LAS VEGAS – Las Vegas chapels of love that use Elvis Presley's likeness could find themselves becoming Heartbreak Hotels.
The licensing company that controls the name and image of “The King” is ordering Sin City chapel operators to stop using Elvis in themed ceremonies, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported on Monday. Authentic Brands Group sent cease-and-desist letters in early May to multiple chapels, which are expected to be compliant by now.
With Elvis so closely tied to Vegas' wedding industry, some say the move could decimate their businesses.
“We are a family-run business, and now we’re hanging with the big dogs," said Kayla Collins, who operates LasVegasElvisWeddingChapel.com and the Little Chapel of Hearts with her husband. “That’s our bread and butter. I don’t get it. We were just hitting our stride again through COVID, then this happens."
Clark County Clerk Lynn Goya, who led a marketing campaign promoting Las Vegas as a wedding destination, said the order for chapels to stop using Elvis couldn't have come at a worse time for the sector.
The city's wedding industry generates $2 billion a year, and officials say Elvis-themed weddings represent a significant number of the ceremonies performed.
“It might destroy a portion of our wedding industry. A number of people might lose their livelihood," Goya said.
One chapel last weekend had its Elvis impersonator change instead into a leather jacket, jeans and a fedora for a “rock ‘n’ roll” themed ceremony, the Review-Journal reported.
Graceland Wedding Chapel, which performs 6,400 Elvis-themed weddings per year, has not been served a warning yet, according to manager Rod Musum.
In the cease-and-desist letter, the company said it will halt unauthorized use of “Presley’s name, likeness, voice image, and other elements of Elvis Presley’s persona in advertisements, merchandise and otherwise.” The letter also said “Elvis,” “Elvis Presley,” “and “The King of Rock and Roll” are protected trademarks.
In a statement Wednesday, Authentic Brands Group said it has strong relationships with Elvis tribute artists and fan festivals. There is “no intention to shut down chapels that offer Elvis packages in Las Vegas.”
“We are seeking to partner with each of these small businesses to ensure that their use of Elvis’ name, image and likeness are officially licensed and authorized by the estate, so they can continue their operations,” Authentic Brands Group said. “Elvis is embedded into the fabric of Las Vegas history.”
The licensing company oversees the estates of big names like movie star Marilyn Monroe and boxer Muhammad Ali and 50 consumer brands.
The order should not translate into legal action against Elvis-themed stage shows in Las Vegas such as “All Shook Up" because impersonating someone for live performances such as shows is considered an exception under Nevada's right of publicity law, according to Mark Tratos, a local attorney who helped write the statute.
“An Elvis show is a performer essentially entertaining others by re-creating that person onstage,” Tratos said.
Presley became indelibly linked to Sin City in the ’60s and ’70s. His 1964 movie, “Viva Las Vegas,” yielded a title track that became the city’s unofficial theme. In July 1969, Presley famously redefined the Vegas residency with his live stage comeback at the Las Vegas International Hotel. What started as a four-week gig turned into more than 600 shows and lasted until December 1976.
Presley himself got married in Las Vegas in 1967 to wife Priscilla, cementing his association with Vegas weddings.
Kent Ripley, whose business is called Elvis Weddings, said he has never run into this issue in 25 years of performing as Elvis.
“They want to protect the Elvis brand. But what are they protecting by taking Elvis away from the public?” Ripley asked.