By Adrian Sainz/The Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Elvis Presley’s ex-wife Priscilla and their only daughter Lisa Marie stunned a crowd of thousands Wednesday night when they unexpectedly greeted fans who had flocked to Graceland for a candelight vigil marking the 35th anniversary of the singer’s death.
Priscilla Presley and her daughter made the unscheduled appearance on a stage set up Wednesday night just inside the walls of Graceland as thousands with lit candles were set to enter the grounds of the stately mansion to honor the “King.” Together the two women thanked the crowd for their undying admiration of the rock ‘n’ roll icon.
During the brief remarks, Priscilla called the sight of thousands lofting candles amazing.
“This is something that Elvis would never ever have believed could have taken place here,” she said.
Lisa Marie Presley, standing beside her mother, told the fans she loved them for their devotion to her father. She also acknowledged she had shied away from making public appearances at past anniversary vigils for fear of being overwhelmed by the mood.
“I’ve always avoided this because I felt that it would be too emotional, but I really felt it was important to come down here tonight. I love you very very very much,” the singer’s daughter told the crowd. The spoke just before a long line of fans, many who had camped outside for hours, were allowed to file past the Elvis Presley gravesite on the grounds of the stately mansion and tourist attraction.
This was the first time both women have appeared together at the annual candlelight vigil, a tradition dating to the early 1980s.
Elvis admirers from around the United States and the globe have flocked each August anniversary to Graceland, where the singer is buried. Presley died on Aug. 16, 1977, from a heart attack after battling prescription drug abuse. His abrupt death at 42 shocked legions of fans around the globe and many today are still mesmerized by his singing, sex appeal and on-stage charisma.
The vigil marked the high point of Elvis Week, the annual celebration of Presley’s life and career. Organizers have said they expected 75,000 people to attend Elvis Week, with many taking part in the vigil that began Wednesday evening and lasting into the early hours Thursday.
This year also brings another highlight with a 35th-anniversary tribute concert planned at an area arena Thursday night. Priscilla Presley and Lisa Marie Presley were expected to attend the concert that is to feature live musicians playing along with videotaped footage of Elvis singing.
On Wednesday afternoon, Cheryl Skogen and friend Susan Struss held up black umbrellas with polka dots near the front of the line as they waited to enter Graceland’s grounds for the vigil.
As longtime Elvis fans and neighbors in Los Angeles, they said they decided to come to Elvis Week without their husbands. They got up well before dawn Wednesday for a prime spot in the line.
There, women wore pink and black T-shirts emblazoned with Elvis’ picture. Some men dressed in black shirts, dark sunglasses and pompadours, Elvis-style.
Skogen said she first came to Graceland in 1981 — before the home became a museum and a tourist attraction — and has visited several times since. She remembers first seeing Elvis on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and being enthralled with his hip-swiveling performance at a Lack Tahoe concert.
“The first time I saw him he changed my life,” said Skogen, now 66 and retired. “I had never seen anybody dance like he did or sing like he did or look like he did. He captured my heart.”
A few spots down the line, Allen Black, 47, who sat in a blue and white chair alongside the outer wall of Graceland and talked about his memories of where he was when he first heard Elvis had died. He was 12 at the time.
“I was trying to record a song off the radio, and the news came on the radio, and I went to tell my dad,” Black said, tears welling in his eyes. “He didn’t believe me. It just stunned him.”