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Being the King just a day at work

For Elvis impersonator Bill Akins, it's a job - a real good job .

By JONATHAN ABEL, Times Staff Writer
Published January 7, 2008


Elvis impersonators Kenn "E" Grube, 40, left, Billy Lindsey, 51, and Bill Akins, 54, right, hang out together in the green room before their performances during the Elvis Birthday Bash at the Largo Cultural Center Sunday. Akins, who performed as Hawaiian Elvis, has been a professional Elvis impersonator since 1985.
photo
[John Pendygraft | Times]
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Bill Akins paints his white muttonchops black, slides on a puffy black wig and squeezes into his white nylon jumpsuit.

That's all it takes for the Hudson man to become Elvis Presley, the King of Rock 'n' Roll, again.

At 54, Akins has been a professional Elvis impersonator since 1985 - a career lasting almost as long as the real Elvis' performing days.

He loves the electric connection he gets with the audience. He loves the King for his generosity and his lasting impact on the world.

"He could do it all," Akins said. "It's one of those phenomena that probably won't ever happen again."

As Akins gets older, however, the act gets a little bit harder to pull off, but the wig, the makeup, the stage actor's confidence - they all help.

"When I can no longer do the performance that I feel is my best I will stop," Akins promises. "But hey, it's probably not too far off."

On Sunday, he brought shrieks from the audience of 400 at the Largo Cultural Center when he came out as Hawaiian Elvis. He wore a white and red cape, with black Elvis glasses, a red, knitted belt and a red lei. He was one of four impersonators on stage for the fourth annual show commemorating Elvis's birthday, which is Tuesday.

Akins, who was born and raised in the Tampa area, never really intended to become an Elvis impersonator, but when he sang in community and dinner theater, people always told him he sounded a lot like Elvis.

Akins took note and began performing as Elvis in clubs and lounges.

By 1985, he was doing it professionally. Two years later, he traveled with a show through Germany and Holland, entertaining large crowds as Elvis the King of Rock 'n' Roll.

Six weeks later, when he got back to America, there was no way he could go back into bars and lounges after the adulation of the European crowds, so he started doing conventions, shows, bar mitzvahs and lots and lots of weddings.

He bought karaoke equipment and started a disc jockey business on the side. He claims to do a mean Tom Jones. Akins even invented a guitar with a karaoke machine imbedded within it so he can carry all the tools of the trade easily.

And in case he didn't have enough pokers in the fire, he patented the Akins Accelerator, a device that allows a semi-automatic rifle to fire rapidly, in a manner simulating a fully automatic rifle.

The legality of said invention is currently a matter of dispute with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, which ordered him not to sell any more of them.

He is in the process of challenging the decision. But that's all a sideshow to his life as Elvis.

When Akins dresses the part, he said, his goal is to take the audience back in time - to remind them of a figure who meant, and continues to mean, so much to so many - even if he doesn't look or sound exactly like Elvis.

"For me, it's just a role," Akins said. "I have a few trophies and pictures of me in costumes. But I don't have a shrine. I'm an actor, not a nut."

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

[Last modified January 6, 2008, 22:00:49]


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