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GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) — Ted Prior, who spent 50 years performing the music of Elvis Presley before adoring fans throughout southern New Jersey, has died. He was 68.

Prior’s manager, Neil Regina, said the Galloway Township resident died Sunday morning, but did not disclose further details.

“It is with deep sorrow I report that my friend and local legendary entertainer Ted Prior took his final curtain call today,” Regina wrote in a note he posted on Prior’s Facebook page. “The stars in Heaven will be much brighter and the music in rock and roll heaven will be much sweeter with him on lead vocal.”

Prior had never missed a show before being diagnosed with cancer last fall. His streak of nearly 10,000 performances ended when he was forced to miss a New Year’s Eve show in Ocean City.

In an interview with The Associated Press last December, Prior lamented missing the show, noting that his medication had made him too weak to perform. He also noted that his left leg was too swollen to fit his trademark Elvis boots.

“When I do a performance, I slide across the floor,” he said at the time. “I do certain leg movements. I go into the audience and I make sure damn near every woman gets a scarf, if I can. I just can’t do that right now.”

However, Prior also believed he would beat his illness and return to the stage and his beloved fans.

“I feel I’m going to come back even stronger than ever,” he said. “Once I get through with this crap, with the help of God, it’ll be ‘The Return!”

Prior’s career path began at age 14, when at a party he picked up a cheap guitar he had no idea how to play and sang along to a record of “Stuck On You.”

A friend yelled out, “Hey Ted, you sound just like Elvis!”

Prior soon began taking guitar lessons, grew out his hair and started learning every Elvis song he could. But throughout his career, he always referred to himself as an Elvis performer, not an impersonator.

“I didn’t just do it after (Elvis) died,” Prior said. “I was doing it well before he died.”

Besides working as southern Jersey’s answer to The King, Prior also toyed with original music for a while and did a few tours with the Ohio Express, years after the band scored a hit with “Yummy Yummy Yummy (I’ve Got Love In My Tummy)” and long after many of the original members had quit. He also crisscrossed the country on and off for 15 years, making enough to survive but never hitting it big.

But in the Atlantic City suburbs, it was a different story. He honed his Elvis show to perfection, adding capes, belts, robes, dark glasses and yes, even a gold lame suit.

And there was nowhere he wouldn’t play: a casino one night, the back room of a Red Lobster seafood restaurant the next. He was particularly ubiquitous in Ocean City, the family resort where there’s usually a parade, boardwalk show, or some other community event most weekends.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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