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News Flash...The King is still dead


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MEMPHIS, United States (AFP) - Thousands of fans from around the world packed Elvis Presley's home to pay hommage on the anniversary of his death and prove that the rock'n'roll king is still not forgotten.

Twenty-eight years after Presley was found slumped on the floor of the bathroom at his Graceland mansion in Memphis, the gardens were still packed for the annual vigil of fans carrying candles, wreaths and teddy bears and wearing any Elvis memorabilia they can lay their hands on.

At midnight, when the official vigil started the temperature was a wilting 31 degrees Celsius (87 Fahrenheit). But it did not deter fans, many of whom were not alive on August 16, 1977 when Presley died at the age of 42 from the impact of years of prescription drug abuse.

For most the memorial week theme, "Elvis Lives," is more than a marketing slogan.

"If he weren't dead, we would have known by now," said Bill Vick, who traveled from Sydney, Australia to attend the vigil for the ninth time. "But that doesn't mean Elvis Presley is not alive."

Vick, a 1950s and 60s-era rock and roll singer by trade, finished his blue, black and white chalk sketch of a young, brooding Presley, circled by candles and facing the famed Graceland gates, just minutes before midnight.

But Vick's portrait was not the only tribute on Elvis Presley Boulevard in front of Graceland.

Twenty-somethings from Germany hoisted beers to a nearby Scot in a kilt who sang along to Presley hits such as "That's All Right," "Viva Las Vegas" and "Burning Love," blaring from loudspeakers.

Fans speaking a myriad of languages, from Dutch to Japanese, mingled on the street as The King performed, via taped concert footage, on giant screens.

Dozens erected shrines -- from simple pictures of Presley and his parents to elaborate designs spelling out Presley's name in flickering candlelights.

Professional Japanese Elvis tribute artist Mori Yasumasa was among the throng that made its way to the grave.

"I wouldn't miss the vigil," said Yasumasa, a former champion of the local impersonator competition. "This is the highlight of my year."

For other fans, like Dorian Baxter, founder of Christ the King, Graceland Independent Anglican Church in Ontario, Canada, this is more of a pilgrimage.

"Elvis has been a great instrument to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ," said Baxter, a reverend who often performs in Elvis garb as "Elvis Priestly."

"And coming to Memphis in August," continued Baxter, dressed in a white linen suit and black silk shirt, "is just my way of paying respect to the man whose music has helped me bring people to the Lord."

Baxter's fervor is not unique, as evidenced by the horde of fans who raised their hands skyward every time Presley sang a gospel tune.

This year the event was televised on the internet and on select cable channels, according to Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE), who said it had reached 12 million homes in the United States. Last year's subscriber-only broadcast had 100,000 viewers, EPE said.

Presley's endurance is witnessed everywhere from his chart-topping American and British re-releases and remixes in recent years to the 100 million dollars that Presley's sole heir, Lisa Marie Presley, received for selling EPE to New York-based CKX Inc., an entertainment company that also owns the hit television series "American Idol."

But perhaps Presley's lasting legacy is no better visible than in Memphis, beneath the near full moon at midnight as Presley sang "Love Me Tender" and thousands of fans, paused in their candlelit procession to toast the world's first rock star with the echoing refrain: "To The King."

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