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July 18, 2013 at 11:07 AM

Bruno Mars: nowhere but up after Elvis

Being an Elvis Presley imitator at 4 doesn’t guarantee success. But for Bruno Mars, an early childhood experience of playing The King in his mom and dad’s Honolulu-based band must have helped prepare him for a life of showmanship.

It’s amusing to think of the Hawaiian-born pop star as a small boy in a ’70s-style Elvis get-up belting out something like “(Hunka Hunka) Burning Love.”

Bruno Mars ( Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Bruno Mars ( Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Today, the Grammy-winning, 27-year-old singer-songwriter and producer is riding a wave of Elvis-like success with sales of more than 8 million albums since the release of his debut CD, “Doo-Wops & Hooligans,” in 2010. The album featured three No. 1 singles, “Just the Way You Are” (which won a Grammy), “Grenade” and “The Lazy Song.”

Mars’ “Moonshine Jungle World Tour,” with singer Ellie Goulding, plays KeyArena Sunday.

Mars’ career has skyrocketed since the release of his second album, “Unorthodox Jukebox,” last December. The disc’s winning blend
of R&B, rock, reggae, pop, soul and hip-hop reflects his childhood in Hawaii, where he was exposed to a broad range of musical styles as a performer in his parents’ band.

The album’s first single, “Locked Out of Heaven,” is an edgy, pop-reggae tune about thwarted romance. The sexually explicit “Gorilla” features the lyric, “Got a body full of liquor, with a cocaine kicker.” In the piano ballad “When I Was Your Man,” Mars pines for a lost love. And “Treasure,” a beat-driven R&B song, recalls the music of Michael Jackson.

Last winter, Mars performed on the Grammy telecast with Sting and Rihanna, enjoying the adoration that followed weeks of stratospheric success with his sophomore album. Ticket sales for his Seattle show have been fueled by the current singles “When I Was Your Man” and “Locked Out of Heaven.”

Backing Mars are The Hooligans, a band featuring Mars’ older brother, Eric Hernandez (Mars was born Peter Gene Hernandez, but adopted his nickname Bruno and changed his last name to Mars because girls reportedly thought he was “out of this world”).

A recent Rolling Stone cover story headlined “The Golden Child” portrayed Mars’ life as “almost too perfect” — with another single climbing to No. 1, a hot-selling arena tour, “a girl he loves” (model Jessica Caban, the inspiration for “When I Was Your Man”) and “absolutely no worries.”

But just when everything must have seemed perfect, Mars’ mother — Bernadette Hernandez — died in late May of a brain aneurysm at 55, before Mars’ tour was set to begin.

It was a sad milestone for a pop star who has otherwise had a stellar year.

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