Fans still mourning Elvis' death

A fan posing with a microphone Elvis Presley used at Sun Studio in Memphis, where the singer made his first recordings.
A fan posing with a microphone Elvis Presley used at Sun Studio in Memphis, where the singer made his first recordings.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

MEMPHIS •Forty years after Elvis Presley's death in 1977, fans still Can't Help Falling In Love with the iconic singer.

They come every day, filing past in silence, fighting back tears as they place mementos at his grave site, pausing to reflect, take pictures or say a prayer.

More than 600,000 fans visit each year, paying tribute to the once rebellious sex symbol turned family entertainer, whose work was deemed so significant that the late Beatle John Lennon once declared: "Before Elvis, there was nothing."

Floral tributes from around the world still line Meditation Garden, where the king of rock 'n' roll is buried at his Graceland home in Memphis.

Today, thousands, if not tens of thousands, are expected to attend a candlelight vigil to mark the anniversary of his death at age 42 from a heart attack.

Ms Lisa Bseiso will be one of them. She had what she calls a "very spiritual, deep encounter" with Presley's spirit when she first visited Graceland in August 2014.

"He was sitting in a chair," said the 36-year-old, who was born and raised in Qatar. "He had tears coming down his eyes and he said, 'Don't forget me, spread my legacy in your part of the world.'"

She went home and set up The Official Elvis Presley Fan Club of Qatar, which she plans to expand to Dubai, Bahrain and Kuwait.

The idea that his spirit lives on is central to his fans of all ages, from all countries, who find his music soothing in times of trouble and are moved by his rags-to-riches story and legendary generosity.

Presley is far more than just another poster child for the American dream or even a man whose looks matched the Greek definition of classical beauty, said British author Ted Harrison.

"The Elvis known today is not the real Elvis, but a mythological figure millions can relate to in their own way," said the author of The Death And Resurrection Of Elvis Presley.

"For some fans, he also fills a spiritual and religious vacuum in modern secular society. He is given a semi-divine, quasi-messianic status and mystical stories are told about his life."

Thousands have shrines to Presley in their homes, consider visits to Graceland a pilgrimage, write prayers on the wall outside and some even go so far as to confuse him with Jesus, Harrison added.

Ms Bseiso does not elevate Presley to the status of prophet, but has found in him a higher calling as she seeks to spread his music and challenge stereotypes about Arabs or the Middle East.

The guide at Sun Studio, a 10- minute drive from Graceland, tells fans that they are on "sacred and hallowed" ground in the basement studio, where Presley recorded his first song That's All Right in 1954.

Fans jostle to stand on the spot where he stood, and cradle and croon into the microphone he used, manically snapping photographs.

"I actually have goose bumps," said Ms Tessa Bruns, 40, an anaesthetist from Wisconsin.

"Being a somewhat religious person and a Catholic," she said, "I would say Elvis is a religion, the blues, the rhythm, his legacy."

So what would she have told Presley had she ever met him? "I would say, 'I think I worship the ground you walk on.'"


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2017, with the headline 'Fans still mourning Elvis' death'. Print Edition | Subscribe