Elvis alive, well and wants to be Wis. mayor

Bar owner Presley takes a dim view of `Jerkwater' city hall

April 03, 2000|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

PHILLIPS, Wis. -- Elvis Presley is alive and stumping for enough votes in this North Woods town to remake The King into The Mayor.

Make no mistake, Elvis Presley is his legal name. This 50-year-old impersonator is a man with a mission: He's running for mayor tomorrow in this town of about 1,700 people.

Wiry and weathered, this bar owner sports deep sideburns and has had dental work to look more like the late singer. But he has dropped about 40 pounds from the days he fit snugly into a white sequined jump suit, and his hair is thinning and turning different shades of brown and gray at the roots.

From the time he moved to this scenic, economically depressed town, 375 miles northwest of Chicago, almost two years ago, he has become a little angry with what he contends is a lethargic and poorly run municipal government. His solution: go for the highest office in town. When he missed the deadline to obtain proper forms to get his name on the ballot -- a city response he contends was designed to stymie him -- Presley shifted to a write-in campaign, albeit a high profile one.

"People here are afraid to speak up about things," Presley said. "They're afraid of what other people will think. I've got what you call backbone. I've fought with the city before. I've fought with the police department before."

This Elvis Presley also runs the oldest tavern in Wisconsin, a creaky, cozy place where the name "Elvis" is printed above the door of the men's room and "Priscilla" hangs above the women's room door. The jukebox is a mock version of a pink 1957 Thunderbird with Illinois license plate "ELVIS 97.

He says he has performed maybe 10 times in the past year as Elvis. He's too busy with the campaign, which is making him increasingly edgy. He's busy working to open a music and video store next to the tavern. He's busy with his new wife -- his fourth.

But he's slipped into the jump suit a few times and performed recently, when the television news crews asked him. He's had his photograph taken in full Elvis regalia, pouring drinks behind the bar.

"It's exploiting my name, I know," Presley said. "But, it's a good exploitation. If this is a help to people, by all means use it."

And, he said the original Elvis, who Elvis II believes is alive and possibly performing as an impersonator while living in the Bahamas, would support him in his drive for elected office.

"I think I'd get a double thumbs up from him," Presley said. "I'm upholding his good name and doing exactly the kinds of things he'd be doing."

Presley was born in Chicago and, until he moved to Wisconsin in May 1998, lived in northwest suburban Carpentersville. For 10 years, he ran a record store in West Dundee, Ill., and has performed as Elvis since 1978. His name was Gary Caron until January 1995, when he legally changed it at the Kane County Courthouse after pondering the move for nearly a decade.

Now, he sees himself as a local version of former pro-wrestler-turned-Minnesota-Gov. Jesse Ventura and former-actor-turned-President Ronald Reagan.

His fight with the local police department after receiving 12 parking tickets has stuck in the minds of some Phillips residents and left them peeved at him. He argued and pleaded his case to various village officials for weeks. Then he ran a personal ad in the local newspaper in January 1999 calling Phillips "Jerkwater, USA."

Presley defends that comment as his assessment of a police department that was looking for a way to harass him and a city council that refused to correct the department, not an indictment of the community or its residents.

His opponent, city Councilman Keith Corcilius, 43, said Presley should have been more diplomatic.

"He came up here and instead of keeping his pushy Chicago mentality in check, he just let it fly, got confrontational right away," said Corcilius, who runs a combination bowling alley, restaurant and tavern. "In a small community, you've got to be careful about offending people. A lot of people are related. You go and tick someone off, and you've got 20 or 30 people mad at you."

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