Longtime Austin Elvis impersonator Victor Solimine is about to hang up his cape and white boots after 33 years.
One thing he won’t miss in his retirement? The turf wars over who is the fairest faux Elvis of them all. You’d think that in a metropolitan area of over 1 million residents there would be room for more than one Elvis impersonator. Hah.
Earlier in his career Victor says he was catching grief from a second Austin Elvis over who was the real true King around these parts. There simply wasn’t room, apparently, for two pairs of blue suede shoes in this town.
“But that turned out to be nothing compared to the new jerk who came to town a couple years ago,” Victor said of yet a third Austin Elvis.
“He’s bald. He sticks on a wig and calls himself Elvis,” spat Victor, who points out that his Elvis-lookin’ hairdo isn’t some rug, but the real thing. “He sticks a wig on and some sideburns and declares himself as the Best Elvis in Texas, which is a joke. He sent me emails saying he wanted to fight me. He’s 20 years younger than me, so I don’t need to be fighting anybody.”
Victor takes this Elvis stuff seriously. He tries to be as Elvis as possible. He even eats the peanut butter and banana sandwiches.
“Oh, yeah. Have you ever tried it?” Victor asked. (On a cold day in hell.) “It’s very good. Now, Elvis grilled it in mayonnaise and butter. That was a little much for me. I don’t do that.”
They say you are what you eat. So it might be difficult after more than three decades of Elvising for Victor to put away lavishly decorated Elvis costumes with names such as The Aloha, the King of Spades and Burnin’ Love (a black ensemble decorated with flames).
Victor is calling it quits. On Saturday, he put on a live show at his retirement party, held at St. Ignatius Martyr Catholic Church in South Austin. Oh, he has a few Elvis gigs left on his calendar, and he says that “if Michael Dell shows up with $1,000,” he might add another.
But for the most part, Victor said he is done with the shake, rattle and rollin’. “It’s time to have some weekends for my wife (Deanna) and myself.”
There’s no telling how many buildings Victor has left while playing Elvis.
His first show ever was for Parents Without Partners. (No wonder they don’t have partners; they hired an Elvis impersonator for the floor show.) He’s sung “Don’t Be Cruel” on the roof of a jewelry store on South Lamar in December in freezing weather. He’s promoted Elvis cologne, Elvis Royal Doulton figurines and Elvis Fossil watches. He’s played at Dickens Days Christmas celebrations in Boerne. (Dickens was an Elvis fan? Who knew?) He’s been a parade float attraction in San Antonio.
He’s even ticked off the police, unintentionally.
Years ago a Sixth Street club decided it would be a swell idea to stick Elvis on an elevated platform overlooking the throng of Halloween celebrants down below.
When the crowd of thousands of costumed revelers looked up and saw Elvis hanging off a two-story building and singing his guts out, they stopped and gawked, causing a pedestrian traffic jam. This was back in the days when Austin cops, to create order, made the Austin Halloween crowd walk Sixth Street in a semicircle. Elvis had disrupted the pattern.
“Here came the cops. They came running up the stairs,” Victor recalled. “They even had a helicopter zooming down on me. We were creating a pileup.”
Victor makes his own outfits. Elvis costumes are pricey, he says. So homemade Elvis attire fills up just about every closet of Victor’s South Austin home.
“I make all of my own costumes. I’ve got 21 costumes. My wife sews, and then I decorate ‘em.”
Victor got into the Elvis game because he looks the part, and can sing.
“Well, I was always a singer all the way back in elementary school,” Victor said. “I always had the sideburns and the long hair, as long as the schools would allow you to back in the ’60s. And since I could sing and people told me I looked like Elvis, back in 1980 I made my first costume. I still have it.”
It’s been a long and sequined road for Victor. His resume says he’s won six Elvis impersonator contests around Texas. He says he gets paid $300 an hour, when he charges. But he does a lot of pro bono work for charity. And he gives away plenty of teddy bears to the kids. You may remember the Elvis hit, “Teddy Bear.” Thanks to that tune, Victor has a room full of about 500 stuffed bears at home in his so-called Teddy Bear Room.
“I’ve estimated at least 10,000 teddy bears I’ve given away,” said Victor, who buys them at Goodwill and cleans them up.
You don’t think of a guy handing out teddy bears as the taxman. But Victor’s day job is with the IRS, checking tax returns. He’s keeping that job. But his Elvis gig got him in trouble at work in 1992. Bill Clinton had come to Austin to campaign for president. The staff of President George H.W. Bush, who Clinton was running against, had hired Victor to perform “and kind of harass Clinton, because Bill Clinton’s code name was Elvis with the Secret Service.”
So Elvis did a routine up by the LBJ Library.
The IRS charged Elvis with violating the Hatch Act, which says federal employees can’t work for political campaigns. But Elvis beat the rap. The IRS, Victor says, decided that he was “just an entertainer” and let him off the hook.
Yes, Victor is pretty ate up with his Elvisness. He regrets never seeing Elvis live.
“I went down to Palmer Auditorium in March of ‘77 when he was going to be here. I thought’ I’d run in and get a couple of tickets,” Victor said. But the ticket line was so long that Victor blew it off. “I said, ‘Oh I’ll catch him the next time he comes around.’ And five months later he was dead.”
So Elvis is really dead, Victor? You don’t really believe that, do you?