August 12, 2002


Rock Icon
   Elvis Legend Swivels On, 25 Years Later
   ABCNEWS - August 12, 2002

The King may be dead, but it's still "long live the King" as far as Elvis Presley fans are

Known worldwide by just his one name, Elvis died 25 years ago this Friday at the age of 42. In his death, he became even larger than life, frozen forever in time.

"There have been a lot of tough guys. There have been pretenders. And there have been contenders. But there is only one king," said rocker Bruce Springsteen.

Reinventing Pop Culture

It is almost impossible to remember a world before Presley, a time when hearing the lyrics "You ain't nothin' but a hound dog, cryin' all the time," wouldn't summon a picture of Presley to mind.

His was a sound that was so big and so new, that it would not just reinvent music — it would reinvent pop culture in a way that was almost painfully thrilling. Presley stood the 1950s on end, and half a century later, he's still "The King."

Women screamed, cried and fainted at Presley shows, while his hair, his wiggling hips and his 18 No. 1 hits seemed to be everywhere. Presley basically defined stardom for a generation.

But he would die too young — and nearly bankrupt. Fans who made pilgrimages to Graceland, his home in Memphis, Tenn., mourned en masse after his death — and still do.

Every August, they light candles again — in memory of the first American icon of rock 'n' roll.

Sharecropper's Son Played Guitar

Presley had a life that still seems remarkable today. The son of a sharecropper, he got his first guitar as a birthday present, because it was cheaper than a bicycle.

Elvis Aron Presley was born at 4 a.m. on Jan. 8, 1935. His twin brother, Jesse Garon, died at birth. His father, Vernon, a Mississippi sharecropper, struggled to feed his family, and even served time in jail for writing bad checks.

His mother, Gladys was Elvis' inspiration and best friend. The young Presley vowed that somehow he would take care of them. "He always had the idea, the vision that he was going to do something great. He didn't know what it was," said Presley biographer Peter Guralnick.

Presley was a shy, soft-spoken truck driver, just 18 years old, when he first walked into Sam Phillips' now famous Sun Studios in Memphis.

"What you saw on that stage later on was entirely different [from] what I saw when he first came in and made that little record for his mother," Phillips said.

Little White Lie

But Guralnick said Presley wasn't entirely truthful that day at the studio.

"He said that he was recording the acetate tape for his mother's birthday," Guralnick said. "Now, it wasn't his mother's birthday. And I don't think there's any question that he went in with the idea of looking for a tryout."

Yet, the man who became known as the King didn't want it to seem that way.

"He still didn't get up the nerve to come in for a free audition," Phillips said. "He had to come in and pay his $4 … and he insisted on this."

Presley didn't have the self-confidence to ask Phillips directly for an audition, so he made friends with Marian Keisker, Phillips' assistant.

"She loved him," Guralnick said. "An older, very sophisticated woman, very nice woman. And he would ask her, 'Gee, do you think there's a band, somebody who's got a band that's looking for a singer?' Rather than confronting an authority figure, he was dealing with a woman, which was easier for him in the first place."

After nine months of talking with Keisker, Presley finally got his tryout with Phillips.

All-Night Tryout

The session lasted into the morning, and everyone was packing up when Presley started plucking one last number by an obscure blues singer. The song was called "That's Alright, Mama."

"God almighty, it blew me away," Phillips said. "He's off-mike. I'm halfway in the control room hearing a little bit of this, you know, a little bit from Elvis directly. And I swear to God, it just blew me away."

Three days later, Memphis DJ Dewey Phillips played "That's Alright, Mama," on his show seven times in a row. It was July 8, 1954.

At the end of the month, Presley played his first big appearance. Within a year, he was singing, and gyrating, on national television, on a program called Stage Show.

Audiences roared their approval.

Enter Col. Tom Parker, a successful music promoter and marketing genius, who some say was also the man responsible for Presley's ultimate destruction. But early on, record sales spiked, and Presley was unstoppable.

Too Hot For TV?

He was America's first pop phenomenon, and Presley fever was a brush fire that swept the country.

The King was born, but the Ed Sullivan Show declined to shoot the hip-swiveling singer below the waist when he came on the program.

In fact, backlash such as this was as swift as Presley's rise to fame. San Diego ordered Presley not to dance, and New Jersey banned all rock 'n' roll. Segregationists claimed rock 'n' roll was a black conspiracy.

On the Hy Gardner Show, Presley was on the hot seat.

"Your style of gyrating while you sing has been bitterly criticized, even by usually mild and gently TV critics. Now, do you bear any animosity toward these critics?" Gardner asked.

"Well, not really," Presley said. "They — those people have a job to do, and they do it."

"Now, do you think you've learned anything from the criticism leveled at you?" Gardner asked.

"No, I haven't," Presley said.

"You haven't, huh?" Gardner said.

"Because I don't think I've done anything wrong," Presley said.

Southern Charm, Adoring Fans

The young Presley's Southern charm and the unstoppable adoration of his fans would prevail. At the height of Elvis mania, he was drafted and was proud to serve.

Though the singing sensation asked for no special treatment, he allowed a few photo ops, like the cutting of his trademark hair to fit military regulations. Before he went to boot camp, Presley stopped by the Ed Sullivan Show once again, and this time received a warm welcome.

"I wanted to say to Elvis Presley and the country that this is a real decent, fine boy," Sullivan said in 1956. "And wherever you go, on Elvis, we want to say that we've never had a pleasanter experience on our show with a big name than we've had with you. You're thoroughly all right."

On the eve of his departure for service in Germany, came one of the most pivotal moments in Presley's life. His beloved mother, Gladys Presley, died at age 46.

"Up to a point, he had believed that his success was meant to enable him to buy a home for his mother and father, to give his mother all the things she had never had,"Guralnick said. "Well, if she dies right at the height of his success, then what is it for? This was a question that haunted him really from her death in 1958 until his death 19 years later."

Meeting the Memphis Mafia

A heartsick Presley did go overseas, and the friends he made in the Army would later become his full-time entourage, the famous Memphis Mafia. He met 14-year-old beauty Priscilla Beaulieu, whose father was an Air Force colonel stationed in Germany.

Presley convinced her parents to let her finish high school in Memphis, where she would live in his famous Graceland mansion. He charmed them with assurances that she would be supervised by his own father and would attend a Catholic school.

Presley made 33 movies, with each one a showcase for his new hit singles. The movies brought him money, but no critical acclaim. He gave out Cadillacs like calling cards, rented entire movie theaters and amusement parks, and searched earnestly for spiritual meaning in an increasingly surreal world.

Elvis' Circle Shrinks

Elvis and Priscilla married in Las Vegas and later had Lisa Marie, who would be the King's only child. Meanwhile, Presley insulated himself more and more within a circle of friends he put on the payroll.

