The muttonchop sideburns, slicked-back black hair and jumpsuit were enough to make anyone do a double-take.
But that never fazed Artie Mentz, who dedicated his life to immortalizing the legacy of Elvis Presley — on stage and off.
“He always looked like him, no matter where he was,” said Dick McGrane, a Super Hits 106 DJ and friend of Mentz’s for six decades. “He would walk around his hometown, and people would want a picture with him or would stop to ask him for his autograph. He lived a lot like Elvis, too. He slept most of the day and was up most of the night, always doing just what he wanted to do for a living. That’s a life well-lived.”
Dubuque’s resident Elvis tribute artist died from an apparent heart attack Saturday, according to a family member. He was 77. Arrangements are pending.
Within hours of his passing, farewell tributes from fellow music makers flooded onto Facebook, acknowledging his contribution to the tri-state live entertainment scene.
“All my children grew up knowing who Elvis and Artie were,” wrote longtime local country musician Rick Tittle. “He is a legend in every way. The people of Dubuque will speak his name for years to come. His passing was a great loss to Dubuque's music and musicians who appeared with him."
Elvis tribute artists from across the country also expressed condolences.
“Artie was a great man and a friend,” wrote Garry Wesley, of Wisconsin Dells. “He was a legend tribute artist. I will personally miss our conversations when we would meet up. He will be missed but never forgotten.”
Mentz’s fascination with the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll started at an early age.
Born in 1943, Mentz was 12 when he began combing his hair like Elvis, and he adopted the same style of silky shirts with wide collars. Although his appearance might have caught a few sneers at school, it didn’t dissuade Mentz from honoring his idol.
“Elvis is one of the greatest entertainers we’ve ever seen that we have never really seen since then,” Mentz said in a 2007 interview with the Telegraph Herald. “Nobody can really explain it. There is something mystic about him. At the time of his popularity, the youth were looking for something they could identify with it, and for many, he was it.”
Soon after adopting Elvis’ look, Mentz moved on to his music, taking the stage at a Cascade, Iowa, talent show to perform one of Elvis’ early hits.
After Elvis died in 1977, Mentz began performing his catalog exclusively, performing at private parties locally before developing a popular nightclub show that was seen across the country.
Eventually, Mentz built a following that extended far and wide, performing Elvis’ music longer than Elvis himself did.
Many of his admirers included other Elvis tribute artists.
“I’ll never forget witnessing these Elvis impersonators down at the Diamond Jo Casino coming up and paying homage to Artie,” said Ralph Kluseman, a Dubuque musician and president of the board of directors of the Iowa Rock ‘n’ Roll Music Association. “To see people inspired by this man who was inspired by the person he was immortalizing, it was wondrous.”
Mentz was a 2003 inductee into the music association’s Hall of Fame as part of the band The Shades. He was regarded as one of the Top 10 Elvis impersonators by Rolling Stone magazine in 1988. The prior year, his tribute to the King landed him on the cover of USA Magazine. He also was twice invited to appear on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”
Mentz was a part of three documentaries created about Elvis, and through his travels and performances outside of the area became known by Elvis fans, family members and close associates.
Aside from an obvious likeness to Elvis, many also regarded Mentz as a skilled musician in his own right, playing bass and embodying the voice of Elvis in such bands as Wildwood and the Pink Cadillacs.
“I’ve seen and judged a number of Elvis tribute artist contests, and Artie was just as good as anyone else out there,” McGrane said. “He was offered a lot of bigger opportunities, but he turned a lot of them down. He liked Dubuque, and he wanted to stay in his hometown. I think people saw that and respected that about him.”
Generosity was a quality closely associated with Mentz, who along with his wife, Elly, took great pride in their children. Elly also served as the creator behind his elaborate Elvis attire. He mooned over his grandchildren, friends and musical associates shared.
Additionally, Mentz gave back to community organizations such as Camp Albrecht Acres through performing at the annual Rock & Roll Rewind, as well as area residential care facilities.
“You could tell he was so passionate about what music meant to him and what he knew it could do for others,” Kluseman said. “He had a gift, and I couldn’t help but respect that. He really wanted to see kids follow their passion and take up music because he knew that it would give them some fundamentals and also get them through tough times. He was as close to a rock legend as you could get in this hometown.”