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September 30, 2003

Elvis impersonator Baker dies at 67

By Jerry Fink <jerry@lasvegassun.com>
LAS VEGAS SUN

"Golden" Joe Baker may have been the world's first professional Elvis Presley impersonator, developing a variation of a tribute act in the 1950s on the East Coast.

"He was doing Elvis when Elvis was doing Elvis," said David Notarangelo of Boston, a personal friend and manager of Baker for 30 years. "But he did it his own way. Joe was a funny, funny guy."

The 67-year-old Baker died Friday of a heart attack at the Our Lady of Fatima Hospital in North Providence, R.I. He had been in failing health for more than a year, suffering from diabetes and other complications.

Baker was best known locally for his role in the "Viva Las Vegas!" revue at Stratosphere. He joined the cast of the Dick Feeney production in 1991 when it was at the old Dunes and continued with it when the show moved to its present location in 1995.

"All of us at the Stratosphere are deeply saddened," Michael Gilmartin, public relations director for the casino, said. "Joe was a one of a kind individual, a one of a kind performer. Even offstage he made people laugh.

"There will never be another 'Golden' Joe Baker."

Notarangelo, speaking by phone from his Boston office, described Baker as a lookalike of the late comedian Lou Costello.

"It was as if you put an Elvis costume on Lou Costello," Notarangelo said. "But he had an unbelievable voice."

Baker began performing a variation of his Elvis act in and around Boston and Cape Cod, Mass., in 1956.

"He became known around here as King of the Cape," Notarangelo said.

Although he sometimes did impersonations of other performers, such as Mario Lanza, most of Baker's act was a comic Elvis routine.

"Joe was bald," Notarangelo said. "At the end of his act he would start to strip and his fat belly would come out and his wig would come off.

"It was hilarious. When you think of an Elvis impersonator, you think of someone like Elvis. But Joe didn't want to be like Elvis, he just wanted to make you laugh."

Despite performing as Elvis, Baker never appeared on a Las Vegas stage until 1991.

During a visit to Las Vegas, Baker was reintroduced to Feeney. They had first met years earlier when Feeney performed in a band at Cape Cod, Mass.

Feeney invited Baker to enter a karaoke contest at the Dunes, where "Viva Las Vegas!" was a hot production.

Baker won the contest and was invited to join the show. He performed in Las Vegas until he fell ill in October 2001.
 

 

 

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