In the '60s, the Beatles and the British invasion swept the music scene, and Presley became more reclusive, taking long hiatus from live performances.

He then dazzled his fans with the televised '68 Comeback Special, in which he appeared transformed, dressed in black leather, from head to toe. He then focused on Las Vegas performances.

In 1972, came another blow in Presley's personal life, when he and Priscilla broke up. He was isolated, medicated, and suffering from depression. Presley reappeared nationally in 1973 with Aloha From Hawaii, which broke records and was viewed simultaneously around the world by more than a billion people.

In the bejeweled white leather jumpsuit he wore at the concert, Elvis was larger, and more labored in his performance. But still, fans swooned. Elvis, however, felt his performances were lacking.

"I think what makes it most tragic is that at the end he was so clearly disappointed in himself," Guralnick said. "He felt that he couldn't deliver what he was meant to deliver."

On Aug. 16, 1977, Elvis Presley was dead. His then-fiancée, Ginger Alden, found him on the bathroom floor.

Doctors found that he had an enlarged heart, and discovered 14 different prescription drugs in his system. His doctor, George Nichopoulos, would eventually have his license revoked for over prescribing drugs.

His funeral would be two days later, with 16 white limos.



August 12, 2002


70% of Adult Americans Have Watched a Movie Starring Elvis, 34% Consider Themselves Elvis Fans
   While 8% (17 Million People) Have Tried to Impersonate Him

ROCHESTER, N.Y., Aug 12, 2002 /PRNewswire via COMTEX/ -- One man -- millions of lives. More than 176 million adult Americans (84%) have had their lives touched by Elvis Presley in some way. Among the most popular Elvis activities -- watching a movie starring Elvis (70%), dancing to an Elvis song (44%), and watching a movie about Elvis (42%).

When it comes to purchasing Elvis-related products -- 31% have bought Elvis records, CDs, or videos, and 9% have bought Elvis memorabilia other than a record, CD, or video.

One in ten Americans (10%) have visited Graceland -- and 5% were fortunate enough to have seen Elvis perform live in concert before he died on August 16, 1977.

These are the most recent results of a special issue of The Harris Poll(R) conducted in conjunction with the 25-year anniversary of Elvis' death on August 16, 1977. Harris Interactive(R) conducted this survey online among a nationwide cross section of more than 2,000 adults (18+).

Impersonating Elvis is also very popular -- for those doing the impersonating as well as their audiences. More than 17 million Americans (8%) have tried to impersonate Elvis, and 34% (nearly 72 million) have seen an Elvis impersonator. Although women are more likely than men to have engaged in some sort of Elvis activity some time in their lives (89% v. 80% overall), when it comes to impersonating Elvis, men outnumber women two to one (10% v. 5%). What is perhaps most surprising is the percentage of Elvis impersonators under the age of 30 -- many of whom were born after Elvis died in 1977. Fourteen percent of 25-29 year olds and 13% of those 18-24 years of age say they have tried to impersonate Elvis. Overall, 74% of this youngest adult group (18-24 years old) have had some sort of connection with Elvis.

In terms of his biggest fans, Elvis' appeal is strongest among Females (40% consider themselves fans v. 27% for Males) and those 50 to 64 years old (45%). When Elvis fans were asked to choose their favorite Elvis, the 60s Elvis had a slight edge over the 50s Elvis (48% v. 42%) and only 9% of fans say they prefer the 70s Elvis. The 60s Elvis is more popular among women (51% v. 44% for men), while the 70s Elvis is more popular among men (12% v. 7%).

One out of four Americans (25%) still remember where they were, who they were with, or what they were doing when they heard that Elvis had died.



August 12, 2002


Elvis Recalled, From Big Love to Dying Breath
   By Franz Lidz, The New York Times - August 11, 2002

The appeal of Elvis Presley is universal, or at least solar systemic. We know this because of a headline that once appeared on the front page of The Weekly World News: "Statue of Elvis Found on Mars — Beaming Back `Don't Be Cruel.' "

On earth, though, the question remains: where is Elvis? If his longtime confidant, Diamond Joe Esposito, is to be believed, the drug-saturated King of Rock 'n' Roll died Aug. 16, 1977, after toppling off a toilet in Graceland, his Memphis mansion. According to a just-released DVD, "Elvis: His Best Friend Remembers" (Universal Studios Home Video), Presley was buried in a seamless copper coffin in the meditation garden on the south lawn.

None of this is new, of course: for 25 years it has been widely accepted as fact. Yet some fans of Elvis maintain he has not quite left the building. He has been sighted everywhere from a Burger King in Kalamazoo, Mich., (eating a Whopper), to a Waitrose supermarket in the English town of King's Lynn, where someone overheard him say: "This place is bollocks. I wish I'd stayed in Southampton."

Donald Hinton, a Kansas City psychiatrist, has written a book called "The Truth About Elvis Aron Presley: In His Own Words," claiming Presley faked his death, changed his appearance and lives as a recluse with the help of some close pals, who schlep him from house to house. The 67-year-old King collects old coins and Indian artifacts, says the shrink, and likes to fish.

"I don't believe it," says Mr. Esposito, the best man at Presley's wedding and a pallbearer at his "funeral." "If there had been a coverup, I'm sure I would have known about it."

With the silver anniversary of Presley's passing at hand, who better to clear up the intrigue than a member of his inner circle? An Army buddy during Presley's tour of duty in Germany, Mr. Esposito later served as his bodyguard and had a bit part (literally) as Bit in "Clambake" (1967).

The publicity release for the DVD describes Mr. Esposito kneeling "helplessly next to Elvis as he took his dying breaths." Touted as a tell-all, this collection of home movies, newsreels and interviews promises an "unbelievable first-hand account of exactly what happened on the tragic day of Elvis's death!"

Despite Mr. Esposito's fierce loyalty to his former boss, he doesn't pull punches: "There was no harm in Elvis," he says, "but there was an awful lot of love."

The DVD offers lots of startling revelations like that — in fact, exactly like that. Among them, insights about Elvis and karate ("His whole life was karate"), his fiancée Linda Thompson ("a great personality") and other stars ("We made a peanut butter sandwich for Tom Jones. He'd never had peanut butter in his life. He really didn't like it.")

These rollicking first 73 minutes are just prelude to the sobering 8 that follow. Plumped Jabba the Hutt-like on a sofa and dressed in black, Mr. Esposito tells the camera: "I run upstairs. I go into the bathroom and I see Elvis on the floor. His face was buried in the carpet. I bent down and touched him and rigor mortis had set in."

Riveting, but, as evidence, hardly clinching. (And what about those dying breaths?) The best proof of Presley's demise is still the small earthquake that hit Memphis shortly after his daughter, Lisa Marie, married Michael Jackson in 1994. Jay Leno observed, "They found out later it was just Elvis spinning in his grave."



