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Memphis Flyer Elvis is Alive

Bill Beeny keeps the spirit, if not the actual body, of the King intact at his Missouri museum.

By Chris Herrington

AUGUST 16, 1999:  "I felt about them like people look at me today: 'His elevator doesn't go to the top,'" Bill Beeny says, reading my mind.

The founder, owner, and "curator" of the Elvis is Alive Museum in Wright City, Missouri, Beeny has, in recent years, become one of the most prominent voices in the fringe "Elvis is Alive" movement, joining the likes of Gail Brewer-Giorgio, author of the conspiracy classic The Elvis Files, and Phil Aitcheson of the Presley Commission Liaison Office in West Virginia.

A St. Louis-area real estate developer, Beeny opened the Elvis is Alive Museum in 1991, a peak period of Elvis fever with the United States Postal Service's introduction of the Elvis stamp and a barrage of Elvis "sightings" around Kalamazoo, Michigan. Initially a skeptic of the "Elvis is Alive" movement, Beeny chose to investigate the matter and arrived at the startling conclusion that the King had indeed faked his death.

The museum itself, once housed in a building all its own and now an annex of Beeny's '50s Cafe, is kitsch heaven, an inspired piece of roadside America (it's located on the north service road directly off Interstate 70 in Wright City) that is intensely tacky and almost touchingly sincere. The lobby of the cafe is full of Elvis souvenirs and the walls covered with articles about Beeny. The museum in the back has been condensed from the multi-room Presley palace of years past to a large one-room area that houses a handful of "exhibits" on Elvis' alleged death. The centerpiece is the funeral area, a red carpet running alongside an open casket containing an Elvis stand-in -- a plain white mannequin with a piece of black shag carpet stapled to its head.

There's a full-size replica of the gravestone in Graceland's Meditation Garden, the "Elvis and Priscilla" Wedding Chapel, and, best of all, the "Tabloid table," a table covered with copies of papers such as The National Enquirer and The Globe that contain Elvis-related articles.

The Tabloid Table seems to contradict the seriousness of Beeny's endeavor, as he carefully explains, "We've tried to base our information on proven facts and scientific evidence rather than tabloid stuff." Indeed, Beeny's role in the "Elvis is Alive" movement finds its greatest expression not in the museum itself but in Beeny's literature ("I have written many books on the subject," he says), all of which is, of course, on sale in the cafe gift shop.

Beeny's books are really pamphlets, or "booklets," to be generous -- 30-page-long photocopied tracts that are badly (very badly) in need of a copy editor. Beeny the writer makes random and frequent use of exclamation marks and indulges in capitalization patterns straight from the 19th century. The first, and still classic, volume is "Final Proof: The King IS alive!" which presents 101 proven facts to show that the (once and future?) King faked his death. (Reason #22: "In Elvis' last concert, instead of his usual closing Elvis closed by saying "Adios" which, of course, means "I'll see you later." IS he doing just that today?")

Beeny's investigations, which have landed him on the pages of People magazine and on CNBC and the tabloid news program A Current Affair, have taken a strange turn in the last couple of years. Beeny's latest opus, "DNA Proves That Elvis is Alive!" asserts that he has obtained irrefutable DNA evidence (obtained from his "unnamed doctor friend in Memphis") that the body interred at Graceland is not really Elvis. As if that wasn't enough, Beeny contends that the real Lisa Marie Presley (Beeny is her press agent and his son is her lawyer) has been exiled in Europe since Elvis' "death" and now wishes to reclaim the throne. The woman that is recognized by the rest of the world as Lisa Marie Presley, whom Beeny will refer to only as "Michael Jackson's wife," is in fact an imposter, a mere Graceland figurehead.

When the museum first opened, Beeny claims, Graceland threatened to shut him down, but has since backed off.

"I think we're good for Graceland in that we're keeping the name alive," Beeny says. Beeny has visited Graceland many times but won't be found in Memphis this week. Not surprisingly, Elvis Week is his busiest time of year. Elvis would have been (is?) 64 years old this year. Beeny, a young-looking 73, with dyed-black hair, could be Elvis. Could it be that in faking his death, Elvis has remained hidden by becoming a fringe-dwelling huckster and investigator insisting that he's still alive? The mind boggles. Look for concrete evidence on this in the next Beeny publication.

For now, Beeny's DNA "proof" is the meal ticket, a discovery that so elates him that he even rewrote a gospel hymn, lovingly titled "Dead Tissue Cries From The Grave," in tribute to Elvis to end his latest report's final chapter:

He lives... he lives
Inspiration to impart
You ask me why I know he lives...
The D.N.A. has spoke to my heart!"

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