August 12, 2002
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
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
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
"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
"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'
"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.
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,
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
August 12, 2002
Recalled, From Big Love to Dying Breath
By Franz Lidz, The New York Times - August 11,
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
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
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
Are We So Stuck on Him?
By Gilbert B. Rodman, Newsday - August 11,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
the King's Men and Women
Elvis Week kick-starts with a rockin' parade
By Donnie Snow, The
Commercial Appeal - August 11, 2002
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
"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
clone just a hair's breadth away?
By Michael Lollar, The
Commercial Appeal - August 11, 2002
When it comes to Elvis Presley, some fans have always refused to let
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
"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
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
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
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
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
August 11, 2002
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
Change of Habit
Leaving Hollywood for a
ABCNEWS - August 09, 2002
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
Hart was hooked: "I felt that I was going to be back here
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
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
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."
(left) R. M. Dolores - March
(right) Dolores Hart & Elvis
Presley in "Loving You" - 1957
(2002) Photo and autograph R. M. Dolores from collection
August 10, 2002
renovations planned for Elvis birthplace
By M. Scott Morris, Tupelo Daily Journal -
August 07, 2002
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
"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
"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
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
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
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