August 12, 2002


Why Are We So Stuck on Him?
By Gilbert B. Rodman, Newsday - August 11, 2002
Gilbert B. Rodman is author of "Elvis After Elvis: The Posthumous Career of a Living Legend" and associate professor of communication at the University of South Florida.

A few years ago, I wrote a book about the unusually diverse and unpredictable ways that Elvis Presley continues to circulate across the terrain of American culture long after his death. And so, about this time every year, as the anniversary of his death on Aug. 16 approaches, I get calls from journalists wanting me to provide "expert commentary" on the Elvis phenomenon. This year being the 25th anniversary, the calls are even more numerous than unusual.

Why, these reporters want to know, do so many people still care about Elvis so much? Why isn't he behaving the way that dead stars are supposed to? Will he ever really leave the building?

Often, however, these reporters don't really want my answers. What they're after is a pithy soundbite that doesn't actually explain Elvis as much as explain him away.

The usual suspects here are theories about "relentless marketing" and "those wacky fans." Both of which Elvis certainly has going for him (though I'd use a less pejorative label for the fans) - but then so do most other celebrities of any real prominence. If we're really going to get at the question of Elvis' lingering cultural presence - a decidedly atypical phenomenon - we need to look carefully at what makes him different from other stars, rather than what makes him just like them.

There's a long list here (which is another reason why the soundbite answers fall short), but one small example should provide a good sense of the complexity of the Elvis riddle.

Like all stars, Elvis is stitched into a number of cultural myths - stories that we tell ourselves about issues and values that are crucial to who we are as a people or, more precisely, about who we want to be. Most stars manage to get tied into one or two such myths. James Dean, for instance, becomes an icon of "youthful rebellion." John Wayne becomes a symbol of "rugged masculinity." And so on.

Elvis' story, on the other hand, gets woven into the fabric of almost every major cultural myth in the United States since World War II. Myths about race, sexuality, socioeconomic class, the American Dream. Tensions between the North and the South, the sacred and the secular, rebellion and conformity. The sheer range of myths where Elvis has cropped up in significant ways is, by itself, enough to give him a more extensive cultural presence than most public figures could ever hope to achieve.

More than that, however, is the fact that - for most (if not all) of these myths - Elvis simply can't be pinned down with any neat finality. Whereas most stars fit pretty comfortably into a narrow and well-defined role in whatever myths they're part of, Elvis tends to occupy multiple - and even contradictory - positions within these stories.

Take the myths around the cultural politics of race, for instance. For many people, Elvis is a heroic figure who symbolizes the noble dream of racial harmony and integration because of the way he brought black music and white music together. While he certainly wasn't the first person to mix rhythm 'n' blues style with country 'n' western phrasing (thus creating the music that came to be known as rock 'n' roll), he was the first true star to arise from this new musical blending. And, given the fact that his records consistently did well on both the pop and rhythm 'n' blues charts for at least the first decade of his career, his music clearly appealed across racial lines.

At the same time, however, to many people, Elvis serves as a figure of racist cultural appropriation: He's the white boy who stole the blues and was crowned "King" for doing so. Meanwhile, black artists of equal (if not greater) talent - Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Bo Diddley, figures who were at least as important as Elvis (some arguably even more so) to the creation of this new musical sound - struggled to achieve even a fraction of the fame and fortune that Elvis enjoyed.

Both these versions of the story have more than a grain of truth to them. Which doesn't just give the lie to the soundbite answers about Elvis' role in American culture. It helps to keep several larger questions - Who was Elvis really? What does he mean to us? What does it say about the culture that people still care? - on the table. In particular, it explains why Elvis has been invoked by several prominent rap acts over the years - from Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" in 1989 to Eminem's "Without Me" earlier this spring - insofar as he continues to be a useful foil for artists trying to address pressing issues of race and racism.

Trying to craft a soundbite explanation for even this fraction of Elvis' stardom is impossible. Factor in the comparably complicated contradictions that accompany Elvis' place in cultural myths about gender roles (Elvis the macho, hip-swivelling rebel vs. Elvis the baby-faced mama's boy), socioeconomic class (Elvis the opulently wealthy rock star vs. Elvis the poor country boy at heart) and the American Dream (Elvis' literal rags-to-riches biography vs. his unseemly and tragic downslide), and the story gets even harder to sum up in a handful of words.

Thus, if fans and skeptics alike continue to wrestle with the enigma that is Elvis (and they do), I think it's precisely because they don't have quick and easy answers. Trying to figure out Elvis may be nothing more than a way for them to engage in larger conversations about other pressing issues of the day. As rock critic Greil Marcus once put it, "Real mysteries cannot be solved, but they can be turned into better mysteries."

In the end, perhaps the most important question to ask about the mystery that is Elvis isn't how we can come to understand his place in American culture, but how we can use him and his legacy to arrive at a better understanding of that culture ourselves.



August 12, 2002


Memphis still sings the blues
   Electronic Telegraph  - August 10, 2002

   Elvis Presley left Graceland for the last time 25 years ago next Friday. Michael Gray pays his respects.

Memphis is only technically in Tennessee. In psychic reality, it's the capital of Mississippi. Everyone who lives there knows it. What this 50 per cent black city relates to is the vast area lying not east but south. Elvis and his family were among the many southern migrants to Memphis.

In 1934, the year after they eloped, Vernon and Gladys Presley built themselves a shotgun shack in the Mississippi country town of Tupelo - at 306 Old Saltillo Road, East Tupelo - with a $180 loan from the farmer Vernon worked for. Elvis Aaron, and his stillborn twin brother, Jesse Garon, arrived into this poor community of sharecroppers and lumber-yard workers on January 8, 1935.

In the Depression, life was nigh impossible. Vernon was indicted for forging a cheque and in 1938 sentenced to three years in Parchman State Prison. By the mid-1940s a black wage in Mississippi was $440 a year (in Chicago it was $1,900). White men earned little more and when Elvis won $5 singing Old Shep at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair & Dairy Show in 1945 it was a significant amount.

Three years later the Presleys moved to Memphis in search of work. Vernon was taken on by a tool factory; Gladys worked part-time in clothing factories. Elvis, just short of 14 years old, was overwhelmed by his new home city.

After Tupelo, Memphis seemed impossibly vibrant, a 24-hour metropolis with glamorous hotels such as the Peabody, brash clothes shops, clubs and drinking dens, avenues of shining automobiles and plateglass windows, black radio stations, soda-shops, movie-houses, fairgrounds, drive-ins, roller-rinks and live music of every kind.

At the heart of it all was Beale Street, a magnet for black culture and music from all over the American mid-south. As the 1950s began, and the new post-war rhythm and blues music exploded all around him, Elvis Presley was in heaven in Memphis.

