Question of the Day July 31, 2015
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Q:What is the status of Big Elvis? You said he was sick. Is he getting better or did he pass away? Also it would be neat if you profiled him over the years in Vegas.
A:Big Elvis – the stage name of Pete Vallee – is quite alive, temporarily out of the public eye but still corresponding with his fans. Last Sunday, his new Facebook fan page promised that an updated version of his website (currently defunct) would debut shortly. In early June, a message had gone out from his Facebook page that "Big E hasn't been feeling well for the past few weeks, and he may be taking some extended time off from his show." Indeed, a return to the stage hasn’t been announced since, although we certainly hope he is on the mend.
For those who have not experienced tall, Big Elvis in the (considerable) flesh, last year the Las Vegas Review-Journal described him as tipping "the scales at about 500 pounds, and he wears a scaled-up version of the kind of costume Elvis Presley wore during his comeback performances in Las Vegas in the last years of his life — all glitter, spandex and polyester bell bottoms."
That’s actually the newer, slimmer incarnation of Big E, whose weight formerly ballooned to 960 Elvis-loving pounds. He stays in trim by swimming in his back yard pool. His weight problems had become so severe over the years that he'd taken to performing at audience level, then sitting down on a specially made rostrum, gasping from an oxygen tent between numbers.
Seeing his half-ton self on TV was a wakeup call for Vallee, who embarked on a self-imposed exercise regimen and reformed his diet. Food has been a feel-good drug since childhood, when Vallee’s mother, a failed singer turned nurse, presided over a feast-or-famine household. Sometimes she was too drunk to feed her children, other times she showered them with goodies.
Vallee’s girth hasn’t impeded him from maintaining a three-shows-a-day schedule, four days a week, first at Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon, starting in 1992, then at Harrah’s Piano Bar, having paid his dues at the grind joint Roadhouse casino. Among his many outrageous aspects, Vallee claims to be an illegitimate son of The King and flashes a ring supposedly given to his mother by Presley himself.
He was a relatively slender 400 pounds when he adopted the Big Elvis moniker for a performance in Tacoma, Washington, and history has never been the same since. Since then, he’s become as noted for his philanthropy as for the uncanny resemblance between his natural voice and that of his idol.
"I'm amazed how real he sounds. Pete's effortless. Others seem to force it," former Presley bodyguard Sonny West told Details. The decisive moment in the Big Elvis-to-be’s future was a prize-winning Presley impersonation in a high school talent show. Chronicles Details, "Delores pulled up stakes and moved with him to Las Vegas, where they lived in a grim apartment building surrounded by sketchy bars and run-down motels." They tried to make it as a mother-son performing duo but it didn’t pan out. The younger Vallee persevered and eventually was reborn as Big Elvis.
His mother’s death in 2003 sent Vallee spiraling into a funk, during which he gained 300 pounds. A regimen of walking, swimming, and constant bowls of a chicken-and-vegetable dish called giambatta steadily helped Big Elvis take the pounds off. He subsequently married (in Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall) and with marriage – short-lived though it was -- came a new weight goal: 285 pounds. (He’s currently hovering around 400 again.) Judging by the caring messages that flood his fan boards, he’s got a lot of people pulling for him as he convalesces.
The most recent bulletin on Big E’s health came by way of reliable blog VitalVegas, which reported on June 20 that the singer was "exhausted" and trying to lose more weight, having shed 15 pounds already. In the meantime, you can witness the Big E phenomenon for yourself in the movie La Conner, P.D. As Big Elvis would surely say, Thank you, thank you very much.