Columbia resident Mario Manzini is definitely not a garden-variety Elvis impersonator. With a low voice and an unmistakable Bronx accent, Manzini has a life story from which movies are made.
Manzini, 45, was born and raised in New York City. Around the age of 5, he saw a TV special on Harry Houdini and knew he wanted to be an escape artist. Later on, watching Elvis made the same impression. Needless to say, his parents were not thrilled — “they wanted me to have a regular job" — so Manzini ran away and joined the circus as an escape artist.
Along the way, he owned several businesses in Manhattan, including six pinball arcades in the Times Square area. He performed all over the world, met luminaries such as Frank Sinatra and daredevil Evel Knievel and gained notoriety by escaping from a straitjacket in 8.5 seconds. After a stint in Connecticut, Manzini moved to Columbia because he loved the feel of the town and its central location for his shows, many of which are performed throughout Missouri and in neighboring states.
Manzini says it was Elvis’ voice “like an angel” that impressed him most, and his 2 1/2 hour “Tribute to Elvis” show includes more than 60 of the King’s songs. Manzini is also an ordained minister and can perform Elvis wedding ceremonies upon demand. Naturally, he’s visited Graceland — about six times.
Manzini’s company, Mario Manzini Entertainment, often performs with local charities and fundraisers as a way to give back to causes he supports. Although Manzini says Columbia is bigger and more built up than when he arrived 25 years ago, he appreciates the people and the small-town feel.
“This is where I want to live. I love it here.”