Many visitors today find the city a disappointment. Certainly the heart of it has been gutted - in the 1960s all but 65 of Beale Street's buildings were pulled down and its residents relocated. What's left, then, is a "heritage" shell - but what a shell. Warm air ventilates the central streets, where the restored Peabody looms over 2nd and Union; trams tout for the tourist trade, and carriages are drawn by solid, big-footed horses with discreet black leather bags tied behind them to act as nappies.

As night falls, music soars and shudders from every doorway and from the cockpits of cars. The later it is, the heavier the flow of traffic. In a lively and good-humoured display, some of the cool-dude drivers make their cars jump on the spot like bucking broncos. The roar of engines is hushed by the softness of the air and the competing vibrancy of disparate musics.

The sidewalks flow as richly as the streets, more exuberantly the nearer you come to Beale Street's lights and food-smells and music. Beale itself, closed to traffic, is a throng of good-natured, unsober people, many sporting enormously long pipettes of cocktails, or drinking beer and eating ice-cream, tacos, French fries, barbecued ribs or chicken wings.

The crowd is equally white and black, streaming along in laughing groups, or watching the parade, or shuffling solo to the beat of one particular spot's loud music. The whole scene is infinitely fluid, a Southern US version of promenading, in less elegant clothes in many cases but with abundant vitality and ease.

Some bars advertise "No Cover Charge". All have a cuboid black man on the door inspecting the IDs of the young. If it isn't a bar it's a giftshop and, as you'd expect, these are crammed with limitless Presley paraphernalia: a side table in the form of his pink Cadillac's steering-wheel, faux-1950s Elvis lunch boxes, 1970s jump-suits, recipe books, drink containers, plaques, vases, knapsacks, cigar-lighters, tattoos, fridge magnets, guitar strings . . .

Since Presley's death, Memphis tourism has increased exponentially. Most Memphis holy ground is musical - even the tourist board now tags it "Home of the Blues, Birthplace of Rock'n'Roll" - and the Mecca and Lourdes of this swollen pilgrimage is Graceland.

Contrary to myth, what's so striking about Graceland is not its 1970s vulgarity, but rather its old-fashioned rectitude. It isn't nearly as tacky as people like to claim, and it is all on a touchingly modest scale. Here is a house smaller than an Edwardian vicarage.

The small music room has a baby grand as baby as could be; the swimming pool is demure; the grounds are tasteful paddocks stocked with a few horses and enclosed by picket fencing. The simple kitchen is emphatically old-fashioned.

Everywhere there is evidence of 1950s items lovingly retained. The whole experience of gawping around Graceland yields not the expected presence of the Las Vegas Presley stranded unhappily among the Memphis Mafia but of the younger, sweeter Elvis. You sense here how he saw the house when he found it in 1957 and bought it, proudly, for his parents as well as for himself. He was 22.

The surprise of Graceland is its eloquent proof that later, when Elvis could have built or bought anything anywhere, he stayed loyal to the passions and aspirations of his poor beginnings.

There's a similarly intimate encounter to be had with early Elvis at the other crucial Memphis site on the Presley trail, the Sun Records tour. Although it is a tour of just one room, it is thrilling beyond all expectation.

In this tiny space Howlin' Wolf recorded Moaning at Midnight, Jerry Lee Lewis recorded Great Balls of Fire and Carl Perkins cut Blue Suede Shoes. More important, it is the very room in which Elvis Presley, aged 19, recorded That's All Right on Monday, July 5, 1954. Preserved intact by a quarter century's neglect, the walls are still covered in the baffle tiles Sam Phillips stuck up in the 1950s. The floor is the same - Bob Dylan kissed it when he took the "tour". Almost unbelievably, the vocal microphone is still here. And you're allowed to touch it.

I nearly cried, it was so moving to stand where these people made their first, wonderful, unknowing, world-changing records. Here, 25 years after Elvis left Graceland for the last time, is the Elvis Presley who will never die.



August 11, 2002


All the King's Men and Women
Elvis Week kick-starts with a rockin' parade

   By Donnie Snow, The Commercial Appeal - August 11, 2002

Friday night (August 10, 2002) on Beale Street

For 25 years fans have been making their pilgrimage to Memphis to salute the King of Rock and Roll.

But Friday night on Beale Street, many of the King's men and women came out to salute the fans.

For anyone living under a rock the past few days, Elvis week, which locals morbidly call "Death Week," officially began with Saturday's fan-appreciation "Elvis Presley 25th Anniversary Celebration of Life Parade."

"I wouldn't miss this for the world," said Robert Washington, who came from Auburn, Maine, for the anniversary.

"The 25th, man, this is something."

Jack Soden, president and CEO of Elvis Presley Enterprises, officially approved the parade/street party that ran from west of Danny Thomas Boulevard down Beale past Fourth to Second.

In an unofficial count, Memphis police estimated 5,000 to 8,000 witnessed the nine Elvis-themed floats, including a Lilo and Stitch number with hula dancers, and an inflated basketball shoe from the Memphis Grizzlies, and others.

Also in the parade were more than 20 hound dogs, members of the Memphis Harley Owners Group (HOG), lots of vintage cars and local and state officials, all parading by a bleacher full of Memphis royalty, including Sun Records founder Sam Phillips.

The parade, organized by Pat Kerr Tigrettcq, an internationally-known fashion designer and Memphis supporter, started slowly because of a snafu that had many of the parade participants lined up out of order.

The crowds walking up and down Beale during the parade moved easily, and for the most part quietly, except for when the HOG members cruised by, cranking their bikes' engines to fans' delight.

Also making noise was a small group of people gathered near the west end of the parade route in front of a projection screen that flashed TV outtakes and video footage of Elvis from throughout his career, along with plenty of pop-culture references from the likes of George Herbert Walker Bushcq and Al Gorecq.

Elvis sightings might have decreased in the last few years, but Friday night easily made up for any drought as Elvises from all eras mingled among the mass of people lining the parade route.

One of the Elvis dignitaries enjoying the festivities was South Bend, Ind.'s Irv Cass, the 1999 winner of the Images of Elvis (now known as Images of the King.), the Super Bowl of Elvis impersonator contests.

"You meet so many nice people at these things," Cass said, who performs throughout this year's Images contest.

"I think Elvis would have been ecstatic about this (parade).

"A lot of people think that Elvis fans are freaks, but for the most part, they're just regular, ordinary, middle-class good people, just like Elvis."

Sharon Stemple came all the way from Kent, England, for the celebration.

"I love this," Stemple said. "I came for the anniversary. I'm having a great time so far."

Fireworks capped the parade, shooting from the rooftops of Beale nightclubs, the colors blending with the clubs' neon signs.

The candlelight vigil will be Thursday night into Friday morning, the 25th year since Elvis died.



August 11, 2002


Elvis clone just a hair's breadth away?
By Michael Lollar, The Commercial Appeal - August 11, 2002

Tom Morgan
When it comes to Elvis Presley, some fans have always refused to let go.

