Elvis Presley's death marked by candlelight vigil, 34 years later
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Silent mourners with heads bowed and yellow-orange candlelight leading the way paid their respects to Elvis Presley at his grave at Graceland, his longtime Memphis home, to remember the 34th anniversary of his sudden death.
Thousands of Elvis devotees, candles in hand, walked in the humid night to the graves of Elvis and his relatives, some wiping away tears as they filed past. Flower arrangements and heart-shaped wreaths decorated the burial site as "If I Can Dream" and other songs played softly in the background.
The vigil was to extend past midnight and into Tuesday morning, marking the anniversary of the King's death on Aug. 16, 1977. The vigil is the main draw of "Elvis Week," and some waited hours outside the stately mansion for the procession to start.
Paula Penna came with her family from Campinas, Brazil, for her sixth vigil. Penna, who met her Brazilian husband in an Elvis fan club, cried and hugged him, her sister and aunt after paying her respects.
She said Elvis songs have helped her family though good and bad. All four have Elvis tattoos.
"Elvis music keeps the family together," said Penna, who also was born on Aug. 16 and will celebrate her 27th birthday Tuesday. "I promised to come every year to pay tribute to Elvis because he is very important to the family life."
Fans like 60-year-old Joe Makowski — who claims he saw Elvis in concert 81 times — and his girlfriend, Pamela Hembree, were among the first in line and waited for hours along Graceland's outer brick wall. A New Jersey native who owns four of Elvis' concert-worn scarves and has attended several vigils, he said it was time to introduce Hembree to the Elvis Week experience honoring the life and career of the rock 'n' roll star.
"I get to meet new fans and meet new people, so that's why I line up here early in the day," said Makowski, who went to Las Vegas twice a year between 1971 and 1976 to see Elvis perform. "The biggest thing I get out of it is seeing the young fans that weren't even born until years after he passed away."
Makowski said he admires Elvis because of his singing and performing prowess, of course, but also for what he called the singer's overall coolness.
"He helped me break out of my shell because I was kind of a shy kid," said Makowski, an actor who now lives in Palm Harbor, Fla.
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