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Elvis Explosion features friend of the King

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Being Elvis Presley’s close friend came with perks.

Joe Esposito befriended Elvis in the Army, and the decades that followed thrust Esposito into the world of entertainment. He worked as Elvis’ bodyguard and road manager. He worked on Hollywood movie sets. He was one of the few people in attendance during a quiet meeting between Elvis and the Beatles.

Esposito is scheduled to sign books at Elvis Explosion 2013, which kicks off Friday at the La Crosse Center.

“To the day Elvis died, they were just best friends,” said filmmaker Tom Jikomes, who is working on a documentary with Esposito. “He describes Elvis as the greatest entertainer that ever lived.”

The three-day event is expected to draw thousands of Elvis fans, interested in seeing what host Ronny Craig called one of the largest Elvis impersonator competitions in the country.

Contestants compete in three semifinal rounds on Friday and Saturday, and the field of 30 is whittled down to 10 finalists for the Sunday afternoon performance.

“Kind of like ‘American Idol,’” Craig said. “But it’s an ‘American Idol’ of Elvises.”

Fans get more than a competition. Other musicians will take the stage from time to time, and a silent auction will raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network, Craig said. A poster for this year’s event also advertises “Elvis Mississippi cruises.”

Craig, a former Elvis impersonator, started the contest as a karaoke show 16 years ago. Now, the event has reached such grandiose levels that competitors come with their own posse of fans.

No kitschy oddballs, the Explosion brings in “actors” who show a genuine interest in honoring the rock legend, Craig said.

“It’s a full show,” Craig said. “It’s balls to the walls Elvis.”

Esposito will sign copies of “Elvis: Intimate and Rare,” a personal collection of never-published stories and photos.

Esposito’s books offer an uncommon vantage point into the life of a superstar, Jikomes said.

The two met while serving in Germany, after a game of football, and immediately formed a close bond.

“Elvis walked up to Joe and introduced himself,” Jikomes said. “The minute they met, they were going to be friends.”

Esposito went to work for Elvis when they returned home. He was on every movie set during the 1960s, as Elvis cranked out more than 20 films, Jikomes said. When Elvis went back on tour, Esposito handled security, finances, hotels and transportation.

Esposito is considered Elvis royalty, Craig said.

“It kind of puts the stamp on the show,” Craig said. “They have a captive audience.”

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What: Elvis Explosion 2013, hosted by Ronny Craig

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