Now with advances in biotechnology comes the intriguing possibility of turning Elvis into the once - and future - king.

No one has initiated a cloning of the rock icon, but at least one devoted collector of Elvis memorabilia said last week he has one of the "ultimate" keepsakes - and a necessary ingredient for a cloning attempt. "I think everybody wants a piece of Elvis, and you can't get any closer than his hair," said Tom Morgan, a friend of Elvis's late hair stylist and heir to roughly a half-pound of Elvis hair saved by the stylist.

The chief executive officer of Elvis Presley Enterprises and a spokesman for Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp. say there are no cryogenically preserved living tissue samples of Elvis that could be used in a cloning attempt. But with the hair, cloning experts say, science now could stage the ultimate Elvis comeback through tedious DNA sequencing procedures so risky, a new Elvis could be literally all shook up.

"We can do it. The only problem is that there's a tendency for genetic abnormality to occur. We'd get an Elvis, but maybe he would just want to deliver the mail," says Dr. Dan Goldowitz, a member of the mouse genome project and director of the Center of Excellence for Genomics and Bioinformatics at the University of Tennessee.

At the University of Kentucky, controversial cloning expert Dr. Panos Michael Zavos, preparing cloning attempts for six childless couples, agrees it is technically possible to re-create Elvis. Geneticists hope to use DNA sequencing to re-create a prehistoric woolly mammoth unearthed in Siberia. "But they've never seen a woolly mammoth, so if you come up with one, you say, 'Well, that's a woolly mammoth.' But it's very different to come up with something like Elvis."

Morgan, an acquaintance of Elvis, says he was given a Taystee Bread bag with a "baseball-size" clump of hair saved through the years by his friend, stylist Homer 'Mr. Gil' Gilleland. Gilleland collected the coal-black hair, which he dyed and styled while working for Gould's Styling Salon, as he watched his client grow from a Memphis phenomenon into one of the biggest and most enduring superstars on the planet. Morgan said that when he was given the hair after Gilleland's death in the mid-1990s, he had no idea it eventually might be used to make Elvis even more enduring than the Energizer bunny.

Morgan, 60, general foreman of property maintenance for the City of Memphis, says Gilleland traveled to movie sets, Las Vegas hotels and anywhere else on call to Elvis for a dye job or haircut. And like many in Elvis's entourage, Morgan says, Gilleland succumbed to the temptation of becoming an "opportunist." He discarded any hair that fell onto the floor, but saved hair clippings that fell onto a towel around Elvis's neck. "When he finished, he folded the towel, put it into a satchel with his tools and shook it out later."

Elvis memorabilia experts are combing through the possibilities of marketing the hair. Auction house consultant John Heath in Marion, Ark., says an Indiana auction house estimates it could sell the hair either in small lots or in bulk for $50,000 to $100,000.

In Port Townsend, Wash., memorabilia expert Jerry Osborne, co-author of the Presleyana series of Elvis price guides, says auction houses sometimes overestimate values in hopes of "getting some business out of the deal. My hunch is it is worth nowhere near $100,000."

Elvis Presley Enterprises CEO Jack Soden said the company "has a pretty good handle on what the real artifacts are, but we don't know the going rate for hair." It would first need to be verified as an actual match to Elvis, he said. "Then, even if you determined it was Elvis's hair, it would still be a bag of hair."

For scientists, there is no hair-splitting about the worth of the hair. Its real value would be as a necessity in any attempt to reproduce Elvis, a legend so familiar to the world that any variation would be immediately apparent.

EPE, which owns Elvis's name, image and likeness, conceivably could try to legally block such an attempt.

"The question is so laden with all sorts of philosophical and theological issues, and, if I'm correct, the whole efficacy of cloning humans is still in doubt," Soden says. He said Presley's daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, ultimately would have to make the decision whether to take legal action.

Dr. Goldowitz at UT says even dead tissue, including hair clippings, contains the one-of-a-kind DNA of its owner. With live tissue, scientists would simply stimulate a living cell to divide. He describes a DNA sequencing attempt as "dead cell vs. live cell" cloning or "inactive vs. active" cloning.

With DNA sequencing, the first step would be to fully map the DNA. "You would take several samples and get a consensus sequence. It's difficult, but we could do it." Even then it would take "several years" to come up with a final sequence, which would become the nucleus of a living cell.

In Kentucky, Dr. Zavos says the problem is that a single cell of human tissue contains 30,000 genes. "That's millions of DNA molecules. To try to re-create that without aberration would be a miracle. Nobody has done that. We're talking about imperfections. Elvis may come up with the wrong color hair, not the nose he had and not the eye color."

The new Elvis might have to take his cue from Elvis impersonators around the world, grooming himself just to look like himself.

Goldowitz is even more pessimistic about the outcome. Genes in a DNA strand would have to be mechanically arranged. Even minute variations in angles of placement might create problems. "My biggest worry is he comes out with two heads. Who knows? Or maybe he has only three fingers on his guitar-picking hand. We can't fix that. Or his hips don't swivel, or he doesn't look as good."

Even with live-cell cloning attempts, Goldowitz says problems have not been overcome. "Something happens to the genome that makes the resulting clone not exactly the same as it should have been. Dolly (the sheep) died. Cows died. The mouse died. There's evidence that bunches of genes get turned off that shouldn't be turned off, and some get turned on that shouldn't be."

Those problems eventually will be overcome, he predicts. "The nature of science is that failures lead the way to success." But at that stage, Goldowitz says, the nature vs. nurture question enters the picture. "What was the environment that made Elvis? You don't have the shotgun shack in Tupelo. That environment is really important."

In that scenario, the cloned Elvis would need a compound with a shotgun shack, cottonfield workers singing the blues, a gospel choir singing in the distance and shop windows with gaudy costumes to dream about.



August 11, 2002


Elvis Fans Gather in Memphis for 25th Anniversary
Sat Aug 10,10:38 AM ET

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Reuters) - Sporting blue suede shoes and pompadour wigs, thousands of Elvis Presley fans will shake rattle and roll their way to Presley's famed Graceland mansion this week, still captivated by burning love of the rock and roll king on the 25th anniversary of his death.

Beginning Thursday and stretching into the early morning hours of Aug. 16, the date in 1977 Presley died of a drug-induced heart attack at age 42, fans bearing candles and tributes will file past his grave in the garden of his white-columned home on the outskirts of Memphis.

Organizers of "Elvis Week," which kicked off on Saturday in this river town along the muddy Mississippi, said they expected between 50,000 to 75,000 devotees to show up from around the world.

The Mississippi-born Presley's fame only seems to grow with each passing year, illustrated by the June release of a remix of Presley's little-known song "A Little Less Conversation." The song, punched up with a techno beat by a Dutch disc jockey, is a No. 1 single in much of Europe, giving Presley 18 lifetime No. 1 hits in the United Kingdom and edging him ahead of the Beatles on that score.


