Elvis Week In Swing

This image provided by the Charleston County Sheriff's Office Detention Center shows Cecil Stephen Haire, 51, of Douglas, Ga. Haire, who has a limp from childhood polio, has been dubbed the "limping bandit" after being seen limping away from banks after allegedly robbing them. He faces charges in 23 bank robberies around the Southeast. AP Photo

Sporting blue suede shoes and pompador wigs, tens of thousands of Elvis Presley fans will shake rattle and roll their way to Presley's famed Graceland mansion this week, still captivated by burning love of the rock 'n' roll king on the 25th anniversary of his death.

Beginning Thursday and stretching into the early morning hours of Aug. 16, the date in 1977 Presley died of a drug-induced heart attack at age 42, fans bearing candles and tributes will file past his grave in the garden of his white-columned home on the outskirts of Memphis.

Organizers of "Elvis Week," which kicked off on Saturday in this river town along the muddy Mississippi, said they expected between 50,000 to 75,000 devotees to show up from around the world.

The annual pilgrimage to the home of the king of rock 'n' roll marks his death in 1977.

Area merchants are preparing for big business. Local economists say Elvis events this week will pump up to $50 million into the city's economy.

The Mississippi-born Presley's fame only seems to grow with each passing year, illustrated by the June release of a remix of Presley's little-known song "A Little Less Conversation."

The song, punched up with a techno beat by a Dutch disc jockey, is a No. 1 single in much of Europe, giving Presley 18 lifetime No. 1 hits in the United Kingdom and edging him ahead of the Beatles on that score.

While Elvis fans span generations, many of those expected to attend the anniversary events grew up in the staid, post-war 1950s, organizers said.

The hip-swiveling Elvis, the sole surviving twin of struggling parents, personified the soulful rebel when he burst on the music scene in 1956 with a youthful blend of country and rhythm and blues, which became recognized as rock and roll.

"Elvis' music was, in its time, revolutionary and a lot of people got caught up in that controversy and invested a piece of their lives in defense of Elvis. They just feel he's a part of them," said John Bakke, a communications professor at the University of Memphis and organizer of a seminar to weigh Presley's significance.

"He was perceived as someone who represented freedom and diversity, versus the conformity and drive for security that was so much a part of the Depression and post-war eras," Bakke said.

Elvis' gyrating presence will be seen and felt around Memphis over nine days, beginning with a parade down club-lined Beale Street, videos of his performances, renditions of his music by impersonators, and reminiscences by his friends. Ex-wife Priscilla Presley and daughter Lisa Marie were expected to attend a Friday night concert at the Pyramid venue.

Sun Studio, where Presley recorded his first songs as a teen-ager, will hold a "block party" in the street. An Elvis-themed fashion show is planned and area clubs, restaurants and hotels will hold dinners and dances.

At Alfred's, a club on Beale Street, sometime disc jockey and Presley friend George Klein are scheduled to hold forth with other members of the "Elvis Mafia" who hung out with the man dubbed "The King" of rock 'n' roll.

"I've been working here nine years and we're expecting the largest year ever," said Jay Uiberall, Alfred's general manager. "Elvis had such a big impact on the music industry and people's lives, people just flock here."

"His career is at an all-time high," said Todd Morgan of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc., which licenses his image to merchandisers of anything from T-shirts to a furniture line.

"We always want to present Elvis in a positive light," he said. "We try to keep his work in front of new audiences."

Elvis' enduring popularity is revealed in the 600,000 people who trouped through Graceland in 2001, steady sales of repackaged versions of his albums, and a compilation album entitled "ELVIS 30 #1 Hits" that is set to hit stores in September.

Of course, Presley also lives on as the butt of jokes, in parodies and in suspicious sightings of him. His image in his last years was as a toiling, overweight performer addicted to drugs.
  • Rome Neal

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