Weird Al Yankovic's career in parody has surpassed many of his parody subjects.
"I would say there's some irony to be found there," says Yankovic, who will fill the Henderson Pavilion on Aug. 20 by performing as Coolio and Billy Ray Cyrus -- something Coolio and Cyrus no longer can do.
"A lot of record labels were not interested in signing me when I started out," Yankovic notes, his deep conversational voice resembling a superserious AM news anchor. "They felt the genre of music I do would not sustain for more than a few months."
Yankovic, 50, became a household name in the '80s by producing music videos that mimicked other music videos. Michael Jackson's "Beat It," for example, became "Eat It" -- complete with red leather jacket, dancing gang and (Yankovic's own absurdist touch) an Alka-Seltzer finale.
Yankovic's album sales top 12 million -- more than any other comedy act in history.
"A lot of people in the entertainment industry feel like they haven't made it until they've gotten their Weird Al parody," he says.
The inspiration to play accordion came from Frank Yankovic (no relation), the inspiration to parody from the "Dr. Demento Radio Show," which introduced the young Yankovic to parodists such as Spike Jones, Allan Sherman and Tom Lehrer. (As a high school senior in Lynwood, Calif., Yankovic mailed a homemade tape to Demento containing a song called "Belvedere Cruisin'," about his family's Plymouth. Demento aired it immediately.)
The pop icons Yankovic parodies hardly ever object because their permission is sought beforehand, for legal reasons. (Yankovic prefers to reproduce the background music of his parodies note for note.) Yankovic says "extremely few" of his requests have been turned down. He cites only Prince, a repeat rejector, who has never offered an official reason.
Perhaps Prince had his health in mind. Nine of Yankovic's parody subjects have died, most of them prematurely. In addition to Jackson, there's Kurt Cobain, James Brown, George Harrison, Freddie Mercury, Robert Palmer, Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes and Rob Pilatus of Milli Vanilli.
"I only hope that I'm not responsible in any way for that," Yankovic says with mock earnestness. (He pooh-poohs the existence of a Weird Al curse -- "other than the fact that everybody that I parody will at some point die.")
Yankovic says he often removes songs from his live act "because they seem old." But death is never a reason -- even a death as recent and shocking as Jackson's.
"I still feel the sense of loss that I think everybody feels with Michael," Yankovic says, "but I don't think it's inappropriate for me to do the parodies.
"Michael was a big fan of my songs, and whenever I do a parody of anybody who has passed away, I look at it as a celebration of their life and their music."
Yankovic says when his own time comes, he wants to be remembered for his work as an accordion pioneer.
"I think 20 years from now, most of the songs on the radio will be exclusively accordion music," he says. "That's always been my curse. I've been decades ahead of my time."
Contact reporter Corey Levitan at clevitan@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0456.