What does a performer do when the celebrity he’s impersonating passes away? Top Strip impersonators share their stories about the day the music died.
By Kiko Miyasato
Musical impersonators slide into the skin of a star, mimicking the qualities that gave that celebrity his or her stature. And while the majority of Strip tribute artists impersonate stars who are still with us, there are some who impersonate stars who have passed away. Those performers carry on the golden moments when the stars glistened onstage. They carry on the legacy, and mourn, and somehow find the strength to keep the memories burning bright. But what happened on the day that original performer passed on?
On May 20, Bee Gees founding member Robin Gibb died after a battle with cancer. That day, David Scott, who impersonates Robin Gibb in The Australian Bee Gees Show: A Tribute to the Bee Gees at Excalibur, took the stage as usual. “We found no reason to go dark,” he explained. For the next two weeks, however, they spoke out of character during the show to mention Robin’s passing. “We could choose to mourn the situation, but we chose to celebrate him and his life … We kept the show going,” said Scott, who has impersonated Gibb for 16 years. Although it was no secret that the singer was ill, Scott took the news hard on the day of Gibb’s death. “When he did pass it was a real shock, still. You can’t really prepare yourself for something like that, even though you know it’s been coming and you’re holding your breath hoping it’s going to be all right,” he recalled. “I felt very strange actually for about four to five days. I think it’s probably because I took on so much of his persona and the acting role (of) being Robin Gibb as much as possible … yeah, it hit me pretty hard.” But, that night, at 7 p.m. as scheduled Scott chose to go on with the show, keeping the spirit and talent of Gibb alive.
Perhaps one of the greatest voices of all time was silenced on Feb. 11 with the untimely death of Whitney Houston. For Chris Woods, a Houston impersonator in Frank Marino’s Divas Las Vegas at Imperial Palace, that Saturday evening the thought of taking the stage was, at first, a little terrifying. But ever the consummate performer, Woods, who has impersonated Houston for more than 26 years, went on as scheduled. “Originally, they were going to take it out of the show. So that night Frank (Marino, host and star of Divas Las Vegas) went out and asked the audience ‘How (do you) feel about us paying a tribute to Whitney?’ The crowd went berserk; I got a standing ovation.” Despite some nerves and sadness, Woods brought Houston back to life. Carrying on the legend that is Houston continues to be an honor for Woods. “As a human being you never know the direction in life; you always have ups and downs—that’s evident. But I am so blessed that I get the chance to walk in these people’s footsteps and portray their lives as a performer, and the audience seems to love it. It’s just a blessing.”
On June 25, 2009, the world mourned the passing of another superstar, Michael Jackson. “Michael was one of those entertainers that only comes along once (in a lifetime),” said J. Lucas, who began impersonating Jackson right after his death and has been moonwalking ever since. “I was heartbroken when he died. I was really crushed. I felt like I lost a best friend. … I wanted to do something to keep his memory alive. I tried to do my best to bring Michael’s spirit alive.” Lucas currently impersonates Jackson in Legends in Concert at Harrah’s, and his tribute to Jackson is truly uncanny. But he points out that while his tribute is close to the real thing, actually becoming Jackson is unattainable. “You can only put your own persona or your own self into the overall character of who you’re portraying. Trying to perfect Michael Jackson is virtually impossible,” he explained.
And so it is—while the stars have passed, their legacies live on. And it lives on through those who have dedicated their lives to making sure the show, and the music, will go on.