While fans of Elvis span generations, many of those expected to attend the anniversary events grew up in the staid, post-war 1950s, organizers said. The hip-swiveling Elvis, the sole surviving twin of struggling parents, personified the soulful rebel when he burst on the music scene in 1956 with a youthful blend of country and rhythm and blues, which became recognized as rock and roll.

"Elvis' music was, in its time, revolutionary and a lot of people got caught up in that controversy and invested a piece of their lives in defense of Elvis. They just feel he's a part of them," said John Bakke, a communications professor at the University of Memphis and organizer of a seminar to weigh Presley's significance.

"He was perceived as someone who represented freedom and diversity, versus the conformity and drive for security that was so much a part of the Depression and post-war eras," Bakke said.

Elvis' gyrating presence will be seen and felt around Memphis over nine days, beginning with a parade down club-lined Beale Street, videos of his performances, renditions of his music by impersonators, and reminiscences by his friends. Ex-wife Priscilla Presley and daughter Lisa Marie were expected to attend a Friday night concert at the Pyramid venue.

Sun Studio, where Presley recorded his first songs as a teen-ager, will hold a "block party" in the street. An Elvis-themed fashion show is planned and area clubs, restaurants and hotels will hold dinners and dances.

At Alfred's, a club on Beale Street, sometime disc jockey and Presley friend George Klein are scheduled to hold forth with other members of the "Elvis Mafia" who hung out with the man dubbed "The King" of rock and roll.

"I've been working here nine years and we're expecting the largest year ever," said Jay Uiberall, Alfred's general manager. "Elvis had such a big impact on the music industry and people's lives, people just flock here."

"His career is at an all-time high," said Todd Morgan of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc., which licenses his image to merchandisers of anything from T-shirts to a furniture line.

"We always want to present Elvis in a positive light," he said. "We try to keep his work in front of new audiences."

Elvis' enduring popularity is revealed in the 600,000 people who trouped through Graceland in 2001, steady sales of repackaged versions of his albums, and a compilation album entitled "ELV1S 30 #1 Hits" that is set to hit stores in September.

Of course, Presley also lives on as the butt of jokes, in parodies and in suspicious sightings of him. His image in his last years was as a toiling, overweight performer addicted to drugs.



August 10, 2002


Return to slender
The Sydney Morning Herald - August 10 2002

After a 25-year battle with drugs, rumours, bad clothes and the bulge, Elvis is back in shape and seducing a new generation. Jon Casimir charts the long rehabilitation of the King.

Here's a theory. Since Elvis Presley's heart stopped in 1977, the King has lived a second life, just like the first one, but it's happening in reverse. When he died, Presley was in appalling shape: musically sloppy, addicted to pills, a 120-kilogram shadow of his former self. A quarter of a century later, he's young, vibrant and bursting with talent again. Fat Elvis has reversed the aging process and grown into thin Elvis.

The rehabilitation of the Presley myth has taken all of the 25 years since his death and is still not complete. In truth, it probably never will be. Elvis has grown so culturally complex, his manifestations and connections so diverse and bizarre that his many meanings may never be reconciled. But with a Presley song, A Little Less Conversation, at the top of the pop charts, there's an unmistakable feeling that he is finally being reclaimed, that the good in his story is reasserting itself.

It seems unlikely now that he will ever again hit the low points of 1977 and the years that followed. Because the weird thing is, you'd think dying would be bad enough, but after Elvis shuffled off, things got worse for him before they got better.

The beating of Elvis Presley had begun in May 1977, when the Australian journalist Steve Dunleavy broke a series of horror stories to the world, spread over a week here in The Daily Mirror. Dunleavy's exposes (they revealed lurid details of Presley's twisted life: the drugs, the women, the bizarre habits) were based on interviews with three of the Memphis Mafia, Presley's inner circle, taking very public revenge on their former boss for firing them.

The book that resulted from these confessions, Elvis - What Happened?, was released a fortnight before Presley's death on August 16, 1977. As if part of the publicity campaign, Presley's lonely demise seemed to confirm the overheated contents, and the obituaries for rock's greatest singer were remarkable mostly for their lack of respect. To read them now is to suspect that their writers felt more than disappointed by revelations of Presley's frailties - they felt betrayed and angered.

Whether that's true or not, the tone was set. In the first stages of his afterlife, Elvis was treated like a pinata. Story after story poured out through the press, painting Presley as an insatiable, demented creature overwhelmed by his basest desires.

If you believed what you read, you knew he'd been murdered. He'd had others killed. He'd taken 5000 pills in seven months. He was impotent. He'd had sex with 1000 women and had left a trail of love-children. He had a fetish for white cotton underwear. He had an incurable appetite for Danish porn. He could eat a horse, as long as it was battered.

Dozens of books were rushed onto the shelves (more than 300 have been written), cash-ins purporting to tell the "real story" of his fall. By the time Albert Goldman's savage and ugly Elvis appeared in 1981, the public's willingness to believe the worst of Presley had reached a peak. Goldman would return to the scene of the crime a decade later with Elvis: The Last 24 Hours, which claimed Elvis had committed suicide.

Surprisingly few people came to Presley's defence during these years. Media coverage was consistently negative and the estate was remarkably quiet. Either it was shell-shocked and in mourning (the charitable view) or it was simply more concerned with milking the cash cow (the uncharitable view). Certainly, Presley's death precipitated an avalanche of merchandising. According to the record company RCA, more than 200 million Presley records were sold in the year to August 1978.

But while the media vented spleen and the merchandisers cashed in, the most surprising movement after Presley's death came from below, not above. What happened was an unprecedented expression of fandom. Presley had been popular in life, but in death he became an object of the kind of devotion that borders uneasily on the religious. The depth and breadth of the reaction suggests that Presley was, and is, a cultural singularity.

Certainly, he is the only musician to occupy the transcendent cultural space that Muhammad Ali, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean move in. Yet even that pantheon sells him short. Of all of these figures, only Elvis inspires such an obsessive level of fandom, only Elvis fuels an ongoing industry reported to be worth about $100 million a year, only Elvis has an image as widely reproduced, only Elvis keeps as many academics in business. Do Ali, Dean and Monroe have 600 active fan clubs cherishing their memories, or 3000 professional impersonators?

Perhaps Princess Diana comes closest to his level of fame. After all, a million people turned out for her funeral, whereas only an estimated 150,000 made it to Elvis's. But will as many people make the pilgrimage to Diana's grave on this year's fifth anniversary as will make the journey to Graceland for Elvis's 25th?

More than two decades after his passing, Elvis continues to sell more records dead than most living acts manage to. His death has also been a good career move for others. Impersonators existed before 1977, but they were novelties. In the first three years after Presley's death, they multiplied with such speed that it was commonly held (though probably baseless) that if growth continued at the same rate, the whole world would be gluing on sideburns by 2020. This was evidence of an outbreak of a powerful fan culture.

