Fans of Elvis Presley are flocking to his Graceland estate for today’s 35th anniversary of his death, and their enthusiasm for the king of rock ‘n’ roll is undiminished by the years.
Organizers of the annual Elvis Week expect this year’s edition to be the largest ever, with his widow Priscilla and daughter Lisa Marie Presley participating.
“Elvis is fan-driven,” said Joe Guercio, Presley’s musical director from 1970 until the star’s sudden death on Aug. 16, 1977 at the age of 42, “and there are not a lot of people [in show business] who are fan-driven.”
Actually nine days long, Elvis Week started in Memphis on Friday last week, centered around a 1,200-seat air-conditioned tent across Elvis Presley Boulevard from Graceland and next to the preserved remains of the singer’s private jet.
Highlights include an all-night candlelight vigil on Wednesday at Graceland’s gates, where fans this year had the option of lighting real wax candles or switching on virtual candles on a special Elvis Week smartphone app.
A concert today at a downtown stadium — featuring Priscilla and Lisa Marie, as well as surviving members of Presley’s band — will review the legend’s roots in blues, gospel and country music.
Folded into Elvis Week is the sixth annual Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest with contestants from as far afield as Australia and Japan.
“I always look like this, minus some of the make up — but the hair is always the same, sideburns and everything,” said immaculately coifed Rick Huntress, an award-winning Elvis tribute artist from New England.
Tuesday saw hundreds of Elvis fan club presidents get the lowdown from Elvis Presley Enterprises, which closely oversees the rights to Presley’s posthumous image, on his enduring legacy in film, commercials and merchandising.
Good-humored boos filled the Elvis Week Main Stage tent when Carol Butler, vice president for international licensing, revealed a Mr Potato Head character resembling Presley in his “Aloha from Hawaii” period.
And in a cross-cultural fusion of pop culture icons, Butler lifted the wraps off a forthcoming Elvis version of Japan’s Hello Kitty doll.
“We just love it,” she said. “She’s just cute in her little Elvis duds.”