In 1993, Quentin Tarantino penned the masterpiece True Romance. Clarence Worley, a lonely pop culture geek, is led into daring territory under the spiritual guidance of his hero: Elvis Presley. The King appears as an extension of his fevered mind and advises: “Well, can you live with it? That son of a bitch walking around breathing the same air as you. Getting away with it every day… Well, I’d kill him. Shoot him in the face. Put him down like a dog.” And thereafter a chaotic exploration of vengeance and love unfurls.
Although it was actually directed by Ridley Scott and Tarantino was assisted on script duties by Roger Avary, the film offers up perhaps the most defining paradigm of the Pulp Fiction auteur. The thrill-ride unspools like Tarantino’s very own fantasy with Christian Slater’s Clarence Worley sharing many of the same passions as the man himself, most notably an obsession with ‘The King of Rock and Roll’.
In fact, his love of Elvis Presley was so profound that he once even appeared as an impersonator in a stupefyingly baffling end to a Golden Girls episode. As it happens, this appearance even helped him to get his career off the ground. “Before I did Reservoir Dogs, I had a very unsuccessful acting career,” Tarantino once said. “One of the jobs I did get — and not because I did a wonderful audition but simply because they sent my picture in and they said, ‘He’s got it’ — was for an Elvis impersonator on The Golden Girls.”
In short, it is clear that his love for ‘The King’ is very real, but, as ever with Tarantino, it isn’t quite a straightforward devotion. As he said when championing Elvis’ 1976 compilation record The Sun Session featuring the pioneer’s performances at Sun Studios between 1954 and 1955: “This has been a hugely important album to me. I was always a big rockabilly fan and a big Elvis fan, and to me, this album is the purest expression of Elvis there was. Sure, there are better individual songs—but no one collection ever touched the [Sun Sessions] album.”
During this prime period, Elvis became the progenitor of rock ‘n’ roll and pop culture as we now know it. He shared a kinship with Tarantino’s daring attitude and thrust liberation into the mainstream to such a literal degree that after his appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, a command was passed down by CBS executives that from hereon the snake-hips song man was only to be filmed from the waist up.
However, thereafter Tarantino felt that the star became increasingly kitsch and commercial. He added: “When I was young, I used to think Elvis was the voice of truth. I don’t know what that means, but his voice…shit man, it sounded so fucking pure.
“If you grew up loving Elvis, this is it. Forget the Vegas period: if you really love Elvis, you’re ashamed of that man in Vegas. You feel like he let you down. The hillbilly cat never let you down,” Tarantino concluded.
You can check out the compilation album chartering the songs that changed the world and the weirdly culture-defining moment that Tarantino appeared as an Elvis impersonator below.