Elvis Presley’s ex-wife Priscilla paid an emotional tribute to the singer at a special candlelight vigil last night to mark the 35th anniversary of his death.
Priscilla Presley and Elvis’s only daughter Lisa Marie surprised a crowd of thousands when they unexpectedly greeted fans who had flocked to Elvis’ Memphis mansion Graceland for the vigil. Presley died at the age of 42 from a heart attack on Tuesday August 16th 1977.
It was the first time both women had appeared together at the annual gathering, which became an official event in 1980.
Priscilla, the actress who was divorced from Elvis Presley in 1973, said she was moved by the sight of thousands of fans holding up candles, adding: “This is something that Elvis would never, ever have believed could have taken place here.”
Lisa Marie Presley, herself a singer, said: “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, , told the crowd. “I love you very, very, very much.”
More than 70,000 fans have flocked to Graceland this week to commemorate the death of the man known as ‘The King Of Rock ‘n’ Roll’.
The candlelight ceremony was followed by a special concert with surviving members of Presley’s band, including Bobby Wood, in a 1,200-seat air conditioned tent. There was video footage of Elvis singing.
In line with the digital age, fans in his Memphis home lit real wax candles and some switched on virtual candles on a special Elvis Week smartphone app.
Songwriter Mike Stoller who, with the late Jerry Leiber, wrote some of Presley’s greatest songs, including Hound Dog and Jailhouse Rock, has been a guest at Elvis Week. He recalled that the singer made 26 takes of Jailhouse Rock before deciding they had nailed it on the ninth take. Stoller recalled: “He kept saying, ‘I think I can do it better.’ Finally he said, ‘Where’s that one that you liked?’ We went back and played it and he said, ‘Yeah, that’s it, that’s cool.’
The memorial gathering has also been attended by thousands of Elvis tribute artists (they don’t like to be called Elvis Impersonators), many of whom have been taking part in the sixth annual Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest. Most – including the women – will be sporting Elvis’s famous 1970s sideburns.
Also at Graceland were most presidents of Elvis Presley fan clubs from all over the world – the youngest of whom is 13-year-old Isabella Scott, born 22 years after the singer’s death.
The anniversary has also been the excuse for a new flood of memorabilia and merchandise. Carol Butler, vice president for international licensing, revealed a Mr Potato Head character resembling Presley in his ‘Aloha from Hawaii’ period this week.
There has also been an auction this week in Memphis of Presley artifacts, including a gold Longines watch, a gift from his manager Colonel Tom Parker, which sold for £10,380 and a Colt Python double-action revolver Presley used for target practice in the backyard of Graceland, which went for £8775. The extent of the Presley mania was demonstrated in the fact that an empty plastic bottle of tetracycline, an antibiotic, prescribed to Presley in 1974, sold for £3510.
Perhaps it’s just better to put on some of those wonderful Elvis Sun Session recordings and remember the musician with such a lovely voice. As Joe Guercio, Presley’s musical director from 1970 until the star’s death, said: “Elvis is fan-driven and there are not a lot of people in show business who are fan-driven.”