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The King lives on

Greg Risling

Even in death his legend lives on.

Twenty years after a heart attack took his life, the proclaimed king of rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis Presley, is still revered as one of the greatest musicians ever by his fans and critics.

Thousands of people will converge on his grandeur mecca, Graceland Mansion in Memphis, Tenn., for commemorative ceremonies this weekend. All across the world “Elvis-mania” will be in full swing.

Locally, the celebration will be a bit more subdued, but anything associated with Elvis is a hot commodity.

Over at the Horizon Casino Resort, formerly the Sahara Tahoe, a 14th floor suite used by Presley is one of the hotel’s more popular rooms. Sandy Hoy, marketing director, said the suite’s sauna and pool table pale in comparison to the pinball machines Elvis loved so much.

“He would challenge his entourage all the time,” she said of the pinball wizard. “There were two to three machines and he couldn’t stop playing them.”

At the Fantasy Inn, the Graceland Suite is decked out with all of the Presley amenities. With a heart-shaped bed, a guitar-shaped coffee table and a gold-plated bust resting above the fireplace, guests can feel closer to the King.

Linda Ekelund and Jeff Wustefeld are the lucky couple who landed the suite for the weekend. Wustefeld’s birthday is on Saturday, the very same date when Presley died. He remembers where he was when he got the bad news.

“I was on the San Mateo Bridge and the first indication he had died was the airwaves were filled with Elvis tunes,” he said.

Ekelund said she was impressed at the first glimpse of Presley – especially his wiggling hips.

“When he came out with those gyrations, he was way ahead of his time,” she laughed. “His voice was absolute velvet.”

There have been many rampant rumors about Presley. He’s been accused of adulterous affairs, addiction to pain killers and extreme paranoia. But Elvis was a charitable, giving man said Harriet Kerr, an auxiliary member for Barton Hospital. When Presley sold out all of his Tahoe concerts in the 1970s, part of the souvenir profits went to Barton Hospital. One lump sum, $10,000, went directly to the creation of the ward’s ICU unit. The wing was dedicated to Presley’s mother, Gladys.

When Barton was renovated, the plaque in his mother’s name disappeared and has never been recovered. All that is left is a black and white photo capturing one of many check presentation with Presley.

“It’s unfortunate that a part of history was lost,” said Norma Corder, Barton’s public information director. “Elvis was a big booster of the hospital and we will never forget the impact he had on this facility.”

His status has been elevated from an icon to an American deity with each passing year since his death. Women swooned and screamed for his good looks, his gyrating hips, the throaty love ballads. Men followed suit, grew sideburns and to this day still impersonate the King.

They won’t let him go.

There are many wild and bizarre events scheduled for this weekend. At Graceland, guests will don blue suede shoes for an all-night dance party. Visitors will pay tribute to Elvis during an annual candlelight vigil and for those who never saw him in concert, Elvis will entertain the crowd via a huge video screen in nearby Mid-South Coliseum.

The California State Fair will turn into “Western Graceland” this weekend, equipped with a 20-foot timeline and an enormous exhibit in his honor. Guests will try their hand in a lip-syncing contest and yes, kids can pin the sideburns on Elvis.

His life has been chronicled, praised and mourned. It seems that the fascination with Elvis Presley, who passed away on Aug. 16, 1977, will never die.

“Hey, he was good looking, great songs and had stage presence,” said fan Susan Sarles. “His music has survived four generations and it’s still popular. He’s going to be a legend forever.”


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