Elvis Lives!

Thirty years after the King’s death, there’s still a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on, thanks to legions of “tribute artists”

Landon Nordeman, who is 33 and based in New York City, says he first got interested in Elvis' afterlife when he saw Ryan Pelton give a performance so riveting it transformed the auditorium into a time capsule. (Landon Nordeman)
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"I'm just so tired of being Elvis Presley," he said when his fame had become almost too much to bear. Thirty years ago—on August 16, 1977, at the age of 42—he was relieved of that burden. But it was soon taken up by people trying to look like Elvis and perform his music. Since 2005, Landon Nordeman has been photographing "Elvis tribute artists" (not "impersonators," a term they find derogatory), of whom there are tens of thousands. "I want to photograph the story of who these people are on and off the stage, and understand why they devote part of their lives to Elvis," he says. Of course, there was much about Elvis to justify the iconography: his rags-to-riches story; the soulful rhythms of the South he brought to the nation's ear; his onstage charisma, with that distinctive sneer and suggestive body language; the outsize, sequined decline of his final years. But it probably boils down to the thrill of being reminded, if only secondhand, of the greatest rock 'n' roll star ever. Plus, those jumpsuits are pretty wild.

Nordeman's project has taken him all over the world (backstage camaraderie in Blackpool, England). He says it's surprising how Elvis appeals to people everywhere. Says Nordeman: "I'm trying to figure out who these guys are as individuals." (Landon Nordeman)
Fans strap on their blue suede shoes and join the celebration of Elvis Presley's 75th birthday at the National Portrait Gallery
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