Elvis has left the building...until COVID-19 clears up, that is.
Eddie Powers says he’s the best Elvis in Vegas, but since he’s not exactly an impartial observer, he made a chart to convince the doubters. According to Powers’ own calculations, he and Elvis have the same ring size, shoe size, height, and weight. They have the same zodiac sign and the same personality (Capricorn, lighthearted).
Both performers’ hair is described on the chart as “real, straight, dark,” which was probably true when Powers started out 35 years ago. “I got out of the navy in ’84 and put a band together in ’85,” he says. “I did live shows, and all of my suits and jumpsuits were homemade because it’s very expensive to get a suit made by a professional company.” He was 23 years old.
“I was so young I couldn’t even grow sideburns,” says Powers. “For the first two years, I had to wear the paste-on kind.”
Today, though, Powers has it made. He can do black leather Elvis and white jumpsuit Elvis, and he’s got a song list that goes from Hound Dog to Love Me Tender. When he’s not serenading newlyweds or posing for photos, he leads tours of Las Vegas at the wheel of a cotton-candy pink, 1956 Cadillac that’s a dead ringer for Presley’s own iconic ride.
“Being the best Elvis in Vegas, especially with a pink Cadillac, I’m very, very busy,” says Powers. But as news of COVID-19 spread, his calendar went blank.
“It hit like running up against a brick wall,” he recalls. As each day passed, Powers got more calls from clients canceling their tours and events. Then, on March 17, Nevada governor Steve Sisolak ordered the casinos to close.
“When that happened, it was for real,” says Powers. “It was devastating.”
Not even Las Vegas, legendary for a carefree spirit that entices strangers into swapping germs in nightclubs and hotel rooms, can swing through a pandemic. The round-the-clock clatter of casino floors has gone quiet. Fountains are switched off along the Las Vegas Strip. The Graceland Wedding Chapel, which has offered Elvis-themed weddings since 1977, is shuttered until further notice.
“It feels like a ghost town,” says Powers, who says that the last time he checked out the scene on the Las Vegas Strip, he saw police officers stationed at hotel entrances to ensure no one gets in—not that anyone is trying. “There are no people, and very few cars,” he says.
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman has called for the casinos to reopen. “This isn’t China,” she said to CNN’s Anderson Cooper. “This is Las Vegas, Nevada.” But the most recent directive from Governor Sisolak said the casinos would stay shut for now. Even when restrictions do loosen, it’s likely the city will be transformed, with sanitized cards and chips, mask-wearing dealers, and far fewer customers.
Even when restrictions do loosen, it’s likely the city will be transformed, with sanitized cards and chips, mask-wearing dealers, and far fewer customers.
Powers has been left to wonder what Elvis’s work will look like in a post-pandemic world. “Everybody says this is never going to be the same again,” he says. “Being an entertainer, and interacting with the tourists as much as I do, I’ve got to be very careful.” Still, he’s ready to innovate, and he’s already purchased a fabric mask with an image of Elvis on it.
Whatever happens, Eddie Powers won’t weather the crisis alone. Like COVID-19, the passion for Elvis Presley is an entirely global phenomenon. Annual Elvis festivals draw thousands to celebrations in Australia, Norway, and Ontario. The 19th-century village of Porthcawl, Wales, has a two-day blowout each year that’s the largest Elvis festival in Europe.
At the Elvis Inn in Israel, a gilded statue of The King gazes from the parking lot of a vintage, American-style diner. In the German city of Bad Nauheim, you can sip coffee in Elvis Presley-Platz (Elvis Presley Square), close to where the singer lived as a U.S. soldier stationed in West Germany. Though the Melbourne General Cemetery is a final resting place for four Australian prime ministers, its Elvis memorial garden is among the graveyard’s biggest draws.
Powers gets the hype. He was 4 years old when he heard his first Elvis record, a 45 stamped with Jailhouse Rock and Don’t Be Cruel. “I’d sing along with the records—I loved to sing, and I loved the music.” He listened to the live albums, then watched and re-watched all of Elvis’ movies.
“Elvis always got the girl,” Powers recalls. “So that was kind of interesting.”
As a little kid with no dad at home, Powers saw Elvis as a kind of father figure. “I thought, ‘Hey, this is a good guy to emulate,’” Powers says. “He was just a really nice guy, and he helped out everybody.” When Elvis died in 1977, Powers was 14 years old. For him, and for fans across the globe, he says it was a devastating loss. “So many Elvis fans will tell you that it was like losing a member of your own family.”
More than four decades later, Elvis commands an impressive following worldwide. “The guy’s been dead for 42 years, and it hasn’t let up hardly at all,” says Powers. But as seasons tick by, Powers admits that his customers are aging. “Elderly people take my tour that saw Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show,” he says. “A lot of my passengers are 70 or older.”
At 58 years old, Powers is 16 years older than Elvis was at the time of his death. Still, he figures he’s got a good 15 years left as an Elvis tribute artist. He’s kept the velvety croon and the hip-shaking moves; the custom-made costume fits like a glove. And when the threat of COVID-19 eventually lifts, Powers says he’s ready to get back in the jumpsuit.
“He’s been a part of my life every single day that I can remember,” says Powers. “I get paid for what I love to do. I love Elvis.”