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The Hair Apparent

On the afternoon before a typical gig, she would now begin to apply sideburns, one hair at a time, sticking them to her face with spirit gum--the most time-consuming part of the Shelvis transformation process. Today, though, she's in more of a hurry and has only me to impress, so the sideburns fall by the wayside.

"So, okay, you take this Queen Helene stuff, which I buy by the gallon," she says, scrutinizing herself in the mirror, "and I wet all the hair in the back with lots of water and lots of gel. Then I throw on some ultra-stiff stuff."

With her longer hair pushed to the back, it's now clear that an area around her ears of perhaps a one-inch radius has been clipped very short. "Cheating," she admits, "but you can't push long hair back in that particular place. It's gotta be short or it will screw you up."

She now slicks her hair back, without a part, gathering it into a long ponytail. "Which looks like a DA, once I turn my collar up," she explains. "Now I blow it dry, high and stiff, I make my pomp. Get the height with the blow dryer on high heat but medium force. It's, what, about five inches long. You get a flip going. A lotta guys don't. As soon as it's right, you let it sit there to dry, and you smooth your sides and nail them with gel. But never gel the front--it looks ridiculous. So do wigs."

Finally, she resprays the front of the pompadour, separates a few hairs so it presents less of an impenetrable wall of hair, and sprays it again. "Make it look wet, but make it move," she suggests. "His hair moved, you know?"

Unbeknownst to Muha, there was, in fact, a brief window of time during which Elvis's hair was less than perfect. "His girlfriend Linda Thompson had been cutting it for him," recalls career barber Danny Rupoli. "It was pretty badly chopped up."

Rupoli did not notice this while watching Elvis on TV or taking careful note of publicity photos. No, he noticed it because one day in 1976, he was summoned from his family's north Denver barber shop to cut the King's hair. Elvis was in town on a notorious trip during which he was made an honorary police officer--and was so fulfilled by the experience that he bought new Cadillacs for many of the principals. But Rupoli knew nothing of that. His connection with fate was Denver police captain Jerry Kennedy, who'd been getting his hair cut at the family salon--named Fiore's, after Danny's father--for years.

"Captain Kennedy called me up and said he had something pretty big going on down at the Regency Hotel, and could I bring over my tools at six o'clock that night," Rupoli remembers. "I was driving this old Chevy Nova down 38th Avenue. I had given myself about five minutes to get downtown, so I was pushing it a little, and all of a sudden, police lights came on behind me, and it was, oh no, what do I do now?"

At Rupoli's suggestion, the patrolman in the cruiser radioed Captain Kennedy. When he heard what Rupoli's mission was to be--something Rupoli himself hadn't even guessed at yet--he provided an escort, lights flashing.

"I got to the hotel and just sat down. I watched all these people milling around in tuxedos," Rupoli recalls. "Then Kennedy and three other policemen came and got me. The captain says, 'I hope you're on tonight, Danny,' and then he opens the door, and there's Elvis standing there. It hits me, I'm going to cut his hair. I couldn't even swallow."

To steady his nerves, Rupoli focused on his three-generation heritage of hair-cutting, inherited from Italian immigrants on both his mother's and his father's side. He opened his case and looked at his tools--none of which seemed the slightest bit familiar. He noted with some alarm that his hands were shaking. Elvis suggested he calm down. "Yeah, treat him like just an ordinary guy!" Rupoli relates. Some ordinary guy! Only his bodyguards were allowed to shampoo the man, as Rupoli remembers it, for security reasons.

With Elvis shampooed, Rupoli began to cut the King's chopped-up mane of hair, while the woman responsible, girlfriend Linda, "wearing some kind of terrycloth shorty pajama thing, knelt between his legs, put her arms up on his legs, and they carried on a conversation," Rupoli says. "It made me very nervous."

But not too nervous to take note of certain salient features of Elvis's hair. "It was dyed jet-black, with that dye I like to call shoe polish," Rupoli remembers. "I combed it straight back with a pomp, which you just blow and spray till it's built up. Sides went straight back. I used a lotta spray. His hair was very fine and very straight--no wave at all."

Elvis, pleased with the haircut, handed Rupoli a wad of cash that later turned out to add up to $110 and asked if Rupoli would be available for spur-of-the-moment haircuts anywhere in the world. He'd send his private Lear jet, Elvis added. Sure, Rupoli stammered. And that was the end of that haircut.

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