(Printed in OC WEEKLY, September 25, 2003)
For far too long, those lucky hound dogs in LA have had Kavee Thongprecha, the Thai Elvis impersonator, all to themselves. Well into his 60s, Thongprecha still performs nightly at Hollywood’s Palms Thai Restaurant, and he is sometimes glimpsed cruising the streets in a spectacular automobile adorned with Elvis gewgaws and a license plate reading, T ELVIS. But next Thursday, the humble people of Orange County will at last be graced with the presence of this singular entertainer, as he performs at the UC Irvine screening of the Elvis Presley film Flaming Star. Our conversation was complicated by Thongprecha’s somewhat uncertain English and a phone line that sounded more like he was calling from Thailand than LA, but I’ll always treasure our brief encounter for the sheer, wonderful strangeness of it all.
OC Weekly: Have you seen Flaming Star, the film that’s going to be screening at UC Irvine the night you perform?
Kavee Thongprecha: It’s . . . I’m sorry, there is a film?
Yes. Flaming Star.
I . . . no. I don’t know this.
Oh. Well, do you remember when you first discovered Elvis?
Nineteen fifty-seven, I think. Yes.
This was back in Thailand? How is Elvis regarded over there?
Oh, people love him, I think. He is very popular, of course.
When did you come to America, and when did you start performing as Elvis?
In 1957. I came to America in 1972. My mother was living here. I started performing then.
Wait . . . you started performing in 1957? Or in 1972?
[Very long pause indeed.]
Hello? Mr. Thongprecha?
[Otherworldly, echoing sounds on phone line, until the voice of Thongprecha returns, forlorn and far away.] Yes? . . . Hello?
Uh, okay, let’s move on. How often do you perform, and how would you describe a typical performance for those who’ve never seen one?
Five nights a week. From 7 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Wow! That’s a long performance!
Oh, I don’t perform the whole time, no. They have other things there, too.
Still, five nights a week is impressive. How long do you see yourself doing this?
[Very long pause.]
How long do you think you’ll keep performing . . . ?
[Another long pause.]
. . . Before you retire?
Oh. Well, it depends on my health. I am getting older, and I have some health problems now, you know. But I say, as long as I can still do, I will do.