Often with charitable ties, cancer survivor performs in tribute to Elvis

MILLSBORO — The King of Rock and Roll is dead.

Pancreatic cancer survivor Bob Lougheed is grateful to be alive.

Elvis Presley’s spirit and entertainment persona is alive today, personified by Mr. Lougheed and thousands of other Elvis tribute artists.

16 Q A Bob Lougheed Exhibit A

Pancreatic cancer survivor Bob Lougheed of Millsboro is a popular Elvis Presley tribute artist.

In early January the 55-year-old Millsboro resident celebrated his sixth year as an Elvis tribute artist.

He performs solo and with his band, the Memphis Mafia. His tribute act has earned rave reviews and honors in the Elvis tribute artist world.

Staging venues range from nursing homes and American Legion posts to casinos and resorts.

A native of upstate Claymont, Mr. Lougheed has in his words “two great daughters.” Both are in the medical profession. One is a nurse at a children’s hospital in Philadelphia. The other is a dental hygienist who works with children with special needs.

Mr. Lougheed moved to Sussex County in late 2009. He was armed with a new lease on life, having beaten cancer.

Cancer connections continue in his support for Relay for Life, PanCAN (Pancreatic Cancer Action Network) and cancer survivors.

“We do a show for the Sussex County Cancer Survivors Fund,” said Mr. Lougheed. “It’s a great organization. They are local. And 100 hundred percent of the money goes direct to patients.”

Several shows annually at American Legion Post 28 in Millsboro support the post’s programs for veterans.

Without further ado here is Bob Lougheed.

Your big “Elvis” break at a local restaurant?

“A lady heard me singing at JD Shucker’s restaurant one night on Rt. 24. It was at the end of 2009. She asked me if I would come over on Jan. 8, 2010 and do a show for her group at the Renaissance Assisted Living in Millsboro. She had a lady, under hospice care there. This lady was a big Elvis fan and had the same birthday (Jan. 8) as Elvis.”

“They had another Elvis that used to come in but he had passed away. I said, ‘OK. I’d be glad to go over and sing some songs.’ I’ve always been an Elvis nut. I probably know all of his songs. But I didn’t go out and do much karaoke or anything like that. It would just be at weddings; I’d get up and sing a song.”

“The funny thing is, she asked how I charge? I said, ‘Well I don’t know what to charge you because I don’t do this.’ I couldn’t charge anything. My mom is in heaven; she would smack me if I charged something. Then she said, ‘What suit are you going to wear? ‘Like a deer in the headlights, she looked at me and says, ‘You don’t have an Elvis suit?” I said, ‘I don’t do this. I’m just a guy at a bar.’ That is really where it started.”

So how did your first gig go?

“We did the show. There were like maybe 20 residents. And I don’t know who cried more; them, me, my girlfriend or my brother. It was just incredible; the feeling and the excitement that they got out of Elvis, and the fact I could entertain them and put a smile on their faces. This lady danced in her wheelchair the whole show.”

“My brother Earl looked at me and said, ‘Did you see that lady?’ He said,’ You should do this fulltime.’”

Then what happened?

“My brother took me out the next day and bought me all of the equipment that I needed. He was the one that pushed me.”

Talk about beating one of the deadliest forms of cancer.

“Four to 6 percent depending on who you listen to survive this. When I was a diagnosed in 2007 there was that moment where I was like, ‘Wow.’ I think I was 47 at the time. I remember thinking that my daughters were in their last year of college. I remember thinking ‘Wow, this is tough. I don’t know that I am going to beat this.’ But I had an operation – the Whipple procedure – at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. And I got lucky because they found it early. Even though the percentages are low, I beat it. I beat it purely by luck. They found mine by luck.”

How has that affected you?

“It had a big effect on my outlook. I’ve always been happy go lucky. Not that I don’t get stressed like everybody does, but I have always had a very optimistic outlook. Even more so once I got better. Now, there were a couple months in there and it gets you. But I had a lot of friends and family and loved ones that helped me. That’s what you need. You need somebody to push you and somebody to help you.”

Charity is a huge component in your show?

“Probably 65 to maybe 70 percent of the shows are tied into an organization that is charitable. The first thing I ask when somebody calls and wants to book us, other than if it’s a casino or a resort which we do a lot of, is: ‘Are you tied in with any charitable organization?’”

“Let’s make this a win-win for everybody. That way we’re helping somebody with everything that we do. We’ve done some totally free shows. We’ve done shows for charitable causes where they pay us a fee and use us as a draw, and they’ve made $15,000 or $20,000. So it’s a win-win. It keeps my band working.”

What’s your Elvis tribute schedule like?

“I think I have done over 1,000 shows. Now I have full band, the Memphis Mafia. It is what Elvis’ guys were called in Memphis, but it wasn’t his band’s name. Last year we had 20-some shows. This year we’re on pace for 39 full band shows.

“I have actually cut back on some of my solo shows. I’ll probably have about 170 for the year. One year I did 319 shows. I’d take a day off, and two shows the next day.”

Before Elvis, what did Bob Lougheed do to pay the bills?

“This is literally my fifth career. When I got out of college I was in the mattress business; I worked for Sealy Mattress. From there I went to DuPont for 12 years. Then I went to outside sales with two companies and then I dabbled some in insurance. That’s when I got sick.”

You moved downstate for a fresh start?

“I got sick in 2007 with my pancreatic cancer. Of course that is when the economy crashed. Once I got better I moved to the beach just to kind of start over. I had just gotten divorced. My children had just graduated college and so I moved to the beach.”

While you’ve got the Elvis looks, voice and wardrobe, but your mission is to not be the King?

“I didn’t want to be that quintessential Elvis where you strike every pose, and every gesture and everything. I don’t want to be that guy. I want it to come from the rhythm that is in me, and the emotion. I don’t go back to tweak and try to get every move. I just want it to be me doing my Elvis show. There is only one Elvis. And I am not him. And the other 10,000 of us guys are not Elvis. We never will be.”

“So all we can hope to be is a nice tribute show that does not disrespect his music but also it doesn’t offend an audience. I’ve always tried to picture: if my mom was in the audience would she be OK with my show? Was I entertaining and was I respectful enough that she would be proud?”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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