By Adrian Sainz/The Associated Press
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Thousands of fans of Elvis Presley from around the world, some wearing his trademark outfits and thick sideburns, made their way to Graceland for a candlelight vigil ahead of the 34th anniversary of the singer’s death.
Droves of fans trek each year to Memphis to remember Elvis, who died on Aug. 16, 1977. The vigil was the main draw of “Elvis Week,” and some waited hours outside the stately mansion for the procession set to start at 8:30 p.m. CDT.
Devotees like 60-year-old Joe Makowski, who claims he saw Elvis in concert 81 times, lined up for hours along Graceland’s outer brick wall. Makowski and his girlfriend, Pamela Hembree, were among the first in line. A New Jersey native who owns four of Elvis’ concert-worn scarves and has attended several vigils, he said it was time to introduce Hembree to the Elvis Week experience honoring the life and career of the rock ‘n’ roll star.
“I get to meet new fans and meet new people, so that’s why I line up here early in the day,” said Makowski, who went to Las Vegas twice a year between 1971 and 1976 to see Elvis perform. “The biggest thing I get out of it is seeing the young fans that weren’t even born until years after he passed away.”
Makowski said he admires Elvis because of his singing and performing prowess, of course, but also for what he called the singer’s overall cool-ness.
“He helped me break out of my shell because I was kind of a shy kid,” said Makowski, an actor who now lives in Palm Harbor, Fla.
Those present Monday included visitors from Japan, England, Germany and other countries. Some fans wore full Elvis outfits, others just his trademark sunglasses or sideburns.
Temperatures were in the high 80s much of the day, sharply down from the suffocating 100-degree heat that greeted Elvis fans last August. About 30,000 people were expected, but nothing near the 75,000-strong crowd that’s expected to flock to Graceland in 2012 for the 35th anniversary of the singer’s death.
The annual vigil began when some Elvis fans traveled to Graceland the year after Elvis’ death. It grew into an organized event in 1982.
This year, fans have something else to commemorate. It was 55 years ago — 1956 — when the first two Elvis albums were released. That year alone, Elvis sold 10 million singles and 800,000 LPs.
Glenys Sites said she still remembers watching Elvis perform “Love Me Tender” for the first time.
“He’s got everything — stage presence, charisma; he was sexy, great voice,” Sites said. “There’s never been anybody like him. I don’t think he’ll ever die.”
Sites met her current husband on a visit from Yorkshire, England, to Memphis two years ago for Elvis Week. They met on Beale St., the famous Memphis tourist drag. Sites, who lives with her husband in Southaven, Miss., said he wouldn’t come and sit outside in the heat all day for the vigil to start.
“He thinks I’m crazy, but I’m an Elvis fan,” she said.
Many still remember where they were when they found out the singer was dead.
Elvis fan Debbie Moller says she was seated on her couch when her sister called that August day in 1977. She didn’t believe her sister at first, so she turned on the radio.
“I was bawling non-stop,” said Moller, who makes Elvis T-shirts and is now attending her 15th vigil.
Like many who make the walk up the hill and see the Elvis gravesite and those of his parents, Moller expects to get emotional.
“I cry,” said Moller, of Colorado Springs, Colo. “The songs they play make you think back to what you were doing they day he died.”
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press