Mike Memphis’s Dirty Laundry
By Victor Mota
The Bronx Journal Staff Writer
Jimmy “Elvis” Bones didn’t see the end coming when Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero stopped in unexpectedly. A few whacks later, Bones was dead and Elvis impersonator Mike Memphis was ready to cast off his schtick mimicking the King of Rock & Roll.
Memphis, 48, better known as “Jimmy Bones” in the TV show “The Sopranos,” met and worked with legends in the entertainment and the wrestling business. In addition to his appearance on the television series, Memphis worked with Freddie Blassie, the Iron Sheik, the Haiti Kid and was best man at Ox Baker’s wedding.
But Mike gave it all up in exchange for anonymity. He settled in the Bronx, where he works odd jobs. Today he can be seen washing and folding clothes on the midnight shift in a 24-hour laundromat.
“I have no regrets, I take it as is,” says Mike. “I wanted to get rid of the Elvis thing. I shaved my head on Fox and Friends. The unfortunate part of it is that agents wouldn’t leave me alone, even though I told them, I shaved my head! They said ‘get a wig.’ I says, are you kidding me? After three years of this, I disconnected all my phones and I retired from everything. l’ve been hibernating like a bear.”
Mike’s impersonation of Elvis has appeared on television and in magazines. FHM magazine published a top 10 list of gruesome whacks on The Sopranos. Mike’s whack was ranked #10. “It was nice,” says Mike. “It was my little inclusion into American popular culture.”
Working with the Sopranos was a little chaotic, says Mike. “You had to do the scene over and over.” And, he says, being on television is no guarantee of financial security. “People think, cause you on the boob tube, you make money.” The big stars may be swimming in dough, but the little guys are “looking for work,” he explains.
Mike lived off the money he saved in show business, but when it ran out, he says, “I had to get a job. I drove taxicabs, I sold hot dogs and I was the ‘mop man’ in a porno video store. It was very, ahem, hard work. So I called my friend. I says, ‘You have a laundromat? Can I come and work over there?’ And he says ‘Sure, if you don’t mind cleaning clothes.’ So I says, Well, it’s a lot better than what I’m cleaning now.” He laughs.
Few people know Mike’s real name (Mike LePore). But everybody knows him as Mike Memphis, a name he coined years ago. In the time since, it has become a well-known brand, and now has many imitators.
“There seems to be a lot of Mike Memphis Elvis impersonators on the Internet,” says Mike. “A lot of people borrowed my name. The bottom line is that I own the ‘.com,’ mikememphis.com. There’s a guy in England who stole my name, and even worse his back-up singers are called the ‘Memphis Bells,’ which is my tattoo over my right arm. So a guy like that, he’s a retard. But one day, I am gonna contact him…and beat the crap out of him. First of all, you’re stealing Elvis’s act, now you’re stealing from another Elvis impersonator’s act?! Come on dude! Get original for Christ sakes! Will ya?”
It’s two o’clock on a November morning. The laundromat is empty. Mike is busy folding clothes and weighing his options for the future. “Do I like the anonymity and not having my chops busted everyday by people?” Or, he continues, is it worth putting up with the bull that comes with entertainment?
Mike hints that a metamorphosis is about to occur. “I need to make rock star bucks again,” he says. But, this time it will be different because he won’t be doing Elvis. “It took me eight years to develop a new act. But the act is not really an act, it’s just me. I realize that the gimmick is in my head, my voice, my opinions coupled with my experiences.”