Chilean miner and Elvis Presley fan Edison Peña was not a fan of his first peanut butter and banana sandwich, but he found Graceland "amazing," especially the jumpsuits worn by his rock-and-roll idol.
Peña took his first tour of Graceland on Friday after becoming a Chilean national hero and an international star as one of 33 miners rescued in October after 69 days in a collapsed gold and copper mine.
He left his mining job, and, despite hero status in his country, lost his health insurance. "This is the price I had to pay in my country. Many have had the same experience. It's a warning we should worry about these things," Peña, 34, said after his long-awaited tour of Graceland.
Later, he went on a $1,000 shopping spree courtesy of Lansky at The Peabody. "He was dancing when he tried things on," said store owner Hal Lansky, whose father, Bernard, claimed the title "clothier to the King."
Peña emerged in size 8 lace-up blue suede shoes and a shirt with a montage of Elvis photos on the front. In the Elvis outfit, Peña acted like a conductor, keeping time to a Sousa march as he escorted the mallard ducks from The Peabody lobby fountain into the elevator for the trip to their rooftop home.
Today, the former miner will cut the birthday cake on the front lawn of Graceland to celebrate what would have been Elvis' 76th birthday.
While still trapped in the mine last year, he told the world he is an "Elvis fanatic." Graceland arranged to send an MP3 player filled with Elvis music into the mine shaft for him. After he was pulled to the surface in October, he became a sensation on the American talk show circuit, singing Elvis songs on the "Late Show with David Letterman," "Today" and several other talk shows.
He obliged several requests Friday to sing, doing short versions of his favorite "Blue Suede Shoes," along with "Heartbreak Hotel" and "Suspicious Minds" and adding Elvis' signature karate moves for emphasis. Asked his favorite part of the Graceland tour, he said it was "the suits" -- the Elvis jumpsuits on display at Graceland.
Peña arrived in Memphis alone Thursday when his brother was unable to get a visa in time to make the trip with him. His hosts from Graceland accompanied him Thursday to the Arcade Restaurant, where Peña sat in the booth identified as Elvis' favorite.
Restaurant owner Harry Zepatos said Peña seemed to like the peanut butter and banana sandwich, one of Elvis' favorite treats. But Peña, asked about the sandwich during his Graceland visit, had a scowl. "When I took a bite, I felt immediately full," he said.
The former miner had a big smile after his Graceland tour. "How can I describe something so amazing?" he asked, shrugging. "Just coming in the driveway you feel moved. By the time he reached Elvis' grave site in the meditation garden, he said he felt "paralyzed."
Peña, who hopes to become a motivational speaker, said his message to the world would be: "That, yes we can. There is nothing impossible for God. That's why we are here."
-- Michael Lollar: 529-2793