Marathon is a hunk of burnin' love for Elvis

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In a summer of absurdity - a California recall election, bone-chilling Atlantic beaches and the big blackout - it's reassuring to know that elsewhere in the world people are enjoying some sense of normal life.

Like in Norway, where yesterday, Kjell Henning Bjornestad, alias Kjell Elvis, that country's leading Elvis impersonator, set out to break the Guinness World Record for marathon singing of Elvis songs. He's aiming to sing for 30 continuous hours, beating the old record by almost five hours.

"I think that's just because 30 hours is a round number," said Bjornestad's manager, Robert Thuv. "And he wants to keep [the record] as long as possible."

Bjornestad is challenging the record that was set last year by Gary Jay at Planet Hollywood in London: 25 hours 33 minutes and 30 seconds.

Bjornestad, 35, chose to attempt to break the record in a small restaurant, La Mer, in Vanse, his hometown in southern Norway, where he began performing Elvis songs more than a decade ago.

"It's [been] 15 years since I started singing in this place," Bjornestad said breathlessly on the phone during his first break.

According to the world record rules, Bjornestad may take a 30-second breather between each song and a 15-minute break every four hours.

During the break, he changes into different Elvis costume to keep the audience's attention.

"He changed clothes from his golden suit to the leather suit in the first break," Thuv said. "And he's sweating a lot, so I believe he will change clothes in every break."

Bjornestad has prepared a 100-song set of Elvis songs he repeats every four hours, starting with "Treat Me Nice" and ending with "If I Can Dream," with songs like "Suspicious Minds" and "Mama Liked the Roses" somewhere in the middle. But Bjornestad is not only singing the King's songs, he's shaking and moving around like Elvis for a small audience of friends, family and Norwegian press and a Web cam set up by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corp.

"He hasn't done it before, but I will think after a few more hours he will take it a bit slower - when the night is coming and he is getting tired," Thuv said. "As time goes by, it will be more difficult to dance while he sings."

With dark Elvis sideburns and hair and a face similar to that of a slimmer, younger Elvis, Bjornestad has been the subject of a one-hour Norwegian documentary and won a Scandinavian Elvis impersonation competition two years ago in Stockholm, Sweden.

The event - which fell close to the 26th anniversary of "The King's" death on Aug. 16- was perfect timing for Elvis lovers.

But, Bjornestad is more concerned with shamelessly promoting the release of his latest CD of Elvis classics. "When I break the record tomorrow, I will celebrate by just being happy with friends and take all the interviews I can get because there is a lot of attention that comes with this, and I am releasing my new CD," he said.

Bjornestad's performance, which began at 3 p.m. Norwegian time (9 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time) Tuesday, will go until 9 p.m. NOR (3 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time) today. Friends and family are gearing up to support him.

"He has many friends and family [there] all the time," Thuv said last night from his cell phone at home. "I don't think any one of them will be there from the beginning to the end."

The live Web broadcast can be viewed from Bjornestad's Web site, elvis.no.

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