Love me tender, love me true: Elvis impersonator has soft heart for those in need

Published 10:00 pm Friday, November 14, 2014

Elvis 4 (1)masthead
By Mark Schmerling

“People say, ‘Hey, Elvis. I thought he was dead.’ But that’s a man who refuses to die,” said Leon Allison of Green Creek, who uses his resemblance to Elvis Presley to enjoy life and to bring joy to others.

“I’ve always been an Elvis Presley fan,” Allison said, though for many years any resemblance to the original was unintentional. From high school on, he’s worn his dark hair the way he does now, with the long sideburns. And, he can dance and move his hips.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

However, his fuller Elvis persona is much more recent. In 2008, Allison, attending a 50s rock and roll show at the Shriners’ Club in Chesnee, purchased an Elvis outfit that organizers auctioned off.

“I’m a big collector of Elvis memorabilia,” Allison noted. His collection includes cars, statues and lamps commemorating Elvis. Since purchasing the Elvis outfit, Allison continues to visit churches and residents of area nursing homes, where he presents eager individuals with chocolate, long-stemmed roses and his loose-hipped dancing.

It’s not as though Allison chose to resemble Elvis early on. However, his hair, sideburns, and general movement convinced others that he resembled the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Allison has seen all Elvis impersonators, including Travis Powell, a Shelby-area resident. “He’s a cool dude, Allison said of Powell. “He’s a personal friend of mine,” noting that Powell performs a great deal of charity work.

In one of his own appearances where he brought the energy and cheer of Elvis to residents of a care facility, Allison remarked that a woman affectionately grabbed him around the neck, and wouldn’t let go. According to a nurse at that facility, the incident marked the first time in years that the patient had been out of her wheelchair on her own power.

At a church sweetheart banquet, Allison sang for the audience. He’s visited with, and sung for, hospice patients.

According to Allison’s son Jeff, others ask Leon to participate in events, simply based on his appearance.

“I’m not really trying to look the part,” Leon said. “It’s just the way I look. This is my normal, everyday appearance.”

He’s given long-stemmed roses to many residents of nursing homes, and to those at church functions.

This treatment, especially at nursing homes, “makes the residents feel special,” as so many of these individuals receive few, if any, visits from their own family members.

One recipient of Leon’s giving nature was his own girlfriend’s elderly mother. She instructed her daughter to bring back someone who looked like Elvis. Before that date, she had not met Leon.

“I walked in on her 97th birthday,” recalled Leon, “and her mouth dropped open.” Of course, he presented her with long-stemmed roses, and she loved the experience.

On one Valentine’s Day appearance at a facility, Leon handed out scarves that he made.

“It makes them feel good,” he explained about the recipients. “I treat them all the same. I don’t make exceptions.”

That 2008 experience at the Shriners’ Club in Chesnee was not Leon’s last. He still goes there, and enjoys the dancing. Don’t count on him dressing as Elvis all the time, either. At one Halloween costume contest at the Shriners’ Club, he won, wearing a scarecrow outfit.

What did Leon do with his prize money? Back it went, as has other prize money, to help Shriners’ Hospitals, and the children who benefit from them.

“I’m 67, and feel like 27,” he said.

“He’s a heck of a dancer,” Jeff Allison said of his dad.

At a 2013 Christmas meal at Cleveland Pines, a facility near Shelby, a woman got out of her wheelchair to dance with Leon.

“Before I arrived people were saying, ‘When’s Elvis coming?’ I gave them all scarves.”

“I’ve always had a tender spot in my heart for those in need, to make them feel special, and to have a good time. If I put a smile on someone’s face, and make one person feel better, I’ve done my job.”

He loves all his songs, Leon said, but his favorite Elvis songs to sing are ‘Love Me Tender,’ ‘Teddy Bear,’ ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ and ‘All Shook Up.’

At the Autumn Care Nursing and Rehab in Saluda, facility officials have constructed a tribute wall to Elvis, inspired by Leon’s visits.

His popularity is growing, along with the demand for his appearances.

“I get people all the time, asking me to do stuff, at least a dozen a year,” he says. Most of his appearances occur between Saluda and Shelby, though he hopes to entertain at a nursing home in Hendersonville.

“Wherever he goes, he’s always the life of the party,” Jeff said.

“I enjoy cutting up and making people laugh,” Leon asserted. “Any time I can take somebody’s bad day, and make it a good day.”

Of the real Elvis, “He’s more popular now than when he was living,” Leon Allison asserted. “He did a lot of good for people. In my opinion, he brought the rock and roll era in. He’s still the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.”