Thousands pay tribute to Elvis


MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- The king of rock and roll died four years ago Sunday, but 'Elvismania' lives on.

Some 10,000 fans were in town the week before the anniversary, many returning for a second and third visit to the city Elvis Presley called home until his death Aug. 16, 1977.


The throngs at the gate to Presley's Graceland mansion in Memphis thickened early in the week in anticipation of an array of events to commemorate the superstar.

A four-day music festival at the Cook Convention Center featured Carl Perkins, an early rockabilly performer and composer of 'Blue Suede Shoes' who started at Sun Records with Elvis.

A memorabilia display and Presley movies were available for Elvis fans. A weekend candlelight service was scheduled outside Graceland, and 'The Masters' and several other gospel groups planned a Sunday memorial service at the convention center.


Some of the Graceland visitors said they came out of curiosity. But most, like Betty Page, were Elvis devotees.

Mrs. Page said she moved to Memphis in 1975 and 'got hooked' on Elvis. She said she met Elvis once at the mansion gate and was attracted by his magnetic personality.

Most visitors, especially those from out of state, had their pictures taken in front of the iron mansion gate fashioned in the shape of a musical note.

The grounds to Graceland, where Presley lived in relative seclusion just before his death, are open to the public. Visitors can walk up the curved driveway to the 'meditation garden' beside the white-columned mansion where Presley's grave lies between those of his parents.

Presley died at the age of 42. His death was officially ruled as heart trouble, but the multitude of prescription pills he reportedly took on a daily basis are believed to have contributed to his early death.

Presley's personal physician of 11 years, Dr. George Nichopoulos, is scheduled to go on trial in Criminal Court next month on charges of over-prescribing drugs to the late rock king.

The Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners suspended Nichopoulos' license in early 1980 for three months and put him on probation for three years after hearing evidence he prescribed thousands of uppers, downers and painkillers to Presley and 10 other patients.


The inner sanctum of the Presley mansin is closed to the public, but a small section of the house was opened briefly last spring during the premiere of the semi-documentary film 'This is Elvis.' At that time, the public got a glimpse of the trophy room where Elvis kept 48 gold singles, 36 gold albums and 12 platinum albums.

Presley's 55-year-old aunt, Delta Mae Biggs, is the only person now residing in the 18-room mansion.

Another relative, Presley cousin Harold Loyd, keeps the gate. Loyd said the crowds begin to increase last weekend.

'We'll be busy as bees,' he predicted.

A Los Angeles woman who bought Presley's home in Beverly Hills was selling jewelry and other items fashioned from materials taken from the house.

A Dallas couple, Jay and Bo Griffin, said they made an overnight stop in Memphis just to see Graceland. Jay Griffin praised Presley's genius and Bo Griffin said, 'I'll never forget the day he died.'

Some visitors write messages on scraps of paper and leave them on Graceland's stone wall.

'We loved you and always will,' said one note. 'Elvis, we thank you for all you gave us while you were alive. Now and always you will never die in our hearts,' said another.


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