He was just like the King. But he didn't want to die like him. His inspiring story of weight loss proves anyone can do it.
Parade floats filled my TV screen.
“There you are!” said my manager, Lucille, who was watching with me. The float I’d ridden earlier in the day at Las Vegas’ Centennial Helldorado Parade slid into view.
There I was, dressed in full Elvis regalia, belting out “Teddy Bear.” But instead of feeling proud of the career I’d built as Big Elvis, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Is that me? I thought. Is that what I look like?
At 40, I’d been putting on weight for years. As a kid coming home to an empty house while my mom was out working two jobs, I always found my dinner in the fridge with a note. Mom couldn’t be there, but I took comfort in the food she’d left.
I was still eating to soothe myself. But now, moving from the bedroom to the kitchen left me out of breath. I used an oxygen tank in my dressing room between shows.
My weight problem was out of control. I knew it, and yet the sight of myself was a complete shock. My voice was strong, but I looked pale, weak and bloated. Like my body wouldn’t last much longer.
“Elvis died at forty-two,” I said to Lucille. “I won’t make it that far.”
You might think Elvis impersonator was no job for a 940-plus pound man. What could I have in common with Elvis? A lot. We were both born into poverty and attended the Assembly of God Church, where we sang in youth gospel choirs.
At 14 I sang “Jailhouse Rock” at the school talent show and the crowd went crazy. Elvis was my role model back then. I’d tried to keep his memory alive through my singing ever since.
That night of the parade, I thought about how blessed I was. I had loving friends, enough money to support myself and my kids. Best of all, I got to sing Elvis’s music 15 shows a week on the Las Vegas strip. I had so much to be grateful for.
I was sure that was the way Elvis looked at his life. Any Elvis fan knows there’s a lot more to the man than his music. I grew up hearing of his kindness, how he gave things away, like cars, jewelry, money and such.
Once he read about a lady who needed a wheelchair and sent one right over. He flew across the country to visit a sick girl who wanted to meet him. Elvis gave to hundreds of charities regularly and anonymously.
I tried to emulate Elvis on stage and off. I did charity performances and helped out people in need, when I could. The preacher back home taught me to follow Jesus’ example by caring for others. For me following the Lord’s example and Elvis’s were close to the same thing, because Elvis gave from his heart.
My stomach rumbled. Elvis loved food, like fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches and greasy burgers. But he could never understand how I’d gotten to this point. I prayed for sleep to come and take the image of me on that float out of my mind.
Lucille came over the next day looking more serious than I’d ever seen her. “I’ve been thinking about what you said about dying,” she said. “I’m ready to fight for you if you’ll let me. You can get healthy again.”
“I’m scared,” I said. “I don’t know how to change.”
“A little at a time,” she said. “God will help you.”
It seemed impossible. But then, hadn’t God performed the impossible in my life already? “I’ll try,” I said.