Forty-three years after the passing of Elvis Presley, his memory lives on through Elvis tribute artist Russ Dunsky, who has been impersonating “the King of Rock and Roll” for nearly 50 years.
Dunsky, a native of Oklahoma who lives in Wyandotte, has performed as Elvis since he was a junior high school student in Garden City.
“I’ve liked his music ever since I was a kid,” Dunsky said. “When I was 13 years old, I sang ‘Love Me Tender’ to a girl. She and her stepdad said I sounded like Elvis. In two days, it got through the school that I sounded like Elvis and everybody asked me to sing songs for them. I started performing in the gym and it got bigger and bigger.”
In high school, Dunsky said, he combed his hair like Elvis and friends tagged him with the nickname “Elvis,” which has lasted a lifetime.
Dunsky loved the “heart and soul” Elvis put into his music, but said he was also attracted to how Presley treated others.
“I always liked his music and the way he carried himself – his charisma, how he treated people,” Dunsky said. “He would give cars, jewelry, you name it to strangers. There was even a gal in Detroit in 1976 who told him ‘I like your Cadillac.’ He asked if she wanted one. She told him she couldn’t afford one. Elvis said, ‘I’ll take care of it’ and he bought her a car. He was that type of person.”
When Dunsky served in the Army from 1977 to 1980, he performed in shows at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. When he was on duty, he refilled helicopters. When he was home on leave on Aug. 16, 1977, learned about his hero’s death.
“It was on a Tuesday afternoon,” he said. “I was in the living room of my mom’s house at the time. My mom was talking to a friend who told her to turn on the TV. I froze. I couldn’t move for five minutes. I was in shock.
Elvis’ popularity has never died and Dunsky has performed tribute shows ever since.
Dunsky describes his tribute as “early to mid-1970s Elvis.” His shows include many of the classics, such as “My Way,” “Suspicious Minds,” “You Gave Me a Mountain” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” He has performed all over Michigan in halls for charity events, birthday parties and weddings as well as classic car shows, among others.
After Elvis’ passing, Dunsky said he started putting even “more feeling” into the music he sang. He performed such moving and gospel songs such as “I Believe,” “How Great Thou Art,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “Impossible Dream.”
One thing that attracted Margaret, his wife of 25 years, to Dunsky was his ability to perform like Elvis. The first song he sang to her was the Johnny Rivers classic “Baby, I Need Your Loving” was the night they met at Barney’s Bar in Wyandotte.
A participant at the Michigan Elvisfest in Ypsilanti, Dunsky said he has twice visited Elvis’ famous home, Graceland, in Memphis, Tenn.
One highlight of his career was appearing in a special publication in 2003 commemorating the 10-year anniversary of the Woodward Dream Cruise. Alongside Dunsky in a photo was his then-6-year-old son James, who has been impersonating Elvis since he was 3.
The two were standing in front of Dunsky’s 1969 Lincoln Mark III, the vehicle Elvis drove in the 1970 movie “Elvis: That’s the Way It Is.”
At age 61, Dunsky is retired from Hertz at Detroit Metropolitan Airport.
“I managed to do more shows because I had more time on my hands,” he said.
Then the COVID-19 global pandemic hit, which “put the kibosh on everything.” His last show was at a birthday party in January at Cavill’s in Taylor. He’s using his time off to recuperate from an aching back.
The coronavirus has also caused the cancellation of a number of classic car shows and cruises, although Dunsky said he goes whenever possible, taking his 2006 Ford Mustang with the license plate “ELVIS D” and decked out with Elvis memorabilia.
He also owns a 1976 Ford Thunderbird. Elvis Presley owned one of those, too.