When Dixon McMakin got his first Elvis outfit, he had no idea where it would take him. He was 6 years old at the time.
Twenty-one years later, he now knows. It has made him a center of attention for all sorts of circumstances — from bullfights to birthday parties, a magnet for TV cameras and a guaranteed mirth-maker whenever he’s out in full regalia.
“You get people to smile and laugh in that,” he said.
And, if you pick your colors and opportunities right, you get a nickname — the LSU Elvis.
Fans of LSU sports — especially football — have seen McMakin in person or in televised crowd shots, and are likely to see him at Tiger Stadium this fall. He also shows up at social events or randomly appears in public decked out as the legendary entertainer. This weekend, the 37th anniversary of Presley’s death, there’s no telling where he and his outfit — complete with wig, sunglasses and jewelry — will turn up.
In 1993, the Baton Rouge youngster had become fascinated with Elvis, in large part because his maternal grandmother, Ruthie Balestrino, of Memphis, was one of Presley’s neighbors before he built the Graceland mansion. Dixon planned to dress as Elvis for Halloween that year, but there was a surprise in store.
His father, Wally McMakin, found a white suit and had it altered to look like something Elvis would wear. A babysitter, Keiley Williams (now Wells), glued sequins onto the suit, not being told its purpose. They would find out when it was time for trick-or-treating.
“I put on the costume and went around to the front door and knocked on the door as Elvis and surprised him,” Wally said. “That’s kind of how it all got cranked up back then.”
Having successfully surprised his son, Wally wore the suit around friends and at fundraisers, and it was a big hit. People asked him to appear as Elvis, or to borrow the outfit.
“The magic of the Elvis costume is unbelievable,” he said. “Once you put it on and see what magic happens around you, you say, ‘Wow, this is fun. I’ll do this.’”
One year, Wally attended the Kemper Open golf tournament and went as Elvis. People would grab him and lead him into restricted areas so he could surprise friends, and security personnel let him pass. While watching the golfers, he caught the attention of a caddy who knew his Elvis trivia.
“I was probably a little heavier back then,” Wally recalled. “The caddy walked by: ‘Looks like one too many fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches.’ It’s just been fun.”
Dixon took over the suit while a student at Catholic High School, and continued to wear it extensively while at LSU. Because so many Tiger football games are televised, he got national exposure when cameras turned toward the always colorful LSU student body.
Like his dad, Dixon discovered that the normal rules just don’t apply to Elvis. Wearing the outfit to surprise a friend he was picking up at the airport, police let him park in the pick-up lane, while others took photos of him. Wearing it to high school Senior Day activities, his teachers let him get away with calling them “baby” and “honey.”
“It’s like he said, there’s some magic when you’re in it,” Dixon said.
But the magic ran out in 2010 in Pamplona, Spain. Hoping to take part in the famous running of the bulls, Dixon was not allowed to participate in costume. So, he hoofed it to the bullfighting arena, where the day’s celebration ended. There, he discovered an unexpected tradition in the rowdier, sunny side of the stadium.
At various times, everyone nearby throws food and beverages at a fan they select. It’s hard to blend in as Elvis.
“My suit went in white and it came out red, just covered in sangria and popcorn and turkey sandwiches,” he said. “It was pretty gross. … Me and a buddy of mine, we said a blessing and retired the suit in Pamplona. I called Dad and he said, ‘It went out in style.’”
The end of the costume, however, didn’t mean the end of a local Elvis.
Dixon McMakin went all in. He wanted an Elvis suit made by Gene Doucette of B&K Enterprises, who designed and embroidered Presley’s performance wardrobe, and whose work is sought-after by Elvis tribute artists. He asked family members to give him cash instead of birthday and Christmas presents. He doesn’t say how much it cost, but a similar jumpsuit on the B&K website costs $3,700. McMakin got B&K to make his in LSU colors.
He got it in time to wear it to LSU’s BCS Championship game against Alabama on Jan. 9, 2012, in New Orleans.
“The team was staying at the Hilton. I walked from the Hilton to the Superdome,” he said. “It probably took me two hours from all the photos. People enjoy Elvis.”
And he continues to give them opportunities. He wore it to a pre-graduation event when he finished law school this year. He showed up at an Aug. 2 birthday party at Beausoliel restaurant.
“If you call me to come and I’m free, I’m going to show up, because I enjoy spreading the LSU Elvis vibe and making people happy. It’s just fun,” he said. “It’s rare to find somebody you can’t make smile when you’re dressed as Elvis.”