With these three forces acting simultaneously - the stomping of the myth, the disturbing zeal of the fans and the commercial cashing-in - it's no real surprise that Presley himself, and his music, became lost in the hubbub. It seemed everything was conspiring to dehumanise him, to convert him from person to object.

During the 1980s, his sad life became comic. Rather than an artist, even a compromised artist, he became the sum of his idiocies: fat jokes, bad clothes, fried food, drugs and awful decor. He was a collection of tics.

He was kitsch Elvis, the karate-chopper, the mumbler, an easy laugh for stand-up comics, an open goal for talk-show hosts. And, as he became fun and funny, Elvis snapped the moorings of logic and began to appear everywhere, on ads (for everything from beer to Catholic schools), in comic books, plays, short stories, sci-fi novels and kids' books. He made unscheduled guest appearances in television shows and movies (there's a sub-genre of impersonator flicks, from Honeymoon In Vegas to 3000 Miles To Graceland). He was good to have around.

That sense of enjoyment was never more obvious than with the Elvis sighting fad. As with the impersonators, there had been scattered examples of this phenomenon, but it went above ground in June 1988, when supermarket tabloid the Weekly World News broke the story that Elvis was still with us. It ran interviews with the King and other articles ("Photo of Elvis Cured My Cancer", "Scientific Reconstruction Proves All Cavemen Looked Like Elvis"), each crazier than the last, until it pronounced him dead in 1993, having passed away after an unspecified five-week illness.

The other 1988 event was the publication of Gail Brewer-Giorgio's Is Elvis Alive?, a book which insisted that yes, he was. The author claimed to own taped phone conversations made by Presley after his death, in which he said things such as "Uhh, I'm not completely hiding now, you know. I mean, I'm seen by people all the time."

In the early '90s, sightings of Elvis became so common that one London bookmaker dropped the official odds of Presley being found alive from 5000 to 1 to 1000 to 1. A September 1991 Time/CNN poll found 16 per cent of Americans believed he still had air in his lungs.

The kaleidoscopic explosion of pop-culture Elvis in the 1980s, the postmodern fragmentation and recombination of Elvis imagery, led to the inevitable arrival of Elvis academia. In 1991, the first conference investigating the possibility that Elvis was alive was held in Arizona. More interested in the question than the answer, the conference paved the way for Dead Elvis, a book released the following year by Greil Marcus, don of American music critics. Dead Elvis was the first of many books (Elvis After Elvis, by Gilbert B. Rodman, is another worthy of investigation) attempting to come to grips with Elvis semiotics.

Elvis was, most conjectured, a mass of contradictions. He was a poor boy who became rich, a singer who became a parody of himself, stunningly generous but also mean, an anti-drug campaigner who rattled with pills, a good Christian boy with a very dark side, a sexually threatening predator who was also oddly passive, a recluse who managed to seem ubiquitous, a rebellious conformist.

This fluidity made it possible, with the man no longer around, to stretch and shape Elvis. Anyone could project their own needs onto his canvas. Elvis had become a kind of blank slate on which we wrote our own stories.

The biggest turning point in the rehabilitation of Elvis came in 1992, when his face appeared on a stamp. Before the stamp was issued, the US Postal Service held a ballot to decide which of two pictures - young Elvis or Vegas Elvis - would appear. More than a million votes were cast, three-quarters of which demanded the young King. All four of the major US TV networks covered the press conference announcement. After 15 years of jokey Elvis, people had declared a wish to remember him at his peak.

In 1997, music writer Peter Guralnick concluded 11 years of research by publishing Last Train to Memphis, the first instalment of a two-volume Presley biography (Careless Love, part two, arrived in 1999). Guralnick's effort (if there's been a better biog of any rock-era musician, I haven't read it) started with a simple premise: just tell the story. Include everything, exaggerate nothing. Avoid pop psychology and sociology. Try to find the man.

In 1300 exhaustive and exhausting pages, Presley finally got the book he deserved. Guralnick went a long way to cancelling the sins of many of the books which had come before, both the angry and the overly fawning. In the writer's hands, Elvis was born again. What happened in his life was so extraordinary that it remained almost impossible to empathise with, defying easy explanation, but the Presley of these pages was clearly more a human being than a god or monster.

As Presley began to be taken seriously by the public again, his record company finally got around to doing the same thing. Until the mid-'90s, Presley's catalogue, his musical legacy, was an embarrassing mess. A decision was made at RCA to put the house in order.

Ernst Mikael Jorgensen and Roger Semon spent most of the decade re-organising the Presley archives. Their detective work led them to catalogue not just the already released material but the offcuts and leftovers from recording sessions, broadcasts, home singalongs, concerts (his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, handed over 274 soundboard recordings of Presley shows in 1983) and other sources.

Before they began, few beyond the obsessive collectors knew just how much was out there. Now, Jorgensen says, they know that Presley recorded more than a thousand songs. This systematic searching allowed them to release, among other things, June's Today, Tomorrow And Forever, a four-CD set of 100 previously unreleased Presley recordings, from 1954 to 1976. It also led to a rerelease program, with old records cleaned up and bolstered by the inclusion of alternative takes and unreleased tracks.

Twenty-five years after his death, Elvis Presley is back at the top of the pop charts. A Little Less Conversation, remixed by Dutch DJ Junkie XL (known as JXL on the single), rocketed to No 1 around the world six weeks ago. Until it did so, Presley and the Beatles had been locked together with 17 No 1s in Britain. Elvis now has 18.

The single marked the first time the estate had let a Presley song be tampered with by another artist. It would, perhaps, have been nicer if they had allowed it for artistic rather than commercial reasons - A Little Less Conversation is first and foremost the soundtrack to a Nike ad - but given the history, that's probably too much to expect.

At least a new generation of listeners is recognising the power evident even in one of Presley's minor works, an undistinguished movie spin-off single from 1968. At least his afterlife is back on the rails. Elvis is hip, he's young, he's sexy, he's back in the building.




August 10, 2002


A Change of Habit
Leaving Hollywood for a Higher Calling

   ABCNEWS - August 09, 2002

R. M. Dolores
Next Friday marks the 25th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death. But before he became a sexy, hip-swiveling idol, he was a somewhat shy young man who blushed in his first onscreen kiss. And Dolores Hart, the woman who gave Elvis that kiss, has an extraordinary story of her own.

In the late 1950s, Hart was one of the most visible and envied women in Hollywood. She was a beautiful young starlet billed as the next Grace Kelly.
She starred in films with Anthony Quinn, Robert Wagner, Jeff Chandler, and Montgomery Clift, and was the top-billed actress in MGM's highest-grossing movie of 1962: Where the Boys Are.

Today she is Mother Dolores. She lives at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in rural Connecticut, where she has been a cloistered nun for 37 years.

