Top Elvis Impersonator Killed..
Gunned Down in His Alabama Pawn Shop Dec. 12, 1998

By Todd Venezia

ORRVILLE, Ala. (APB) -- One of the world's most famous Elvis impersonators was killed when a robber with a sawed-off shotgun stormed into a pawn shop he owned and blasted him and his ex-wife at close range, authorities said.

Jimmy EllisJimmy Ellis, who for years used his remarkably Elvis-like voice in a masked stage persona he called Orion, was standing before the display counter in his Jimmy's Pawn and Package Store just after noon Saturday when the gunman burst in and, in seconds, turned the quiet shop into a slaughterhouse.

"Mr. Ellis never had time to do nothing or say nothing," Dallas County Sheriff Harris Huffman Jr. told APB News. "He just opened fire in seconds and hit Mr. Ellis in the side."

After the first blast, which left the 53-year-old Ellis mortally wounded and crawling for safety, the gunman turned his weapon on the singer's 44-year-old ex-wife, Elaine Thompson, who was on a stool behind the counter. He fired once into her face, killing her instantly and hitting another worker, Helen King, in the hand.

Wounded victim shot at again..

The gunman, who police believe is Plantersville resident Jeffery James Lee, then fired twice more in an attempt to blast Ellis a second time as he struggled to find a haven behind a computer desk, Huffman said.

The shot missed, and then Lee allegedly turned his attention to the cash register, which he knocked off the counter after he could not open it, Huffman said. He then dropped the gun, fled the store and drove off in a car with two accomplices, authorities said.

Huffman said King, who played dead, was treated and released from a hospital for her hand wound. Ellis died in his store about 10 minutes after the attack, Huffman said.

Later that day, sheriff's deputies caught up with the two alleged accomplices, Andre Darren Lee, 19, who is the alleged gunman's brother, and Jerry Dewayne Johnson, 17, who is his cousin. Police later found Lee holed up in a motel about 30 miles outside Atlanta. All three are being held without bail and are facing the possibility of the death penalty on two counts of capital murder, authorities said.

Fans mourn star's death..

Word quickly spread through this town about 20 minutes west of Selma that one of its most popular residents was killed. Soon, Ellis fans around the country were mourning.

"I was just devastated," said Kathy Hoffman, a Maryland woman who is the president of the Jimmy Ellis fan club. "It's just a very sad thing. He was just the sweetest guy."

Ellis' career took off after Elvis Presley's death in the late 1970s when producers at Presley's former record label, Sun Records, discovered that his voice sounded hauntingly like the King's.

They suggested that he don a mask and perform under the name "Orion," doing a mix of old Presley standard and his own work. He stood out among the many Elvis impersonators partly because of his voice and partly because he only performed as Orion, never claiming publicly to be copying Elvis.

Broke from Presley image..

He enjoyed several years of popularity and worked with many of the top performers in Nashville such as Jerry Lee Lewis and Loretta Lynn. According to Hoffman, his fan club once numbered in the thousands. However, in the mid-1980s, the novelty of his act wore off, and he removed his mask in an attempt to be taken more seriously.

It wasn't an easy move for the Orrville native. In a 1997 interview, he said that his attempt to be a star in his own right was stifled by his voice's natural likeness to Presley. "It's been both a blessing and a curse," he said. "The Nashville establishment won't accept anyone who sounds that close to Presley."

In the '90s he went back to his Orion persona and played the U.S. earlier this year. He also stayed closed to his core fans.

"He was a friend," Hoffman said. "He was a very easygoing person. His career was important to him, and he was sometimes discouraged because he had so many ups and downs."

Todd Venezia is an APB News staff writer - toddv@apbnews.com

More Jimmy Ellis at: http://www.orionjimmyellis.com



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