MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Would the pompadour be gray? Would arthritis have stilled the swiveling hips? Would the lip now curl above false teeth?
If he were still alive, Elvis Presley would have turned 70 on Saturday. But old age and the unfortunate problem of being deceased haven’t slowed down the King.
“There’s no age to him,” said Jerry Engelby, one of 800 or so fans gathered on Graceland’s front lawn for a cake cutting and “Happy Birthday” sing-along. “He’s just Elvis.”
For the faithful, with “Good Rockin’ Tonight” blasting from a pair of speakers, Elvis was as hot (or as cool) as ever.
'Still just Elvis'
That he was born in 1935 and died in 1977 did little to tarnish the fans’ memories of a rock ’n’ roll rebel or bespangled superstar.
“In the movies we’re watching, he’s still just Elvis. The songs we’re hearing, he’s still just Elvis,” said Engelby, 62, of Jefferson City, Mo., who wears pink and black to Graceland because Presley favored those colors early in his career.
That career, which began in 1954, is still strong, too, with Presley’s run as a star lasting longer after death than in life. And now, at 70, Elvis may be on the cusp of a whole new phase in his career.
Elvis Presley Enterprises, the business arm of the estate, brought in $45 million last year, making Elvis one of the top earning dead entertainers in the world.
Since his death, the estate, including the rights to his name and image, have been solely owned by his only heir, daughter Lisa Marie Presley.
But now, Robert F.X. Sillerman, the founder of music and sports promoter SFX Entertainment, is in the process of buying 85 percent of the estate’s assets. He plans to take the business public and look for new markets for Elvis ventures — perhaps shops, museums or other attractions elsewhere in the United States or abroad.
Lisa Marie Presley will keep title to Graceland itself and the house will generally remain unchanged.
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While Graceland draws 600,000 visitors a year, thousands of them from other countries, the estate has focused most of its business in the United States.
“The demand for Elvis is already in place and strong in all kinds of places all over the world: Australia, Japan, Asia, Europe,” said Jack Soden, Graceland’s top executive. “This gives us more resources to do more things, bigger things and to do them sooner.”
Foreign fans abound
Many in the birthday crowd at Graceland were from abroad, including several hundred in a tour group from Great Britain.
Ester Blajer, 59, of Buenos Aires, Argentina, said she believes Presley would have turned more to gospel music had he not died young.
As a teenager, Blajer wrote to a celebrity magazine’s pen pal page and began corresponding with other Elvis fans around the world.
“One pen pal, we have been writing for 42 years,” Blajer said. “I just spent Christmas and New Year with her in Madison, Wisconsin.”
After singing “Happy Birthday,” the fans packed in around an outdoor stage to cheer the cutting of a white and yellow birthday cake with Presley’s image outlined in icing. Most also paid visits to Presley’s grave in a small garden beside Graceland, many leaving flowers, teddy bears or other small tributes.
A birthday dance, featuring a band playing Elvis music, was scheduled Saturday night at a hotel near Graceland and The Official Elvis Presley Fan Club of Great Britain planned a brunch and disco party on Sunday.
Word that new owners are taking over Graceland’s business affairs and will control how Presley is marketed has some fans apprehensive.
They want Elvis presented to the world the way they still remember him.
“That’s good if it’s done in a positive way, the way that Elvis would have wanted it,” said fan Engelby. “You have to always think of what would Elvis want. He would want us to love each other, bond together as a family and be kind and giving. We’re Elvis family, not just fans.”
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