“Orion: The Man Who Would Be King” is a film that might’ve slipped past me in other years. Thankfully, the local arthouse picked it up right at the end of the year. For people outside of the Southeast, Mid-South and lower Mid West…Elvis fanaticism is an odd thing. Down here, it’s just one of those things that exists. The mania grows smaller with every passing 20 years or so, but it’s a profitable industry that has birthed many oddities. Such an oddity is Jimmy Ellis aka Orion.
Orion was created as a means of cashing in on Elvis death mania that swept the nation in late 1977. Fans weren’t willing to accept that the King had died and record companies were quite willing to cash in on their grief. While Jimmy Ellis had started his career in the mid 1960s, the new ownership at Sun Records was floored by his voice. Jimmy Ellis was practically the singing and visual twin of Elvis Presley. How strange was it that he dropped in their laps within week of Elvis dying.
It’s like a real life take on “The Identical”, but the lead character didn’t totally want to be Elvis Presley. Almost as soon as his career began, Jimmy Ellis took to wearing the domino mask and calling himself Orion. Jimmy Ellis would nail several Top 100 hits for the next 4-5 years. However, he couldn’t ever escape the stigma of being an Elvis novelty act. While never directly imitating Elvis or trying to force people into believing that he was Elvis, Orion could never break out.
Several attempts in the mid and late 1980s were meant with crushing disappointment. From late 1987 through the 1990s, Orion returned to the mask and thrilling aging fans. Orion would remain an Elvis fan favorite around the Nashville and Memphis scenes until his untimely death. Having returned home to Alabama to return a pawn shop, Orion was murdered during a robbery in 1998. Such a sad end for one of the weirdest players in recent American music.
Jeanie Finlay should be commended for capturing such a musical oddity on film. But, fans should expect this from the talent that brought us “Sound It Out”. This is the kind of movie that I want to find copies to send to people as gifts. I want people to come to this documentary fresh and learn about people they think they knew. I haven’t been this giddy after a documentary in ages.
RELEASE DATE: 12/04/2015