It is Elvis week in Memphis, Tennessee in the United States and all over town they have banners: ''20 years/Still Rocking.” Is it just us, or is it weird to wax so upbeat about the twentieth anniversary of a death? You cannot help but feel that the world's got the Elvis Presley it wanted: a changeless, ageless object of contemplation and veneration. Elvis Week culminates in an event called Elvis-The Concert 2000 in which the man himself, resurrected by video technology, will sing with his living ex-band mates and the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. Who would not secretly prefer this fail-safe digitized spectacle to a weary 62-year-old grinding out "If I Can Dream" one more time?
Twenty years ago, no one close to Elvis could have imagined that his fans would spend over USD 250 million annually on Elvis dolls, plates, key chains, towels, and wigs—to name just a few items. Two years after Elvis's death, his estate was worth less on paper than it owed in taxes. Then, in 1979, Priscilla Presley, Elvis's ex-wife, was named an executor of the estate for her daughter. The family's crown jewels—Elvis's recordings—had been sold off years earlier and Priscilla had just one chance to save the legacy. She gambled that Elvis's name, image, and likeness were worth something. She turned his home into a roadside attraction to finance a legal war, fighting for control of all that was Elvis.
Priscilla concluded that there was only one way to save Graceland: sell tickets to the hundreds of gawkers who daily pressed their faces against Elvis's gates. Meanwhile, why not sell some gewgaws to the fans that were already buying cheesy trinkets at the strip mall across the street? Buoyed by an initial investment of USD 560,000, Graceland's doors were opened to the public in 1982. It took 38 days to recoup their investment; 350,000 visitors walked through the house the first year. "I felt I was betraying Elvis", says Priscilla, recalling her decision to enter the amusement business. "Graceland was his pride and joy. But it came down to the reality that I had to open it up for my daughter's future."
Today 750,000 people visit Graceland each year—52 per cent of them under 35, which suggests this is a business with a future. The mansion has upgraded its public facilities many times over the years, but there still are no vending machines on the grounds and the lawns have never been turned into a parking lot. The original 24 acres (97,125 meters) have been expanded into an 80-acre (323,749-meter) compound and Priscilla intends to add a hotel to the complex. There are also plans for a casino in Las Vegas—perhaps with an Elvis wedding chapel and an international chain of Hard Rock Cafe-style restaurants called Elvis Presley's Memphis. Finally, a staff of 10 lawyers is employed full-time by Elvis Presley Enterprises simply to protect Elvis's image from interlopers.
1. Sources: Corie Brown, "Look Who's Taking Care of Business," Newsweek, August 18, 1997, p. 62. Karen Schoemer, "Burning Love," Newsweek, August 18, 1997, pp. 58—61. G. Brown, "More Early Elvis Unearthed," The Denver Post, August 15, 1997, p. 9F. Greg Hassell, "King of Trees Rises From Graceland," Houston Chronicle, Dec. 8,1999, p. 11. Duncan Hughes, "Elvis is Back From the Dead Financially," Sunday Business, August 15, 1999, p. 23.