so far, and counting--because they still rock. In 2002, a collection of his Number One hits topped the charts in the U.S., United Kingdom and other countries, and a remix of the obscure tune "A Little Less Conversation" reached Number One in more than 20 countries. Further reissues and remixes continue to top the charts abroad (in early 2005, a remastered "Jailhouse Rock" single was Number One in the UK).
Re-creation: Elvis has made history again and again, but when he became the first dead rocker to headline a concert tour, it may have been his most impressive achievement. In 1998-99, "Elvis: The Concert" played across the U.S., with members of Elvis' old band performing live with the King singing lead vocals on videotape, via a big-screen TV. It was everything that Elvis has come to stand for--tacky, cheesy, thoroughly entertaining, and a big success (engagements at the Las Vegas Hilton and Radio City Music Hall, among other places, sold out). Not bad for a dead guy, eh?