A couple years ago, New York billionaire Bob Sillerman paid $114 million for an 85 percent stake in Elvis Presley Enterprises. Recently, in advance of a planned Elvis Presley Las Vegas cabaret act, Sillerman is putting all the King's lookalikes on notice.
"If we were going to do a show that was based on Elvis impersonators, then obviously it wouldn't make sense to have unauthorized Elvis impersonators," he told the New York Times.
Sillerman wants to charge faux Elvi 25 percent of the performer's fee, and that's if he allows anyone to wear the jumpsuit and sideburns at all (he's undecided). Around a half-dozen local impersonators would be affected.
"It's crazy. You can't claim a public icon as your own," says Skip Banks, whose comedic Elvis act earns him $300 to $2400 per performance. Asked how much he'd be willing to pay in licensing fees, Banks (who did his Elvis shtick on George Lopez's TV show) says, "I'll give them five extra squares of toilet paper."
Steven Gabriel, who impersonates "the skinny Elvis," says, "[Sillerman] should be paying us.... We're like the promotion and marketing guys at a record company, spreading awareness and keeping a performer's name out there. [Elvis] impersonators kept the fire going all these years; we're the reason the rights are worth hundreds of millions of dollars.... We're walking, hip-wiggling billboards for his baby, and he should reward us, not put us out of business."
In 2000, Sillerman sold his SFX talent agency for around $4 billion to radio conglomerate Clear Channel. On April 11, he paid $50 million for 80 percent of the rights to Muhammad Ali's name and likeness.