Thousands honor Elvis Presley at Graceland vigil
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Elvis Presley fans from around the world made their annual pilgrimage to Graceland on Thursday to pay their respects to the rock n' roll icon with a solemn candlelight vigil on the 36th anniversary of his death.
Thousands of Presley fans carried lit candles as they walked silently through the Mediation Garden at Graceland, Presley's longtime Memphis home. The garden is the location of Presley's grave and also is the spot where his mother, father and grandmother are buried.
Wreaths of flowers and pictures of Presley encircled the grave, while shadows cast by the glowing candles danced along the stone wall surrounding the garden. Soft music played in the mild night, as some in the procession bowed their heads or cried quietly.
Each year, fans of Presley's music and movies come to Memphis for Elvis Week, the weeklong celebration of his life and career. Presley died on Aug. 16, 1977, of a heart attack after battling prescription drug abuse.
The vigil is the highlight of Elvis Week, which this year featured a listening party at Stax Records for the recent release of the three-CD box set "Elvis at Stax." Performances by Presley tribute artists and a screening of the "Aloha from Hawaii" television program from January 1973 are other featured events of the weeklong reunion, which wraps up Saturday.
Elvis Presley fan Jill Gibson lights candles outside Graceland, Presley's home, before the annual candlelight vigil on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013, in Memphis, Tenn. Presley fans from around the world made their annual pilgrimage to Graceland to pay their respects to the rock n' roll icon with a solemn candlelight vigil on the 36th anniversary of his death. (AP Photo/The Commercial Appeal, Nikki Boertman)
Police estimated 35,000 people would attend the vigil. Last year, an estimated 75,000 people descended on Graceland for the event. Elvis' ex-wife Priscilla Presley and his daughter Lisa Marie Presley spoke at last year's event, the first time they appeared together at the vigil since it began.
Christine Jeffords made her fifth trip to Graceland with her husband Jon and three other members of a fan club called the Elvis Midwest Mafia, whose members are from Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. They wore red T-shirts with Presley's image emblazoned on a king of hearts playing card on the front.
The back of their shirts had a quote that gives one reason why fans have made repeated trips to Memphis for Elvis Week and the vigil: "If you have a friend who is an Elvis fan, you have a friend for life."
"Where else can you go where you meet people from year to year who have the same passion?" said Christine Jeffords, a pre-school teacher from Hartford, Wis.