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Eddie Clontz, 56; Tabloid Boss Kept Elvis Alive

February 02, 2004|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Clontz set the tone for the staff that turned out such classic Weekly World News stories as Bat Boy, a half-bat, half-human creature with razor-sharp teeth that was supposedly discovered by a research team in West Virginia.

Clontz also took pride in writing the famous 1988 "Elvis Is Alive!" headline, whose subhead read: the "King of Rock 'N' Roll Faked His Death and Is Living in Kalamazoo, Mich.!"

The Elvis edition became the tabloid's biggest seller, gave birth to the Elvis-is-alive phenomenon and led to dozens of spin-off Elvis-sighting stories.

The tabloid became so associated with the Elvis phenomenon that in 1993, Clontz received a phone call from Washington Post humor columnist Gene Weingarten, who passed along a suggestion from Miami Herald humor columnist Dave Barry: that the Weekly World News consider reporting that Elvis had just died.

As Weingarten wrote in the Post last week: "I could hear those oily wheels turning. Eddie knew this would end a tabloid cottage industry of Elvis-still-lives articles. My God, it would basically cripple the franchise."

But Clontz knew a great story idea when he heard one. In a few weeks, the Weekly World News hit the newsstands with this front page headline: Elvis Dead at 58.

"Of course," Weingarten wrote, "some weeks later WWN exclusively disclosed that prior reports of Elvis' death had been a hoax. And it was back in the Elvis business."

In addition to his son, Clontz is survived by his wife of 34 years, Lenora; his parents, Harold and Betty; and brother, Derek, who worked with him at the Weekly World News.

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