THE KING MAY BE DEAD, BUT THE LAWSUITS LIVE ON
This is Elvis Week in my hometown. Some of my fellow Memphians call it “Dead Elvis Week.” While it does commemorate the anniversary of Elvis’ death some 39 years ago, I absolutely refuse to even say the words “Dead Elvis.”
I refuse to believe the King is dead.
Please don’t misunderstand. It’s not that I’ve seen the ghost of Elvis on Union Avenue while walking in Memphis. Nor do I believe the published reports from highly-respectable magazines such as the National Inquirer that Elvis was recently spotted with Jimmy Hoffa in a donut shop in Kalamazoo.
No, I believe Elvis in fact died on August 16, 1977 and is buried at Graceland alongside his mama Gladys, his father Vernon, and his twin brother, Jesse Garon.
But while I truly believe in the words of the Righteous Brothers, that Elvis is now in rock ‘n roll Heaven where you know they have a helluva band, I believe Elvis is still with us, not only in spirit, but also in courtrooms.
The King may be dead, but the lawsuits live on.
Over the past forty years, Elvis, his name, and his likeness have been the subject of numerous courtroom battles.
The history of Elvis litigation is summarized in The Little Book of Elvis Law, a neat little treatise authored by Cecil C. Kuhne, a self-described “litigator” in the Dallas office of Fulbright & Jaworski (Note to Counsellor Kuhne: You really ought to call yourself a trial lawyer. There is nothing cool about “litigators.” Had Elvis been a lawyer, he would have been a trial lawyer, not a litigator.)
I’ve been studying Cecil Kuhne’s The Little Book of Elvis Law because next year I’m moderating an Elvis law seminar for a CLE program in Memphis.
I intend to appear at the CLE wearing a white jump suit, a giant American Eagle belt, and aviator glasses.
But while I intend to dress like the King, I have no intention of passing myself off at the CLE as an Elvis impersonator. I agree with the late, great Johnny Carson who once said, “If life were fair, Elvis would be alive and all the impersonators would be dead.”
Moreover, as I’ve learned from reading The Little Book of Elvis Law, the Estate of Elvis Presley has not been hesitant to file lawsuits against unlicensed Elvis impersonators who infringe on the King’s right of publicity that Elvis gave and bequeathed to his estate. Moreover, the Estate of Elvis has been successful in obtaining rulings from courts throughout America enjoining unlicensed Elvis wannabees. While the King may be dead, his publicity rights live on, and so I better be careful when I don a white jumpsuit and croon “That’s Alright Mama” at the CLE program.
One of my heroes (in addition to Elvis) was the late, great Lewis Grizzard, who at this very moment is probably enjoying a jelly donut and some fried chicken with Elvis in Heaven. Several years ago Lewis wrote a book with the wonderful title Elvis is Dead, and I’m Not Feeling So Good Myself.
When I’m doing my Elvis CLE program in a few months, I’ll remind myself that while Elvis may be dead, his lawyers are still alive, and I don’t want to be sued myself.
Elvis may have left the building, but he hasn’t left the courthouse.