MEMPHIS, Tennessee (Reuters) - Elvis Presley fans from around the world gathered outside his Memphis home on Wednesday to mark the 30th anniversary of his death in an event meant to both honor the singer’s legacy and cash in on it.
Tens of thousands of fans were expected to file past Presley’s grave site at his Graceland estate beginning Wednesday night and continuing into Thursday morning.
The candlelight vigil began amid an intense heat wave, with temperatures in Memphis rising past 100 degrees (38 degrees Celsius) by mid-afternoon. Paramedics treated several waiting fans for heat exhaustion and kept ambulances standing by.
“We’re doing our best to keep cool,” said Mike Meridian, a 46-year-old construction foreman from Houston, as he waited in line under a golf umbrella to be one of the first to pay his respects at Graceland.
“Elvis blows the wind our way every now and again,” he said.
Meridian was holding a space for his wife, Shirley Roberts, who had been coming to Graceland to pay tribute every year since August 16, 1977, when Elvis died suddenly at age 42 from heart failure after battling health problems including weight gain and a dependency on prescription drugs.
Nearby Meridian a hand-painted sign in pink on the brick gate at Graceland read: “I will always love Elvis.” Another, in brilliant orange said: “Elvis = World Peace.”
Inside the air-conditioned visitors’ center, Elvis impersonators compared notes on self-made costumes. Souvenir stands did a brisk business in commemorative T-shirts for the anniversary that featured Presley’s image and included a note thanking fans “for 30 great years!”
The first candlelight vigil began as an impromptu tribute from fans, whom Elvis had often greeted at the brick gates of Graceland in the early days of his career.
The event has grown bigger in the years since Presley’s ex-wife Priscilla took control of his estate and opened Graceland as a tourist destination in 1982.
For the 30th anniversary of Presley’s death, Elvis Presley Enterprises, the firm that controls his estate, organized a full week of events and tribute concerts that brought tens of thousands fans to the Memphis area.
Hundreds of fans paid up to $68 each to tour Graceland on Wednesday and take in exhibits showcasing Presley’s penchant for the outlandish, including his signature 1970s-era jumpsuits, his white-fur trimmed bed and his favorite gun: a turquoise-handled Colt .45.
The upstairs of Graceland, including the bathroom where Presley died, remains off-limits to visitors.
Fan clubs from around the world sent handcrafted tributes and bouquets for the Meditation Garden at Graceland, which includes the singer’s grave.
The outpouring included mounds of hand-folded paper cranes from Japan and a painting from a Denver fan club showing Elvis in his Las Vegas-era costume being embraced by Jesus in heaven.
Lisa Marie Presley, Presley’s only child, turned up in the ornately appointed Jungle Room of Graceland as part of a TV interview with ABC’s Diane Sawyer, delighting a handful of fans who happened to be filing past.
Even a Graceland tour guide temporarily forgot herself. “I love those shoes!” she said.
Under her black dress, Presley’s shoes were a dazzling gold, the same bright gold Graceland exhibits show her late father favored for flashy effect in suits, Cadillacs and bathroom fixtures.