Through a special dispensation from the Abbey, ABCNEWS' Bob Brown was able to talk with her.

Baptized in Hollywood's Glow

Hart was a child of the silver screen — both of her parents were actors. Early on, Hart thought she too would have a career in the movies.

"I grew up on Mulholland Drive, watching the klieg lights, just enamored at the lights from Sunset Boulevard," she says. "You can imagine what that meant to me, as a 6-year-old, to suddenly find myself wandering around 20th Century Fox movie lots, thinking that was going to be my future."

Though her parents were not religious, they sent her to a parochial school in Chicago where she lived with her grandparents. Leaving Hollywood, however, was a brief diversion from her path to the silver screen.

Hart grew into a striking beauty and in 1957, at the age of 18, she signed a contract with famed movie producer Hal Wallis. That year she was catapulted to fame, starring opposite a 22-year-old Presley in the film Loving You.

Hart recalled that when she and Elvis were supposed to kiss, they blushed. "My ears started getting purple, and even his ears started getting purple," she recalls. "They brought everybody over to brush our ears down with, um, paint or whatever it is."

She has fond memories of working with Elvis: "If there is one thing that I am most grateful for, it's the privilege of being one of the few persons left to acknowledge his innocence."

Finding Peace in the Country

Despite her success and celebrity, however, Hart remembers her time in show business as filled with heartache.

As successful and talented as she was, Hart found that working on films was not unlike the breakup of her family. She found it emotionally difficult to separate from her colleagues after bonding with them while shooting a movie.

"You work intensely for maybe eight to 10 weeks. And then you break," she says. "And you never see the person again. It's terrible … I think that's one of the most anguishing parts of Hollywood."

During a period in which she worked in New York, starring in a Broadway play, Hart would often retreat to the country on her days off. On the suggestion of a friend, she took refuge in the guest house of a Connecticut convent, Abbey of Regina Laudis.

Hart was initially hesitant about the abbey, thinking back on her experience as a Catholic schoolgirl in Chicago. But unlike Hollywood, it offered community and continuity. Its members worked hard and stayed together.

Hart was hooked: "I felt that I was going to be back here sometime."

More than three years after the first of several visits to the convent, Hart was engaged to be married. But instead of becoming a wife, she says she had a spiritual calling and dedicated herself to the church and life at Regina Laudis.

For California businessman Don Robinson — Dolores Hart's fiancé — the news was devastating. "I actually broke down and cried," he recalled. "I couldn't believe it." Nonetheless, he supported Hart's decision — as well as her desire to keep that decision quiet.

A Limo Ride to the Convent

Hart's decision to enter the convent came as MGM was launching her next film Come Fly With Me. Knowing she was under a seven-year contract with the studio, she kept her decision quiet. When MGM asked Hart to promote the film on a publicity tour, she told them she wanted to visit friends. Following a publicity event, her limousine dropped her off at Regina Laudis. That was the end of Hart's life on the silver screen.

She found the transition into the sisterhood difficult. Her career in film left Hart ill-prepared for the discipline of cloistered life. Seven years passed, she says, before she felt completely comfortable with her decision to join the order.

Robinson still lives in Los Angeles and has never married. He continues to visit the woman he now knows as Mother Dolores each year. "We have grown together. Like we would have in our marriage," he says, "She's my life." In recent years, Mother Dolores's health has declined. She suffers from a nerve condition that sometimes leaves her in extreme pain. And even though she is confident in that she made the right choice in joining the order, she says it was not a choice to abandon who she was.

"I have struggled with this call to vocation all my life," she says. "I can understand why people have doubts, because who understands God? I don't. When you are dealing with something at this level, you are dealing with mystery."

R. M. Dolores (2002) Dolores Hart & Elvis (1957)

(left) R. M. Dolores - March 2002
   (right) Dolores Hart & Elvis Presley in "Loving You" - 1957

   (2002) Photo and autograph R. M. Dolores from collection Maurice Colgan


August 10, 2002


Big-ticket renovations planned for Elvis birthplace
By M. Scott Morris, Tupelo Daily Journal - August 07, 2002

Officials with the Elvis Presley Memorial Foundation in Tupelo see little point in celebrating a death anniversary.

"We'll celebrate the birthday Jan. 8 because that's what happened in Tupelo," said Henry Dodge, chairman of the foundation. "The death celebration - if you can celebrate a death - is something they have in Memphis."

That arrangement is fine with Elvis Presley Enterprises, which oversees almost everything concerning the King of Rock 'n' Roll, including the so-called "Death Week" in Memphis that will culminate Aug. 16 on the 25th anniversary of Elvis' death.

Members of the Tupelo foundation prefer to celebrate the beginning of the music, not its end. With the January unveiling of a $50,000 statue of Elvis at 13 years old and other major renovations planned, the local organization has sharpened its focus to tell Elvis' Tupelo story.

"We've got an original thing here because we have Elvis' Birthplace. That's our story to tell," Dodge said. "We're planning to spend something like $1.6 million updating the grounds at the Birthplace. We've probably spent $400,000 so far."

In addition to the statue, the foundation has completed an extensive renovation of the Birthplace gift shop.

"Our first goal was to improve the gift shop so we could accommodate customers better," Dodge said.

The next improvement is a more aesthetic touch. Officials with Elvis Presley Enterprises gave the Tupelo foundation permission to use Elvis' signature on a brick wall in front of the Birthplace. The signature, which has been reproduced in aluminum, has already been delivered.

"We'll have it placed on the wall by Friday, if not before," said Dick Guyton, the foundation's executive director. "We've had some fellows looking at it, trying to find the best way to get it on there."

Guyton is a new addition in his own right. In mid-July, he was tapped from a pool of 17 applicants to replace former executive director Lisa Buse, who decided to return to teaching.

"It's exciting to be a part of this," Guyton said. "We've got a lot going on."

In order to accommodate a potential increase in tourists, a significant parking lot expansion is on the horizon.

Other plans include creating a brick story wall that will feature plaques with interesting stories about Elvis' time in Tupelo.

There are plans to develop a walking path around the small lake that sits behind the Birthplace that would include audio/visual stations every 50 feet featuring local folks sharing first-person reminiscences of Tupelo's favorite son.

"We're in the process of getting the stories put together now," Dodge said.

It's been estimated that anywhere from 50,000 to 80,000 people visit the Birthplace each year. Organizers expect those numbers to grow in the coming years.

"Hopefully, we can double or even triple that in the next three to five years," Guyton said. "That's the long-term goal."

In the short term, don't expect any big celebrations at the Birthplace for the 25th anniversary of Elvis' death, but there's no doubt the goings-on in Memphis will have a spill-over effect in Tupelo.

"That week, we will have untold thousands of fans coming down from Memphis," Guyton said. "We'll be open and ready for them."


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