Country Throwback: Kurt Russell Channels Elvis in ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky’ Scene

by Emily Morgan

Following the death of rock-n-roll legend Elvis Presley, Kurt Russell would play The King during the 1979 biopic, titled Elvis. 

Two years after the tragic death of Presley, director John Carpenter released a television biopic to celebrate Presley and his iconic career. Kurt Russell’s role in Elvis marked this as the last television role he would take before transitioning to films. 

While Elvis gives viewers a depiction of Presley’s early career, it covers plenty of important events, including his performance at the Grand Ole’ Opry. 

Surprisingly, Presley only played The Opry once during his career, even though he was a worldwide star in country music. The Opry invited a young Presley to perform on October 2, 1954. That night, Presley played a song that would end up becoming a major hit. Moreover, the song already had its roots in country music.

The song, “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” was originally written and recorded by Bill Monroe. When Presley recorded his version, he transformed it into a more upbeat and bluesy tune. 

Presley’s modernized take on the song gave it an upbeat rhythm that allowed Presley to show off his dance moves. 

Even though the Opry crowd enjoyed Presley’s wild performance, the venue’s manager, Jim Denny, wasn’t impressed with the moves. In Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley, Peter Guralnick writes that Denny told Sun Records that Presley was “not bad” but he wasn’t the right fit for the Opry’s audience.

Kurt Russell Transforms Into ‘The King’ For Biopic

Presley never got another invite, but his performance remains one of the most well-known in country music history. When Carpenter was looking for previous performances to replicate, he knew the Opry show had to be on the list. 

Kurt Russell was the perfect choice to reproduce The King’s moves. His dancing, as well as his energy, is captivating. It’s no mystery why Russell nabbed a nomination for his portrayal of Presley. 

After spending time working on Elvis, Russell and Carpenter developed a friendship that resulted in future collaborations. The film also shot Russell on the map, making him one of the hottest actors in Hollywood. That year, the Emmy awards nominated Russell for “Outstanding Lead Actor” in a miniseries or a movie.