Elvis Presley fans from around the world made their annual pilgrimage to Graceland on Thursday to pay their respects to the rock n’ roll icon with a solemn candlelight vigil on the 36th anniversary of his death.
Thousands of Presley fans carried lit candles as they walked silently through the Mediation Garden at Graceland, Presley’s longtime Memphis home. The garden is the location of Presley’s grave and also is the spot where his mother, father and grandmother are buried.
Wreaths of flowers and pictures of Presley encircled the grave, while shadows cast by the glowing candles danced along the stone wall surrounding the garden. Soft music played in the mild night, as some in the procession bowed their heads or cried quietly.
Each year, fans of Presley’s music and movies come to Memphis for Elvis Week, the weeklong celebration of his life and career. Presley died Aug. 16, 1977, of a heart attack after battling prescription drug abuse.
The vigil is the highlight of Elvis Week, which this year featured a listening party at Stax Records for the recent release of the three-CD box set Elvis at Stax. Performances by Presley tribute artists and a screening of the Aloha From Hawaii television program from January 1973 are other featured events of the weeklong reunion, which wraps up Saturday.
Police estimated 35,000 people would attend the vigil. Last year, an estimated 75,000 people descended on Graceland for the event. Elvis’ ex-wife, Priscilla Presley, and his daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, spoke at last year’s event, the first time they appeared together at the vigil since it began.
The vigil started as an informal gathering the year after his death. It has blossomed into a major tourist event. Fans begin lining up along the outer wall of Graceland about 12 hours before the vigil, and many will stay until the early morning hours of the next day.
The event also has become an international affair and a tribute to the Tupelo, Miss., native’s worldwide popularity, hosting fans from Australia, Brazil, England and Japan and other foreign countries.