Don't Fence Me In
Hot Docs – Orion- The Man Who Would Be King
Elvis. I don’t even have to say his last name. That’s how well known the man was and still is. I once heard that Eddie Murphy had a room in his house filled with paraphernalia completely dedicated to The King as so many of us refer to him. Murphy’s personal fascination apparently stemmed from the power he had garnered by solely being an entertainer. I mean, the guy basically walked up to the White House one day with two body-guards and a gun as a gift for President Nixon, because he wanted to have a conversation about the deterioration of America due to drug use. The irony of course is that Elvis himself was a pharmaceutical drug addict, but in those days, that wasn’t seen as addiction because hey, ‘the doctor prescribed it to me.’
As someone who has a fascination with popular culture tidbits like the ones l just mentioned, Orion-The Man Who Would Be King was an amazing way to top up the well of knowledge.
Jimmy Ellis was one unlucky bastard. Literally. Born in Alabama to parents out of wedlock and then adopted out, this fascinating film follows his failed career as an brilliant singer who had all the talent, but unfortunately he sounded eerily identical to Elvis Presley. I’m sure it didn’t help that he also had the same hair-style, adorned the same chops (side burns for those of you not in the know), and dressed somewhat similarly to Elvis. In light of these characteristics, Ellis could never escape the shadow of The King, which led to a failed attempt at stardom after having given up his entire livelihood in Alabama to head to Los Angeles to become a star.
Ellis’ opportunity for success began at the heels of Elvis’ death in 1977 when Shelby Singleton, the head of Sun Records, who recognized Ellis’ talent but understanding the dilemma, creates, or rather, steals a persona for Ellis called Orion, a masked man with Elvis’ voice who essentially was created to exploit the grieving connection that fans had to The King, and in the process of course, exploiting Ellis himself. All in the name of the bottom line.
If you ever wondered where the rumours that Elvis was still alive came from, watch this film. It explains it all from the moment of Elvis’ death to the conception of Orion.
As someone who personally knows well the dark corridors of the music industry, this film gives great insight into what some people will do to be successful, even when it goes against everything they feel is right. It’s a sad film but one that helps us understand the desperation this man had to be a star. We see the humanity and in turn the exploitation of Ellis. His demise is ironically paralleled with the same sense of tragedy that punctuated Elvis’ life. The only difference is that with Elvis, it was his own fame that made him a prisoner. In Ellis’ case, it was the insatiable desire to be as great and as famous as The King that kept him prisoner.
For any fan of music culture and history, this film is a must see.
Scotiabank Theatre 3Tue, Apr 28 7:00 PM
Scotiabank Theatre 10Thu, Apr 30 4:30 PM
Royal CinemaSun, May 3 8:45 PM
About the Author
Lucas Silveira is best known as the front man, songwriter and founding member of the rock band *The Cliks. *Lucas has become a leading force in the LGBTQ community for the promotion and visibility of transgender people in the mainstream music industry. He is the first out transgender male to be signed to a major record label deal and has toured with music icons including Cyndi Lauper, The Cult, Debbie Harry and The New York Dolls.