Even 45 years after his death, the King of Rock’n’Roll still reigns supreme in the hearts of millions of fans.
Now, a little-known actor brings Elvis Presley to life in a biopic about the iconic 20th-century superstar.
The world has had no shortage of Elvis impersonators since his tragic death at just 42 in 1977. But there has never been one quite like 30-year-old Austin Butler.
The king’s widow, Priscilla, had a private screening of Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis and was mesmerized by Austin’s “incredible” portrayal of her late husband.
The film will have its world premiere in a few days in Cannes and is expected to take the French film festival by storm.
One person confident Austin would succeed is his kindergarten teacher and longtime family friend Sydne Betz, 54.
She still works at the school where she taught in Austin. She told The Sunday People: “I wasn’t surprised when he got the part.
“He had this incredible talent and I could definitely see the resemblance.”
Sydne saw Austin’s potential star quality from the age of three. He and his youngest son Brad were around the same age and played pretend together in his backyard.
Last week, Austin attended the Met Gala in New York where he posed on the red carpet with Priscilla.
He said of playing Elvis: “It really is the privilege of a lifetime.” Austin, who learned the guitar at a young age and practiced so much he needed superglue to fix his bleeding fingers, had thought about trying to secure the rights to Presley’s life story, which sold over 500 million records with hits such as Blue Suede Shoes, Jailhouse Rock and The Wonder of You.
Then Luhrmann, Oscar nominee for his 2001 musical drama Moulin Rouge!, got in touch. Austin said, “It was like the stars aligned. I just said, I’m going to devote everything I have to this.
Sydne met Austin when her mother, Lori Butler, dropped her older sister Ashley off at Twila Reid Elementary in Anaheim, Orange County, California.
Sydne said: “I asked her if she would babysit and she said yes. Austin and Brad were playing together while she watched my daughter, Hayley. Lori came over with the kids and Austin and Brad were playing together in the garden.
“It was always very adventurous. Austin was definitely playing stuff, even then. They dug holes, built things, and wore serious costumes. His mother went to such lengths to get everything they needed. Austin would say, “Mom, I need a cape,” and she would get it.
“She was a fun mum. They would dress up, play pretend in the garden and have fun. I have nothing but the fondest memories of him and his family. They are all great people.”
Sydne has been teaching at Twila Reid for 33 years, which is in the same school district that golf legend Tiger Wood attended.
She started teaching Austin when he was four.
She said he was a “model student in every way, very intelligent, a bit advanced for the class.
“I had to offer him more difficult math and take it to the next level because he found everything easy.”
Austin’s mother and father, David, divorced when he was seven, and when his acting took off, Lori moved to Burbank, Los Angeles, to be closer to the studios where he was filming.
In 2008, he landed a starring role in the Nickelodeon series Zoey 101 as James Garrett, the love interest of the title character played by Britney Spears’ younger sister, Jamie Lynn.
Six years later, he starred in The Carrie Diaries, a prequel to Sex and the City, as Sebastian Kydd, the love interest of a young Carrie Bradshaw.
That year, tragedy struck and he lost his mother and his “best friend” to cancer. He was 23, the same age as Elvis when his beloved mother Gladys died. A few years later, he landed the role of human elf Wil Ohmsford in The Shannara Chronicles.
Sydne said: “His mum Lori was an absolute angel. She exuded kindness. When I saw the opening scene when his character Wil’s mother died, it reminded me of Austin’s mother’s death. It was very moving. My son and I went to the funeral and they chatted. Austin shared as he got into music and guitar.
Austin dated High School Musical star Vanessa Hudgens, 33, for nine years and is currently in a long-term relationship with model Cindy Crawford’s daughter Kaia Gerber, 20.
He said: “It’s hard to say how much this girl means to me. I am so inspired by her every day and love her deeply.
In 2019, he starred in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood, playing real-life Manson family murderer Tex Watson alongside Brad Pitt. Austin has researched the role of Elvis thoroughly and it seems to have paid off as critics are touting it as one of the standout movies of 2022.
Sydne and the staff at Twila Reid are thrilled the actor has done so well — there’s even a poster of him on the wall in the staff room.
Sydne said: “We’ve had his poster on and off the wall over the years. When new teachers arrive, I ask them, “Do you know Austin Butler?
“When they say yes, I tell them he was my student. We’re all incredibly proud of him.
Priscilla is all shaken by a shining star
Priscilla Presley felt like she was watching the living recreation of her late husband Elvis in the new Hollywood biopic.
The 76-year-old had refused to back director Baz Luhrmann’s vision of Elvis’ rise from humble beginnings in Mississippi to become the king of rock ‘n’ roll.
But after having a private screening, a spellbound Priscilla agreed to attend the Cannes Film Festival for its world premiere. She was initially skeptical of Luhrmann’s version of Elvis, but was blown away by newcomer Austin Butler’s “incredible” performance – not just his voice, but his movements as well.
Halfway through the film, alongside Elvis’ close pal Jerry Schilling, one of the King’s last surviving associates, Priscilla knew she had to be in France.
Priscilla said: “Jerry and I were sitting there watching this kid, I think this is his first movie role. He must have spent the last year, every day and every minute, watching Elvis, because he shot him like you can’t believe I swear.
“I said, ‘Wow, I can’t believe this,’ I said to Jerry, ‘Are you thinking what I’m thinking?’ So about three quarters of the way through the movie I looked at Jerry and I said, ‘Looks like we’re going to Cannes.’ He did an amazing job. Look, for me and Jerry to say he has to to be good.
“His smile, his laugh, his voice, his movements – he brought it down. I know there are many imitators. I don’t know them, I’ve seen them and they are good. But Austin is amazing.
Presley said Luhrmann reflected on Elvis’ problems later in life, adding, “The end of the movie shows Elvis’ last moment. It was hard to watch. It was Baz’s choice. Baz is a phenomenal storyteller and filmmaker and has this visual creative eye. It’s an incredible film.
“There are probably going to be people who don’t like it, because he has a different view. I consider it art. It shows the ups and downs that Elvis had with Tom Parker. He wanted fire Colonel Parker, that’s all true, and get Colonel Parker back and his reasons. All of that is true.”