Elvis Faithful Mark 11th Anniversary
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) _ Thousands of Elvis Presley fans toured the King’s white-columned estate, lay floral teddy bears and guitars near his grave and bought Elvis memorabilia today to mark the 11th anniversary of his death.
″I’m here because he lived here,″ said Samantha Fraser, 20, of Morden, England. ″He’s just so brilliant and wonderful.″
Miss Fraser came for the Elvis anniversary with a group of 190 visitors from Great Britain. ″I was 6 years old when I saw the first (Elvis) film, and I fell in love,″ she said.
A capacity crowd of 4,000 tourists and fans was expected to tour Presley’s former residence, Graceland, during the day, said Stacey Sheppard, a Graceland spokeswoman.
More than 70 stands of flowers, many shaped like guitars, hearts or teddy bears, lined a walk beside the grave.
Graceland managers said fans have been upset this year by jokes fanned by a new book, ″Is Elvis Alive?″ The book theorizes that Elvis isn’t dead; he is only taking a career break. The rumors have not affected activities, however.
The observance began Monday with a candlelight, graveside procession.
″Elvis, we miss you tonight. We will love you today, tomorrow and forever,″ June Klein of North Lewisburg, Ohio, said during a memorial program that began the late-night procession past the singer’s grave.
The stands of flowers lined a walk beside the grave. Many of the dozens of Elvis fan clubs around the country traditionally schedule their floral arrangements to arrive on Aug. 16, the day Presley died.
The procession, which began at 10:30 p.m. Monday, was expected to draw more than 5,000 participants. Police estimated a crowd of 3,000 at the Graceland gates waiting for the affair to get under way.
Laurie Cousins of Winnipeg, Canada, arrived at the gates at noon Monday to be first in line. She said the long, hot wait in the 99-degree temperature was worth it.
″It’s an honor to be first, and to look back and see all those candles lit is just unbelievable,″ she said.
Also in the crowd were Ray and Angela Campione of New York, and their 5- year-old son, Paul Elvis Campione, who wore a white, bejeweled jumpsuit and struck Elvis poses to the delight of the other fans.
Asked why he’s an Elvis fan, the child replied, ″He’s a nice man, and I like his music and he gives to the poor children.″
Presley died of heart disease at Graceland in 1977, and the faithful return by the hundreds each year to mark the anniversary.
The graveside procession is the largest event of a nine-day celebration called ″Elvis International Tribute Week,″ organized and promoted by managers of Graceland. More than 35,000 people are expected to tour Graceland during the week.
With Elvis recordings playing in the background, the fans queued up to touch candles to a torch lighted by an eternal flame, and to walk single file up a winding, 200-yard driveway past Presley’s grave beside the Graceland swimming pool.
″It helps keep his memory alive,″ said Gene Carothers of Gnadenhutten, Ohio, who sported an Elvis pompadour and a 6-inch-wide leather belt with dangling loops of chain.