Published stories from George Miller, a journalist, photographer, educator, carpenter, world traveler, dog-lover and home owner. You can reach him at

Friday, August 26, 2005

The King is still king, even 28 years later

This story was published in the Daily News on 8.17.05:

Christa Formica smiled lovingly at her husband and then offered a simple commentary about his behavior.

"I have one word: odd," she said.

Her husband thinks he's Elvis.

Sam Formica, known in the entertainment business as "Sammy J.," is an Elvis Presley tribute performer.

He regularly dons expensive, gold-studded Italian gabardine jumpsuits with ridiculously low necklines, a thick mass of black faux-hair on his head and oversized aviator glasses.

Then he jumps onto the stage - as he did yesterday at Lucy's Hat Shop Restaurant & Lounge in Old City - he swivels his hips, he kicks the air in martial-arts style and he soulfully belts out the songs of one of the most popular recording artists ever.

"When I'm on stage, I'm Elvis for 45 minutes," said Formica, 41. "It's a pretty incredible experience for me. It's like a drug."

Around the world yesterday, people celebrated the King's life in honor of the 28th anniversary of his death on Aug. 16, 1977.

In Vienna, the Hilton Hotel was temporarily renamed the "Heartbreak Hotel." The Germans ended a six-day festival with concerts and karaoke performances. In Thailand, Asian Elvises thrust their pelvises in appreciation at numerous events.

And in Memphis, Tenn., the King's home and his final resting place, thousands of fans held a candlelight vigil.

"His spirit is floating around tonight," Formica said before his performance yesterday. "I hope it attaches itself to me."

Formica entered his first Elvis competition three years ago at the urging of friends.

"I was always dancing and humming Elvis songs," he said.

During that show, he was booed off stage when his singing didn't match the background music.

Since then, he has studied dozens of Elvis bootleg DVDs, and he honed his voice by listening to more than 500 concert CDs.

"I just love his voice," he said.

Formica, a general manager at Rembrandt's Restaurant in Fairmount, specializes in the 1970's era Elvis with the big belt buckles and velvety baritone.

"If I walk down the street as Elvis, people hang out the windows of cars screaming," he said. "When I'm on stage, people want scarves, teddy bears and leis."

The crowds sing along, people dance and sometimes, the women swoon.

Formica said he does a few appearances per month at events such as car shows, birthday parties, Christmas parties and Elvis competitions. He recently won a contest in New Jersey.

And last October, he officiated his first wedding as Elvis.

Formica is also an artist whose works have been exhibited across the country. One of his recent paintings, "Looking Towards the Future," is on loan to the Franklin Institute.

To promote that piece, Formica dressed alternately as Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Bill Clinton, and handed out fliers to tourists in Independence Park.

He never hawked his artwork while dressed as Elvis.

To Formica, Elvis is sacred.

"I really want to do the man justice," Formica said. "I love the man. I really do."


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