Elvis illusionist Shelton Keith Henderson died Tuesday at his Chapel Hill home, friends and family said this week.
A memorial service for Henderson, 57, will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 26, at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Chapel Hill, where he was a member. Family and friends will gather from 10 to 10:45 a.m. in the church santuary.
Henderson worked at the Croasdaile Village Retirement Community in Durham when he wasn’t swiveling his hips to an Elvis standard or passing autographed scarves to a legion of fans.
He found his love of music as a 3-year-old listening to Elvis records at his grandmother’s house. His career as a performer took off the year after Elvis died, in a 1978 Junior Follies show at Chapel Hill High School.
“He just blew everybody away with how incredibly much he sounded like Elvis,” recalled Kimberly Eastman Zirkle. “That was his debut. His father had encouraged him to sing, and he knew he had a gift. He started to grow his sideburns long, so he could look even more like Elvis, and his grandmother sewed all of his costumes.”
His mother sewed on all the studs and ornaments, Henderson has said.
He made it clear he was not an impersonator, mimicking Elvis’ moves and voice, but an illusionist, who developed his own singing style and moves after years of watching the King. He won many national and international awards for his performances.
“What I try to do is give the illusion of Elvis still on stage and bring back bits and pieces of memories that people have already had or seen on television and regenerate those,” Henderson said on his website. “It’s a true tribute to Elvis.”
Eastman Zirkle also was there for Henderson’s last performance, an October fundraiser for the Chapel Hill Service League’s annual Christmas House, which helps lower-income parents give gifts to their children. She had a lot of fun singing back up for him, she said.
“One of the things that made Keith special was he cared so much about the kids and he loved Christmas,” she said.
Henderson and his wife had planned to volunteer at Christmas House on Dec. 3 and would have celebrated his 58th birthday on Dec. 23, Eastman Zirkle said. They shared a deep love since high school, she said.
“The most beautiful thing to me is he had such love for his wife and for his family, and he expressed that so beautifully in his concerts,” she said.
Henderson’s family has been part of his shows – wife Sarah handling the schedules, daughter Lauren performing and son Chad helping with production. He kept a regular schedule of private parties, weddings, fundraisers and performances, including the annual Hog Day festival in Hillsborough.
“He loved the Lord and his family – he always talked about his family, especially his wife and kids,” said Steve Bynum, who got to know Henderson over 30 years ago when they shared a PSNC Energy appliance installation truck.
Although Henderson moved to a PSNC office in Raleigh some years later, Bynum said, he would see him around town. Henderson was “always full of laughter,” he said.
“He’s going to be missed, that’s for sure,” Bynum said. “The best thing I can say is he based people on their character.”
Henderson was preceded in death by his father, Levi Shelton Henderson, founder of the Shrunken Head Boutique on East Franklin Street.
Survivors include his wife Sarah Knight Henderson; daughter Lauren Henderson (Matt) of Raleigh; son Chad Henderson (Sarah), of Charlotte; mother Mary Edna Chadwick Henderson of Chapel Hill; sisters, Genny Wrenn (James) of Chapel Hill, Lisa Floyd (Tim) of Raleigh, and Teresa Lindsay (Dwayne) of Salisbury; his mother-in-law Eleanor Glynn Knight, of Croasdaile Village; two nieces; six nephews; and his dogs Penny and Tanner.
Memorials to Keith Henderson can be made to the Mt. Carmel Baptist Church Music Ministry, 2016 Mt. Carmel Church Road, Chapel Hill, NC 27517. Online condolences are being made at walkersfuneralservice.com.