He was the king of Rock ‘n’ Roll and he is perhaps the most celebrated American in all of history. Elvis Presley fans marked his death, remembering that 35 years ago the 42-year-old super star finally left the building for good.
Tonight’s candlelight vigil at Graceland, his former Memphis home-turned-tourist-mecca was where Thousands of Elvis fans lined up to pay their respects to the King of Rock and Roll.
Fans camped outside the Graceland mansion for hours before the candlelight vigil. Nearly everyone there had a special memory of the King.
“I only saw him once when I was little,” Anita Massey said. “It was kind of far away, but I did see him.”
“I saw him at the Civic Center in Connecticut, Madison Square Garden, and the Nasaw,” Mickey LaPone added.
Scott Williams at Elvis Presley Enterprises said the annual event all about appreciation.
“They’ll proceed up the driveway with candles to pay their respects and to remember Elvis for all he’s done for the world of entertainment,” he said.
Holding memories close to their heart, fans say they’ll never stop making this journey to remember the king.
“If he’s looking down, he’s going to see us every year,” Anita Powell said.
Elvis Week organizers say this year’s edition, which runs through Aug. 18, could be the biggest ever, thanks in part to the participation of Presley’s widow Priscilla and daughter Lisa Marie Presley.
Highlights include tonight’s all-night vigil at Graceland’s gates, where AFP notes that this year’s fans can go the traditional route by lighting real candles or switch on virtual candles on a special Elvis Week smartphone app.
On Thursday, the anniversary of Presley’s 1977 death from heart disease and prescription drug abuse, a Memphis concert featuring Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley and surviving members of Presley’s band will explore the entertainer’s roots in blues, gospel and country music.
Memphis’ sixth annual Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest is drawing competitors from as far away 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,” immaculately coifed Rick Huntress, an award-winning Elvis tribute artist from New England, told AFP.
TripAdvisor, meanwhile, offers an anniversary-related round-up of 10 Elvis attractions in Memphis, his birthplace of Tupelo, Miss. and beyond. Among the lesser-known options: the Bay Beach Amusement Park in Green Bay, Wis.,where “visitors can rock and roll down the Zippin Pippin, one of the oldest wooden rollercoasters in America and Presley’s favorite ride. Elvis reportedly liked the attraction so much that he would occasionally rent out the entire Memphis amusement park it was originally located in, and story has it he rented it just a week before his passing. Park admission is free; it costs $1 to ride the Zippin Pippin.”
The vigil began Wednesday night after Priscilla Presley and her daughter made the unscheduled and impromptu appearance on a stage set up just inside the walls of Graceland, Elvis’ Memphis mansion. Together they briefly thanked the crowd for their undying admiration of the rock `n’ roll icon.
It was the first time both women had appeared together at the annual gathering, which became an official event in 1980.
Priscilla said the sight of thousands of fans holding up candles in tribute to Elvis was amazing.
“This is something that Elvis would never, ever have believed could have taken place here,” said the actress and businesswoman, who was divorced from Elvis Presley in 1973.
Lisa Marie Presley, on the stage alongside her mother, told the fans she loved them for their devotion to her father. She also acknowledged she had shied away from making public appearances at past anniversary vigils.
“I’ve always avoided this because I felt that it would be too emotional, but I really felt it was important to come down here tonight,” the singer’s daughter, herself a singer-songwriter, told the crowd. “I love you very, very, very much.”
Some teary-eyed mourners laid flowers on the gravesite, where Presley’s father Vernon, mother Gladys, and grandmother Minnie Mae Hood Presley also are buried.
Outside, some fans used chalk to draw pictures of Elvis’s face on the street, where groups of fans set up folding chairs to wait for the line to die down.
Sergio Galleguillo, of Santa Cruz, Argentina, said he became emotional when he walked past the graves.
“I felt the spirit of Elvis there, as if he was alive,” said Galleguillo, who was making his first visit to the United States. “It really was a beautiful experience.”
The somber atmosphere of the vigil was in contrast to some lighter moments beforehand.
As the line of people waiting to get into Graceland grew longer Wednesday evening, a group from a Brazilian fan club waved that nation’s flag, danced and sang Presley’s early-70s hit “Burning Love” in the street in front of the entrance.
Steps away, an Elvis impersonator, complete with a white-sequined jumpsuit and red sash, sat alone in the street in front of the entrance, lip synching “In the Ghetto.”
Earlier in the day, Cheryl Skogen and friend Susan Struss held up black umbrellas with polka dots near the front of the line as they waited to enter Graceland’s grounds. As longtime Elvis fans and neighbors in Los Angeles, they said they decided to come to Elvis Week without their husbands. They got up well before dawn Wednesday for a prime spot in the line.
Skogen said she first came to Graceland in 1981 – before the home became a museum and a tourist attraction – and has visited several times since. She remembers first seeing Elvis on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and being enthralled with his hip-swiveling performance at a Lack Tahoe concert.
“The first time I saw him he changed my life,” said Skogen, now 66 and retired. “I had never seen anybody dance like he did or sing like he did or look like he did. He captured my heart.”
A few spots down the line, Allen Black, 47, sat in a blue and white chair alongside the outer wall of Graceland. Black – who is from Aurora, Colo., scene of the July 20 movie theatre shooting massacre – said Elvis was a great performer but also someone who treated others well.
He talked about his memories of where he was when he first heard Elvis had died. He was 12 at the time.
The picture above is of a boy taking part in a candlelight vigil marking the 35th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. After 35 years since his death, mourners have exponentially increased each year his death is celebrated.
Contributor D. Chandler