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As Elton John's farewell tour hits Tampa, Clearwater's own Rocket Man gets a cameo

Elton John impersonator Rus Anderson of Clearwater flew out to Los Angeles to film clips for a virtual reality video promoting John’s “Farewell Yellow Brick Road” tour. In the footage, Anderson portrays versions of John from 1970 and 1975. Photos courtesy of Rus Anderson.
Published Nov. 28, 2018

Editor's note: This story was written before Tuesday's late announcement that Elton John postponed tonight's sold-out farewell tour concert at Tampa's Amalie Arena due to an ear infection. John also postponed Tuesday's show at Orlando's Amway Center. Tickets for the Tampa show will be honored when the new date is announced. Refunds will be available wherever those tickets were purchased. The Tampa and Orlando shows could be rescheduled soon after the current leg of the tour ends March 16 in Sunrise.

Fans should see a giant photo on stage of Elton John with Elton John during his farewell tour. Only one of them, though, is the real Elton John.

The other Elton, the younger Elton, the one wearing a sparkly '70s Los Angeles Dodgers uniform, is Rus Anderson, a Clearwater Elton John impersonator handpicked by the Rocket Man himself for a cameo role in his Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour.

Anderson, 38, portrayed a young version of John in several virtual and augmented reality videos released to promote the tour in January. In one immersive clip, he can be seen recreating John's 1970 performances at the Troubadour in Los Angeles and a famous Dodger Stadium concert from 1975. Images from the experience and a shoot with John and famed photographer David LaChapelle have also been featured on the tour, giving Anderson a once-in-a-lifetime connection to the man he plays on stage.

"They said Elton was looking for someone who really captures the essence of his '70s performances," said Anderson, who performs under the moniker the Rocket Man Show. "The costumes, the big feathers, the boots, the glasses — there are other Eltons out there, but apparently his team thought that I captured the essence of him in the '70s exact. So that was really cool."

Anderson, a native of Glasgow, Scotland, who moved here to attend St. Petersburg College, has been refining the Rocket Man Show since 2009, recreating John's elaborate '70s stage presence with the help of his wife, Somali Rose. He was in Atlantic City for a gig last year when he got an email from John's lawyer, "which typically isn't a good thing," but turned out to be an offer to help John retire from the road.

"What could I say to that?" he said.

After four weeks of rehearsals in Atlantic City, he flew out several times to Los Angeles to for the video sessions, wearing costumes his wife made and, for the most part, the same mannerisms he employs at every gig. That familiarity with the role meant he could easily recreate younger Elton's flamboyant style even in a giant, empty Hollywood soundstage.

"I'm used to playing at smaller gigs," he said. "Occasionally, we do some gigs where there's only 20 or 30 or 50 people. Whether it's 50 or 50,000, I can still play like the real Elton."

The photo shoot with LaChapelle was the first time Anderson had ever met John — and he did it dressed in that iconic sequined Dodgers jumpsuit, which he admits made him a tad self-conscious. But John and his husband David Furnish quickly put him at ease, fawning over his costume and praising his performance in the video.

"Are you Rus from the VR?" John asked him, he said. "How are you doing, young man? You're doing an excellent job!"

Between the farewell tour and next year's biopic Rocket Man, it's a good time to be in the Elton John business, Anderson said. In the past year, the Rocket Man Show toured in more than 20 states, including gigs at casinos and venues like Houses of Blues and Hard Rock Lives. His fees have gone up somewhat, "but I'm still broke. I'm still a struggling musician. Maybe now that he's retired I can actually start to make some money, you know?"

Kidding aside, the direct link to John has already paid dividends. Anderson was interviewed about the Dodger Stadium gig for a feature on John's website. He was asked to appear in a recent big-budget commercial recreating scenes from throughout John's life. He had to pass because of a conflicting gig ("I was just gutted about that"), but those are some of his costumes in the ad. And they have other collaborative projects in the works.

"I'm in their world now," he said.

There was one moment Anderson shared with John that he will never forget:

"During the photo shoot, they were playing Goodbye Yellow Brick Road over the speakers," he said. "Elton was singing it, and I was singing it, and the two of us were on set getting pictures taken, singing Goodbye Yellow Brick Road together. That was unbelievable. My wife said she was crying her eyes out during that part, because he was singing the harmony and I was singing the high part. It was amazing, and out-of-this-world experience."

Contact Jay Cridlin at cridlin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

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