Portland’s Iconic Elvis Impersonator Faces Eviction in June

The Rip City King has been evicted from his home of 22 years.

Portland's Elvis (cropped) Make it Elvis, but short (Michael Raines)

The King is not comfortable.

It’s 1 pm on a Tuesday at Dante’s and local legend John Schroder, Portland’s longtime Elvis impersonator, grimaces as he sits on the barstool. The bartender is already in the back grabbing him a CBD soda (Schroder doesn’t drink alcohol except for one Budweiser—”The King of Beers,” naturally—on his birthday) to help ease his back pain, but Schroder goes to find him with another request.

The four of us at the high-top table waiting for the interview look at each other confused until his friend Heather Williams figures it out.

“He wants to put velvet ropes up to keep the fans away,” Williams says. “Such a diva.”

This seems superfluous for a weekday afternoon—we are the only ones in the bar except a few people entranced by the video gambling machines—but midway through the interview, a fan does indeed try to bypass the black velvet rope. Schroder says hello then politely shoos him away.

Schroder, 61, has been performing as Elvis Presley for 40 years despite never particularly looking or sounding like him. For decades, he sang with a cardboard guitar (then an inflatable one) at Saturday Market, at the defunct 24-Hour Church of Elvis (multiple locations), and now at a standing Friday happy-hour gig at Dante’s, among other appearances at bars and birthday parties. When he’s performing, Schroder doesn’t stick to the King’s catalog. A recent set included a Johnny Cash standard, “A Whole New World” from Aladdin and “My Way” by Frank Sinatra. He wore a gold lamé jacket in lieu of the classic white Elvis jumpsuit, which he only dons on special occasions.

The crowd was sparse. Two tourists stayed for a drink, put cash in the “Tips for the King” box on the stage, and left. Otherwise, roadies in hoodies loaded gear in for that night’s Pike vs. the Automaton metal show.

The performer’s life has been hard on Schroder, especially in the past few months. He had cataract surgery to improve his vision, but seeing close up still gives him trouble, he says. He struggles with headaches and also back, knee and foot pain. But the biggie is that he learned last month he will be losing his room in the house on North Gantenbein Avenue where he has lived for 22 years. The eviction notice says he has to be out by June 8.

“He’s really connected in that neighborhood,” Williams says. “Everyone knows him.”

“Only some of them know me,” Schroder corrects. “It’s mostly along [North] Williams, actually, people know me.”

For most of the 22 years, Schroder’s living arrangement was a great fit for his needs. His landlord, Ruth Collier, did his laundry, washed his sheets and towels, and had a hot meal waiting for him in the evenings when Schroder returned home from gigs.

“She was like a surrogate grandmother,” Schroder says.

When she died in December 2021, Collier’s daughter Brenda Holcey took over as landlord at the house, where two other renters live with Schroder. Schroder pays $600 a month in rent. Holcey does not live there and does not provide meals. It is not a care facility or subsidized by the government—just a rental house, Holcey says.

“It’s a room. Johnny comes and goes,” she says.

Regardless of the change in landlord, the rental house has not been a good fit for Schroder for a while. He has to climb multiple flights of stairs to get to his bedroom, and there is no air conditioning. He has to share the one bathroom with all of his roommates, and he doesn’t have enough space in the communal refrigerator for his food. The worst is the bed.

“Let’s just say I’d rather be sleeping on a bunch of leaves outside. It would probably be more comfortable,” Schroder says.

When asked why she gave Schroder a notice of eviction March 10, Holcey responded: “It’s time for him to leave. It’s time for him to find his own place. His friends have been looking for a place for him anyway.”

Schroder’s friends are indeed looking out for him. Williams is one of the inner circle of Elvis fans who help Schroder navigate life and show business, along with his “unofficial official manager” Jedediah Aaker, who books Elvis’ gigs and makes sure he has a ride home. Aaker also keeps a stash of new sweatpants for the King’s off-days in the trunk of his Subaru and is in charge of hunting down size 14, slip-on shoes for Schroder, who stands at 6-foot-3.

The system isn’t perfect. Schroder’s Supplemental Security Income benefits were cut off from October through February due to some missed paperwork. With his monthly payments up and running again, Schroder’s friends are focused on his housing. They have reached out to nonprofit organizations, started a GoFundMe account, and followed up on word-of-mouth leads to find Schroder a new home. It doesn’t have to be Graceland, but Schroder does have one requirement: absolutely no ‘burbs.

“I’m OK as long as I don’t have to move 10 miles out of town,” he says. “I have to be near town and on a bus line.”

Despite the stress of his living situation, Schroder is thriving professionally and creatively: He is a movie star now. The film he wrote and stars in, Midnight Mayhem, is competing in the Indie Short Fest in Los Angeles in the category Best Film Noir Short. Schroder plays Detective Duncan, who is investigating the murder of a stripper at the Kit Kat Club. About 350 people attended the November premiere at the Star Theater.

Schroder is animated when discussing Midnight Mayhem, directed by Natasha Zedan, and the ideas he has for more films. He announces in his booming, deliberate voice that he is the new “King of Weird” for the nonprofit Weird Portland United. He wants to talk about how two flight attendants on his birthday trip to Las Vegas (of course) asked for his autograph and then announced his presence to the whole cabin. Or what about his Halloween show at the Fixin’ To in St. Johns that drew such a crowd that security had to hold people back from coming in?

Cataracts, back pain, eviction? Schroder doesn’t dwell on those topics. Stardom is what lights him up.

“I’m trying to take Tom Hanks and Cruise off the map,” he says.

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