Morris Bates seen here as he receives his keeper plaque from Shirley-Pat Chamberlain (left) during the opening ceremonies at the 2012 Williams Lake Stampede where Bates was the Honorary Stampede Parade Marshal. Bates passed away on June 26. (Liz Twan/Tribune file photo)

Elvis tribute artist Morris Bates dies at 69

Member of the Williams Lake Indian Band, Bates went on to be an international headliner on the Las Vegas strip

The Cariboo has lost its legendary Elvis Presley impersonator Morris Bates who died on June 26 at the age of 69.

Originally from Sugar Cane near Williams Lake, Morris performed his tribute to Elvis shows in Las Vegas clubs such as the Silver Slipper, owned by Howard Hughes, Landmark Hotel, Vegas World and Fremont Hotel, said his younger brother Buckie Bates, who lives in Osoyoos with their mom, Phyllis Bates, 93.

“His was the longest one-man show in Las Vegas next to Wayne Newton at the time,” Buckie said. “He even appeared on the Merv Griffin Show. He had a charisma — that real star quality.”

Buckie said Morris had a God-given talent that he shared with the world and without a doubt became one of the region’s most popular entertainers.

“He was admired not only as an entertainer, but as a humanitarian, working with youth trying to help them make the right choices in life.”

Morris was born on April 12, 1951 and raised by his parents Pascal and Phyllis Josephine Bates. He was an older brother to Bernie and Buckie.

When the boys were young, the family moved to Loomis, Wash. where Pascal was working on a ranch.

Buckie said they lived 35 miles out of town and Morris, who was scouted by the NBA, used to run and walk home from school after basketball practice.

“He told me he would run two telephone poles, walk one,” Buckie said. “I had a Shetland pony named Tom Thumb that Morris would race. He’d beat it every time. “

Singing was something Morris started at a young age.

“Dad was always pushing us to do what we wanted with our life. He bought me a power saw and got me out bucking at Meldrum Creek,” Buckie said, adding within a couple of hours he was ready to quit, and told his dad he did not want to be a logger.

“I said I wanted to be an artist, so he took me down, brought the saw back to Ross’s Power Shop on Mackenzie Avenue and took me to the art store and bought me all the brushes and everything I needed. I’m still an artist.”

Pascal encouraged Morris in his dream to be a singer, Buckie said.

Morris started playing the drums when he was young.

Their mom would holler downstairs for him to “knock it off” because he was driving her crazy.

“He’d holler back, ‘Mom, don’t you ever want to see my name up in lights?,’” Buckie recalled.

“One of the first times he did have his name up in lights was in Edmonton and he sent a picture of it to mom and reminded her of that comment.”

Tribune columnist Diana French wrote about Bates for Casual Country in 2018, and said his music took off when he taught himself how to play guitar while he was a student at Prince George College.

“At the time he was a basketball player and thought that would be his future, but in 1968 he saw Elvis Presley’s NBC-TV Comeback Special and was mesmerized by Presley’s charisma,” French wrote.

Read more: Morris Bates takes a chance on life

After signing for many years, and working so hard, Bates’s vocal cords gave out, which was a shame, Buckie said.

In 1999, Morris changed directions and began working as a counsellor helping First Nations youth at risk in Vancouver and other parts of B.C.

In 2011, he released a book about his life, titled Morris as Elvis: The World’s Greatest Elvis Impersonator.

He returned to Williams Lake in 2012 to be the Honorary Stampede Parade Marshal.

Buckie said Morris had been very ill recently.

“He had a security company in a trailer set up outside a prison and one time he came out of the trailer, fell and shattered his leg and had hip and leg problems and never really recovered from that.”

There will be a celebration of life for Bates on Saturday, Aug. 3 at the Elizabeth Grouse Gymnasium at Sugar Cane at 2 p.m.

Buckie said there are lots of people to thank who are pulling together to help put the celebration on.

“So many people have stepped up to help us in our time of need.”

Read more: Morris Bates nominated for non-fiction in BC Book Prizes

Reporter’s note: I met Morris at a Williams Lake Indian Band community meeting at Sugar Cane one year, which I was covering for the Tribune. It was something to discover in our conversation that he’d been the lead singer of Injun Joe’s Medicine Show, a band I saw perform when I was 12 years old at Lakeside Park in Nelson, B.C.

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Morris Bates performs Viva Las Vegas.

Morris Bates as Elvis in the 1970s.

Morris Bates as Elvis in the 1960s.

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