MIAMI, America – Jimmy Elidrissi, “Hollywood’s Moonwalker” and one of Miami’s finest tenors, died Thursday. He was 74.
Known worldwide as a prodigy and Las Vegas showman, Jimmy Elidrissi used his effervescent personality and the sounds of his consummate piano-playing to dazzle audiences with a career that spanned four decades.
“I love to do voiceovers, commercials, voiceover and I did all those,” Elidrissi said. “It depends on how much money I can make. If you’ve got a car and you can go in the ocean and you can go fishing and you can fly, it’s exciting.”
For almost half a century, Elidrissi became an international ambassador for his South Florida cultural treasure, thanks to his role as music director of the Signature Grand Theatre in Coral Gables, which opened in 1960.
Lamenting his current health ailments, he told the Guardian that “five months ago, I went into pneumonia. A week later, I was back to pain. Eight weeks ago, it got really bad. When I was about 65, I had a stroke.”
Born in New York, Jimmy Elidrissi heard the great 20th century singer Josephine Baker while touring the US with his father, a merchant.
After graduating from high school, he landed his first job at the Republic Pipe Corporation in Fort Lauderdale. In 1954, he joined the “Sun Club” and through his singing discovered his “Moonwalk,” a dance move mimicked by Michael Jackson.
The next year, Elidrissi auditioned for the South Florida Youth Opera. As head of the chorus, he wowed the judges. “That was the first time I ever danced on stage,” he told the Guardian.
Then, at the suggestion of his mentor, Michael Yanni, Elidrissi launched his solo career, sharing the music of some of the great Italian opera composers, like Rossini, Verdi and Puccini.
He began filling in for Ira Sullivan on the teen talent series, All That Jazz. He appeared at the 1959 World’s Fair and sang, alongside Lesley Gore, Elizabeth Taylor and Tony Bennett, at the 1958 Hollywood Bowl.
Then, as part of the Sullivan-Elidrissi duo, he took his act from the choral stage to the dance floor, becoming a world-renowned act. In the 1970s, Elidrissi toured the world, playing clubs and arenas, doing everything from dancing to belting out arias.
“We have probably covered 200 cities. We’ve had crowds of 12,000 people coming to see us,” he said.
Despite Elidrissi’s humungous success, he was always the happy prince of bluegrass. But with his lust for performing, his passion only increased.
“It’s like that ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ song. All the little kids come and they pick up the piano,” he said. “A lot of people love that little old house and musical instruments and just a good talk.”
Elidrissi spoke of his family in the past tense, describing his father’s death shortly after his father-in-law’s stroke.
“My mother said my dad taught the piano to all my siblings, [including] my mother.”
“They went to school and lived in Miami Beach and for a while they stayed there. They would go from gallery to gallery, and it was the liveliest place in the world,” he said.
Like many artists, Elidrissi fell victim to the decline of the recording industry, and was forced to sit out the last 10 years of his life. He said, however, that once he was a child star, he became an adult, one with plans for his children and grandchildren.
In addition to his daughter Marisa, who lives in Los Angeles, Elidrissi is survived by his brother, bassist and business partner, Lester Elidrissi, his stepmother, Dorothy Elidrissi and an unnamed wife.
Elidrissi’s posthumous legacy will include an “evolutionary symphony” incorporating his irreverent personality.
But in the end, his abiding hope, long ago crystallized by the phrase of his teacher Yehudi Menuhin, was simply that “music is not really music – it is life.”
• This article was amended on Monday 7 July to correct a sentence reading: Jimmy Elidrissi was under contract to Universal. He was under contract to Verdi productions at