August 15, 1997
King lives on in Vegas
Impersonators keep Elvis' memory alive
By Ed Koch
LAS VEGAS SUN
Roddy Ragsdale was playing with his toys on the living room floor
when word came over the television that Elvis Presley had died at age 42.
The 8-year-old Memphis boy watched his mother, Brenda, weep over
the report. She would tell him many stories about growing up in the same
town with the truck driver who would forever change the face of entertainment.
"Mama used to pass by Elvis when he sang on a street corner in
Memphis," said Ragsdale, a five-year Las Vegas resident. "I didn't
know much about Elvis at the time (of his death), but I have learned a lot over
As a teenager, Ragsdale overcame his shyness by mimicking Elvis
in school shows, more or less to attract girls.
In his early 20s, with his mother accompanying him, Ragsdale
began performing regularly as the king of rock 'n' roll, winning several
contests and earning acting gigs in commercials and movies.
On the 20th anniversary of Elvis' death on Aug. 16, 1977, Ragsdale
and other Elvis impersonators say they are merely carrying on the
great body of work left by the legendary performer.
"You can say all you want about today's superstars like Garth
Brooks and Michael Jackson, but until they sell a billion records like Elvis,
they will never dethrone the King," said Ragsdale, who appeared in
the movie "Honeymoon in Vegas" and as Elvis on the GMF
"Elvis set an impossible standard for every entertainer to top.
It will take somebody pretty special in the centuries to come to do what
Elvis did. He was the total package."
On the day Presley died, Darrin Race, who portrays Elvis in daily
afternoon shows in front of the Aztec Inn casino on Las Vegas Boulevard,
was getting his broken arm put into a cast at University Medical Center after
falling off a wall that surrounded the North Las Vegas mobile home where he
"I remember my sister in the waiting room telling my mother that
she had heard a lady say that Elvis had died, and we later heard it on the radio,"
said Race, 32, who also portrayed a young Elvis in "The Watcher" TV
series, which was shot locally.
Race became interested in imitating Elvis after attending a 1977 show at
the Tropicana hotel-casino featuring veteran Elvis impersonator Alan Meyer.
Like Meyer, Race portrays Elvis during all three stages of his career -- the '50s
teen heartthrob, the '60s movie idol and the '70s Las Vegas mainstay.
A magician as well as a 10-year Elvis impersonator, Race is putting together
a show called "Elvis Magic" with his manager Jason Dorsey, the son
of singer Engelbert Humperdinck, a Las Vegas regular.
"For a long time, I was getting heavy into the magic and not doing Elvis
so much," Race said. "When I do Elvis, I try to do him as he did it --
without the exaggerated Elvis voice you hear so often."
Like Race, Ragsdale said he never really intended to be an Elvis impersonator,
and once thought the whole phenomenon was kind of silly.
"When I was young, I went to a candlelight vigil at Graceland with Mama,
and cracked a lot of jokes about what I saw," he said. "The other folks in the
crowd wanted to string me up for it -- they really loved Elvis.
"However, when I went to the museum and saw all that the man
accomplished, it gave me a whole different perspective. It changed my life
Specializing in the 1950s style of Elvis -- he also on occasion does the
Vegas jumpsuit Elvis -- Ragsdale won major Elvis impersonation contests
in Las Vegas and Memphis.
Last year, Ragsdale had to overcome a tragedy Presley endured when
he was in his 20s -- the death of his mother, Brenda Ragsdale, to cancer.
"Mama was my greatest fan," he said. "I really miss her."
Although Ragsdale drives a Cadillac -- Presley's favorite car -- and has
been a resident of the same cities to which Elvis remains eternally bonded,
Ragsdale says in no way does he want his entire life to mirror Presley's.
"I don't want to be doing this when I'm 45 or 50," he said. "Right
now, doing Elvis at night (and construction during the day) pays the bills. I want to
eventually do other roles as an actor."
Ragsdale, like Race, works weddings, conventions and parties.
Norm Jones has had steady work as Elvis for the past eight years.
A licensed minister, he dons the spangled costume to perform weddings
at the Graceland Chapel downtown.
"I was in the lobby of a Utah hotel when I heard about Elvis'
death, and I thought, 'Wow, I just can't believe it,'" said the 36-year-old
Jones, who won the 1991 Las Vegas Hotel Association's top Elvis
"I like to perform as Elvis because it makes people happy on
their very special day. I get the most requests to sing 'I Can't Help Falling
in Love,' 'Love Me Tender' and 'Viva Las Vegas.'"
As for the controversy about whether Elvis indeed died on the
date reported, Jones, Race and Ragsdale have their doubts.
"He'll always be alive in our hearts -- and in the tabloids,"
Jones said. "I don't think he died at that time, but I don't think he's
Race says, "I'm not 100 percent sure, but I don't think he died
on Aug. 16, 1977, as reported."
Ragsdale says it is possible Elvis is out there enjoying all the
fuss over him.
"I believe there was some conspiracy to fake his death, whether
it was to get away from the spotlight or whatever," Ragsdale said.
"If anyone could fake his death and get away with it, he would be
the one. And if Elvis is still alive, I sure wish he'd come back."
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