(Edited to add WNEW.com link.)
I have never been a fan of April Fool’s Day, not since my mother switched the Wheaties and the corn flakes in the cereal boxes when I was a kid. Neither do I care much for practical jokes on any other day of the year. But a world such as this needs a day to celebrate human gullibility, and today is it.
My Rock Flashback post at WNEW.com today is about the rumors that Elvis Presley is still alive—specifically, that the masked rockabilly singer Orion was the actually the King in disguise. His backstory was based on a novel by Gail Brewer-Giorgio, who’d created the character in the early 70s, only to see portions of it eerily paralleled in the life of the real Elvis—young Southern boy Orion, who had become the most famous singer in the world, gets involved in drugs, gains weight, and decides to escape the whole thing by faking his death, even attending his own funeral. The “real” Orion was later revealed to be a guy named Jimmy Ellis, who sounded remarkably like Elvis. He was the creation of producer Shelby Singleton, who had been intrigued by the Brewer-Giorgio novel.
The Orion story might have ended there, as a clever bit of fiction-turned-faux-fact, but then Gail Brewer-Giorgio went down the rabbit hole. In the 80s, she began researching the death of Elvis, became convinced that he wasn’t dead, and eventually claimed that in the course of her research, she had spoken to him on the phone. She claimed further that a voice analyst verified that the voice on a taped call belonged to the real Elvis. In 1988, Brewer-Giorgio published her book, Is Elvis Alive?, and made the rounds of the credulous chat shows to plug it.
So it must have been a Saturday afternoon in 1989 when I was on the air in the Quad Cities, and a guy called up to offer me some voiceover work. He said he was visiting family in town, had heard my voice on the radio, and thought I was perfect for one of his clients—although I suspect he was mostly trying to avoid paying a union voiceover guy from a large market. The next Saturday, he showed up with some scripts for me to cut. They were for spots plugging Gail Brewer-Giorgio’s book, which now included a cassette copy of the famous tape.
But they weren’t radio spots; they were telephone marketing robo-calls. Two thoughts now entered my mind. First, “This is kind of sleazy.” Second, “He’s paying in cash today.” One of the spots was ill-advisedly written for a terrible character voice, which the guy coached me into doing against my better judgment. If anybody receiving that call listened for more than 10 seconds, they were made of the toughest stuff on Earth.
So yes, my voice interrupted people at mealtime and naptime all across our great land, trying to sell them this ludicrous book. Not the proudest moment of my career, but hey, cash.
I can remember playing Orion’s “Rockabilly Rebel” on KDTH for a brief period circa 1979. But you’ll probably be more interested in his cover of Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” along with a selection of cover shots from various Orion albums. It’s hard to imagine that anybody could have been fooled by the physical resemblance, but the similarity between the voices is astounding.