Fans of Elvis Presley cheered as his daughter and ex-wife appeared publicly at Graceland to personally thank them for their loyalty, 35 years after the music legend’s death.
Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley spoke for little more than a minute on Wednesday at the start of an all-night candlelight vigil in memory of the king of rock ‘n’ roll, who died suddenly on August 16, 1977 at the age of 42.
But it was enough to thrill the mainly older but passionately dedicated crowd that returns every year to Presley’s beloved home in Memphis to celebrate his life and music.
“I know this is something Elvis would never ever have believed would have taken place here,” said Priscilla, in a white suit, looking out over a sea of candles across all six lanes of Elvis Presley Boulevard.
“You know this: he loved his fans, and this is proof that you love him… We thank you very, very much for all that you do to keep his legacy going on and on and on,” she said.
Lisa Marie, 44, who opted for a dark outfit, said: “”I’ve always avoided this because I thought it would be too emotional but I really felt it was important to come down here tonight and be with you.
“We love you. I love you very, very much and I am honored to see you here and we’re grateful that you are in our lives and we’re really happy to be part of this tonight with you.”
The music-themed gates of Graceland, where Elvis is buried with his parents amid statues of Jesus Christ in a small “meditation garden” next to a swimming pool, stayed open all night to a steady stream of candle-bearing well-wishers.
Graceland spokesman Kevin Kern said the turnout — on a hot and dry summer evening — was expected to match or exceed the record 75,000 who turned up for the vigil for the 30th anniversary of Presley’s death in 2007.
“There are lot of folks who don’t come until after the vigil starts,” Kern said. “We have folks who trickle in throughout the night and it continues well into the next morning.”
In what has become a yearly ritual of near-religious proportions, Wednesday’s vigil included a brief moment of silence, plus several of Presley’s more spiritual recordings, played over loudspeakers.
Elvis and Priscilla Presley divorced in 1973 after six years of marriage, but they remained close and, after his death, she played a pivotal role in turning Graceland into a major tourist attraction.
Their daughter Lisa Marie, whose four husbands notably included Michael Jackson from 1994 to 1996, is a singer-songwriter who released her first album in seven years, “Storm and Grace,” earlier this year.
The candlelight vigil is a high point of the nine-day “Elvis Week” that includes a tribute artist championship and, on Thursday, a stadium concert saluting the gospel and blues music that influenced Presley’s life work.
“We tell people, if you haven’t come to Elvis Week, you won’t ever understand why we’re here,” said Janet Mathis, a community college administrator from Texas, as she waited her turn to enter Graceland.
“Everybody (here) has the same ideology, basically,” added her retired husband Warren Mathis. “We’re here to pay tribute to Elvis and to be part of something that’s ongoing.”
Memphis natives Barbara Humphreys and Marynelle Vickers turned up with T-shirts bearing snapshots from the day in August 1961 when they went to Graceland and met Presley in person.
They agreed that no pop star today can compare to Presley — not ever teen idol Justin Bieber. “I can assure you,” Vickers said, “when he (Bieber) is gone, there will never be people standing in line like this.”