Kwok Lam-sang, who swivelled his hips for nearly three decades as Hong Kong’s own “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll”, died of kidney failure on December 29, the local branch of the International Elvis Presley Fan Club said on Tuesday.
The Elvis impersonator, better known as “Melvis” among Hongkongers, was 68.
“Melvis was an ardent Elvis fan, his contribution to the legacy of Elvis Presley will never be forgotten,” said Helen Ma, president of the International Elvis Presley Fan Club (HK).
A popular act with revellers in Lan Kwai Fong and other nightlife hotspots, Melvis would play for tips and belt out tunes by his hero.
“A legend in the streets of Lan Kwai Fong and SoHo, Melvis made his living by playing the King’s greatest hits to adoring night revellers who were always willing to part with some cash to be entertained by Hong Kong’s very own King,” a statement on Lan Kwai Fong Group’s Facebook page said.
“Thank you for all the memories Melvis and you will be missed dearly.”
Born in the Indonesian capital Jakarta, Kwok was 13 when he and his family migrated to Guiyang, a city in southwest China’s Guizhou province. He first came to Hong Kong in 1974 to look for work, finding a job at an electronics factory in the Kwun Tong industrial area.
But it was only after Elvis’ death in 1977 lit up Hong Kong with tributes to the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” that he first heard of the star. Kwok previously told the Post that Elvis’ “music was played everywhere” at the time.
Infatuated, Kwok came to devour as much about Elvis as he could get his hands on, learning lyrics from books and by listening to the songs. He soon had his first proper Elvis suit – a collection that would eventually grow to 30 – and used it to win his first local Elvis impersonator competition in Kowloon in 1981.
Kwok met limited success playing in Kowloon bars through the 1980s, and in February 1992 took his first step on Hong Kong Island, where he thought the tourists and expats parading around bars in Lan Kwai Fong might be a better audience.
He secured regular gigs at Hardy’s and Club 97 bars, and developed a circuit that he would frequent seven nights a week.
Kwok will be remembered particularly well for numbers including Blue Suede Shoes, Hound Dog and Jailhouse Rock. Melvis’ own favourite? It’s Now or Never .
“End of an era,” read one of the many tributes that spread like wildfire across Facebook shortly after news broke of Kwok’s death.
“Melvis was hugely popular especially amongst well-oiled expats happy to pay for his memorable one-man street cabaret,” the post said. “You may not have known it, but HK worshipped you.”
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.