We knew him as Boston Billy Elvis. He joined us for the first time at the Las Vegas Marathon before the event became Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas. We put the word out that we wanted to create a huge contingent of Lycra-wearing guys and gals to take over the Las Vegas strip and people responded from all over the country. Jeff Padilla, the original Running Elvis, brought his infamous Elvis Mobile Baby Jogger with the picture of ‘The King’ on the front to Las Vegas, which made everything official. Elvi numbering over 100 joined us that first year and it was unforgettable. We had our own corral at the start and were the witnesses for the couples who were getting married at the Run-Through Wedding Chapel at mile three. Yep, you’re right. Only in Vegas
The cassette player was powered by a car battery, the Elvi were powered by the cooler full of beer and ‘Viva Las Vegas’ was the most popular song on Jeff’s playlist.
Billy – known in his other life as Bill Hartford – saw the invitation online to come to Vegas to run as Elvis and flew in from Boston to be part of the craziness, and to become a lifelong friend. When I look back at the ten years or so that I have been friends with Billy, we definitely spent more time together dressed as Elvis than dressed as Bob and Bill. He had that perfect Elvis wig and the cool oversized glasses. I was jealous and had to up the ante the next year. I had a black Elvis outfit made with gold trim. It had pockets in the back for gel, salt, keys, phone, and beer money. We called those pockets Gelvis.
Those early years of the Running Elvi were my favorite and Boston Billy was loving every minute of it. A long-time runner from Boston, he immediately became best friends with everyone we met along the way. The Running Elvi stayed with the back of the pack – hey, that’s where the fun is, right? – and we stopped and danced and sang at the top of our lungs with everyone and anyone. Billy was a ham like the rest of us and enjoyed all of our new Lycra-clad friends.
The following summer I convinced Billy to join us for Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego in June and he was in heaven posing for photos with Frank Shorter, Steve Scott, Meb Keflezighi, and all of the legends of running. The two of us tended to be the slowest of the bunch and I’m guessing between Las Vegas, San Diego, and Boston we staggered through 10 marathons or half marathons together, all dressed as Elvis.
Billy and I toured the Boston Marathon a few times in our Elvis attire, both of us dealing with a few extra pounds and a few aches and pains along the way. The last time we ran together in Boston was in the pouring rain. We could have cared less. Our mile split through Wellesley College was way over 25 minutes. Think about it. Two guys dressed in Elvis outfits are running a marathon together and looking for every opportunity to stop, walk, and pose for photos. Now add thousands of screaming college girls excited to meet and pose with The King.
You do the math!
Boston Billy married the love of his life, Jen, and they had a little girl together. Grace is now one and a half years old.
Billy had been diagnosed with cancer a few years ago and gone through treatment. We thought cancer was in the rearview mirror and he was on his way back. Last April, when I came to town for Boston, Billy picked me up at the airport and we grabbed breakfast. He looked good and we chatted about getting the Elvi back together this year to run a half marathon. We weren’t sure when and where, but in our last conversation we were leaning toward the Carlsbad Half Marathon in January. He was feeling good and thought he could start running soon.
But not long ago, he went in to see his doctors to check on a cold that didn’t seem to want to go away. It turned out not to be a cold. Instead, the cancer had returned and was now in his lungs.
Boston Billy Elvis passed away on Saturday.
What do we learn from Boston Billy Elvis, a man who came alive when he was running a race dressed as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll?
We learn that life is simply one big costume party and that there is no reason to ever feel that you’re too old or too mature to simply live every day with a smile on your face, a guitar at the ready, a pompadour resting just so on the top of your head, and a song always on your lips.
Thank you Boston Billy Elvis for being such a special person to those of us who were lucky enough to know you, run with you, and love you…thank you very much.