The coronation of Michael Hollis as King Argus is in many ways about time, and timing.
Hollis, the son of the late state Sen. Ken Hollis, assumes the throne for the 44th year of the popular Metairie-based Krewe of Argus parade exactly 25 years after his father reigned in 1991.
Nursing a sprained foot in the living room of his Lakeview home last week, Hollis didn’t have to look very far to find memories of that day a quarter-century ago, when he brought about 20 friends down from Louisiana Tech, many of them to experience their first Mardi Gras.
“There were people sleeping underneath that dining room table right there,” he said with a laugh. “They didn’t know what they were getting into.”
Hollis, 44, is Jefferson Parish’s first openly gay Mardi Gras king, though he seems leery of the idea that the distinction could take on an outsized emphasis within a role, and a day, that is bigger than just one person.
“That’s not something I run from; I’m proud of that,” he said, noting that he introduced his fiancé, Marty Brantley, to his court at the Argus ball last month, presenting him with flowers.
“I grew up with Mardi Gras, and it’s all about family and friends and life. … I’m proud of Jefferson and our organization for selecting me to represent them on Mardi Gras day.”
Hollis’ reign as king also serendipitously aligns with the 2016 parade’s theme of “#ArgusLuvsMillennials.” The parade will include references to social media, texting and other facets of modern life associated with the up-and-coming generation, though millennials’ contribution to the rising level of public acceptance of gays and lesbians isn’t lost on Hollis, either.
Although Hollis lives in New Orleans, his company, the employee benefits firm Hollis Companies, is based in Metairie. He graduated from Grace King High School, and his early Mardi Gras memories are filled with days and nights of Argus and a slew of other Jefferson Parish parades that rolled just a couple of decades ago but have since disappeared.
Hollis said he used to catch parades on Clearview Parkway with his best friend, Rhonda Phukof Guttuso, then have her mother drive them into the city to watch an Uptown parade, only to dart back to Metairie to finish with a parade on Bonnabel Boulevard.
“Every night we’d go and do that, and that’s where I got my love for Mardi Gras,” he said. “There were parades (in Jefferson) every night.”
Hollis, who was crowned at the Argus Galaxy Ball on Jan. 15 along with this year’s queen, Brooke Ann Kelly, said the Phukof family was his introduction to the Krewe of Argus.
At the ball, Hollis made it a point to honor his friend Rhonda, with whom he rode in Argus for the first time when he was 13 years old, “for finding my heart at Mardi Gras.”
His recollection of the ball, which included a tribute by the Grace King High School Marching Band, is almost a haze because of the excitement of presiding in front of more than 1,000 people.
“I’ll never forget that walk,” he said. “Just opening the curtain and seeing all the people and all the confetti and looking on my left side and seeing 250 of my closest friends and family from all over the world. And seeing the queen had a couple of hundred of her own, (along with) the rest of the organization — it was just a thrill of a lifetime.”
Hollis said he shadowed 2015’s king, Johnny Matesich, to prepare himself for the role, learning a crucial lesson.
“It’s not just the king’s day,” he said. “Share this day for everybody. Share it with your family, your friends. He showed me how to maintain a certain amount of dignity, but remember it’s your day and to have fun with it.”
Hollis said the design of his crown and scepter contains elements meant to honor his late mother and father. The center of the emblem at the end of the scepter is the same one his father held 25 years ago, while green emeralds — his mother Judith’s favorite — adorn the grip.
“This is Dad’s scepter embedded in mine,” he said, adding that the doubloons and other throws are green for his mother.
Recalling the day he first heard he would reign over Argus, Hollis said his first thought was that he was still too young, though he soon realized he is only a handful of years younger than his father was when he was king.
Hollis’ reign will culminate with the Argus parade Tuesday, and he has prepared himself for the thrill of his float turning onto Veterans Memorial Boulevard.
He’s ready to give a toast that would undoubtedly make his father proud.
“Mardi Gras to me is about friends and family and living and loving life,” he said. “And my toast is not going to be so much to the dignitaries in the booth, but to everybody on the parade route.”
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.