Despite heat, Elvis vigil attracts 15,000 fans

Chris Walker from Cleveland, Tenn.,  along with thousands of other faithful fans, pay tribute to Elvis Presley on Sunday night at the candlelight vigil at Graceland. The event marks the 33rd anniversary of Presley's death.

Photo by Chris Desmond // Buy this photo

Chris Walker from Cleveland, Tenn., along with thousands of other faithful fans, pay tribute to Elvis Presley on Sunday night at the candlelight vigil at Graceland. The event marks the 33rd anniversary of Presley's death.

A quiet stream of fans bearing candles to a flower-strewn grave marked the 33rd anniversary of Elvis Presley's death Sunday night.

As dusk settled over Memphis, a crowd estimated at 15,000 defied a 118-degree heat index to gather at the gates of Graceland for the annual candlelight vigil that concludes the 2010 Elvis Week festivities.

Chris Walker from Cleveland, Tenn.,  along with thousands of other faithful fans, pay tribute to Elvis Presley on Sunday night at the candlelight vigil at Graceland. The event marks the 33rd anniversary of Presley's death.

Photo by Chris Desmond

Chris Walker from Cleveland, Tenn., along with thousands of other faithful fans, pay tribute to Elvis Presley on Sunday night at the candlelight vigil at Graceland. The event marks the 33rd anniversary of Presley's death.

Kevin Kern, public relations director of Elvis Presley Enterprises, noted that this year's attendance was average for the event.

"It was a tough year marketing-wise because there's not a big anniversary ending with a zero or a five," Kern said. "However, going by ticket sales to our other events this week, we were very pleased."

Both the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest on Friday and a screening of the newly restored film "Elvis on Tour" on Saturday brought nearly 2,000 people to the Orpheum theater each night.

"With the release of the film, along with his 75th birthday in January and the Elvis-themed cirque show opening in Las Vegas, Elvis has been all over the world this year," Kern said.

And, as always, the world came to Memphis last week to pay tribute to "The King" or to just wrestle with its mysterious attraction to him.

Travis Persaud, 33, grew up with people telling him how much his voice sounded like that of Elvis. A couple of years ago, he quit fighting the comparisons, made up some business cards and now performs whenever and wherever he can, as Elvis.

"Elvis has to be in me," he said. "You don't just wake up one day and say I'm going to sing like him. He has to be in your heart to begin with."

This year, Persaud got in his car and drove to Memphis from Toronto. He leapt at every opportunity to perform on the open mikes at Graceland.

"What's amazing is the love people have," he said. "A little girl came up to me and asked for an autograph. Then she gave me a big hug. I couldn't believe how wonderful and accepting the fans are."

Brandon Bird, 8, of Manhattan, Ill., has been a vigil attendee since he was 6 months old. Dressed in a blue satin jumpsuit and sweating alongside the professionals, he predicted: "When I get older, I'll probably look even more like Elvis."

His mother, Dawn Bird, comes to Graceland every year, as she has since his death. She considers the annual gathering a learning experience.

"You meet people from all over the world," she said. "He learns about rock and roll and music history, and it gives him something to talk about with his friends."

Brandon has shared his collection of Elvis memorabilia with students at his school.

"Elvis is the first king of rock and roll," he explained. "If there ever is a second one, Elvis will still be the first. I really miss him."

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