Gilroy’s King of Rock n’ Roll dies at 54

Donald ‘Elvis’ Prieto was a regular at numerous events

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Donald "Elvis" Prieto and the Hound Dogs perform on the Gazebo stage during the 2013 Gilroy Garlic Festival. File photo

Donald “Elvis” Prieto, better known as Gilroy’s King of Rock n’ Roll who would go out of his way to help anyone in need, died on May 1. He was 54.

Prieto leaves behind family and friends too numerous to list here, as well as countless fans who never missed a performance of his whether at Gilroy’s signature events or the weekly karaoke nights at Victoria’s Mexican Restaurant.

Prieto’s aunt Gloria Rottler said her nephew, whom she described as like a little brother to her, was constantly giving back and donating his time and money to local charities, and was always willing to perform pro bono for various causes.

“He did so much over the years, his whole life,” she said. “Even when he wasn’t feeling well, he would go out of his way to help. He was so giving.”

The music of Elvis Presley had been with Prieto practically since birth. His mother, Linda, a big fan of the rock n’ roll music of Elvis, would always have the tunes on the radio.

At a very young age, Prieto, born and raised in Gilroy, was known for dancing to the beats of Elvis’ music. As he grew up and began resembling the King himself, Prieto’s legacy was cemented.

He began impersonating Elvis in 1993, and a year later he took first place at an Elvis impersonation contest held at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds.

Prieto, the manager of Victoria’s Mexican Restaurant, could always find the time to perform. He was a regular at the Garlic City Car Show in downtown Gilroy, as well as at the Gilroy Garlic Festival.

The Gilroy High School graduate performed at numerous parties, as well as at weddings, even marrying couples as an ordained minister. Prieto also took his act on the road and played in Las Vegas and Reno, Nev., among other venues.

His fans would make the drive as well.

“He was so loved by so many people,” Rottler said.

Prieto was diagnosed with diabetes at age 7 and was immediately put on insulin. In 1999, he received a kidney transplant from a cadaver, but it only lasted for seven years before he received another transplant from his friend Dottie Stewart.

But that kidney started failing in 2020, Rottler said, leaving him in need of another transplant.

He nearly received it earlier this year. The family of Robert Marks, the 21-year-old man who died at the hospital after being shot in Gilroy in January, wanted to donate their son’s kidney to Prieto, Rottler said.

“It turned out to be a perfect match,” she said. “We couldn’t believe it.”

However, after some tests at the hospital, doctors found a blockage in Prieto’s heart, which prevented him from undergoing the transplant surgery.

Prieto had further heart problems in the following months. He was found collapsed in his home on May 1, with the cause of death uncertain, according to Rottler.

Rottler said that although his health slowed him down physically over the past year, it didn’t hamper his spirit. She said Prieto and his family had just had dinner at Victoria’s the night before his passing.

“Our whole family and friends, we’re so devastated beyond words,” Rottler said. “We’re shocked. We feel that he left us too soon. Our family is not going to be the same.”

Longtime friend Maria Cid said Prieto “was the kindest, most giving person you’ll ever meet.” 

“He wore his heart on his sleeve and if you ever had the chance to meet him, by the time the conversation was over, Donald would become your best friend,” she said. “He was loved by all.”

Prieto would never turn down a charitable event, Cid noted, driven by his love for his community.

“Gilroy has lost an amazing community leader,” she said. “You can feel the sadness in our town as we all try to accept that we will never see our dear friend again.”

Mark Turner, president/CEO of the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce, said Prieto was an “iconic figure” in Gilroy, performing at the Chamber’s annual car show “for more years than we can remember.”

“Like the real Elvis, Donald was born to perform, and perform he did,” he said. “More than being the performer he was, we knew him as a courteous member of our community, a gentleman to all, willing to help where needed, encouraging others, and a tremendous example of grace and humility in times of trouble.”

Services are planned for May 15 at New Hope Community Church in Gilroy.

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