MEMPHIS: Fans of Elvis Presley are flocking to his Graceland estate for Thursday's 35th anniversary of his death, their enthusiasm for the king of rock 'n' roll undiminished by the years.
Organizers of the annual Elvis Week expect this year's edition -- which shifted into high gear on Tuesday -- to be the largest ever, with Presley's widow Priscilla and daughter Lisa Marie Presley participating.
"Elvis is fan-driven," Joe Guercio, Presley's musical director from 1970 until the star's sudden death on August 16, 1977 at the age of 42, told, "and there are not a lot of people (in show business) who are fan-driven."
Actually nine days long, Elvis Week got off the ground in Memphis last Friday, centered around a 1,200-seat air-conditioned tent across Elvis Presley Boulevard from Graceland and next to the preserved remains of his private jet.
Highlights include an all-night candlelight vigil Wednesday at Graceland's gates, where fans this year will have the option of lighting either real candles or switching on virtual candles on a special Elvis Week smartphone app.
On Thursday, a concert at a downtown stadium -- featuring Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley, as well as surviving members of Presley's band -- will review the king of rock 'n' roll's roots in blues, gospel and country music.
Folded into Elvis Week is the sixth annual Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest -- never, ever call them impersonators -- with contestants from as far afield as Australia and Japan.
"I always look like this, minus some of the make up -- but the hair is always the same, sideburns and everything," immaculately coifed Rick Huntress, an award-winning Elvis tribute artist from New England, told.
Tuesday saw hundreds of Elvis Presley fan club presidents get the lowdown from Elvis Presley Enterprises, which closely oversees the rights to Presley's posthumous image, on his enduring legacy in film, commercials and merchandising.
Good-humored boos filled the Elvis Week Main Stage tent when Carol Butler, vice president for international licensing, revealed a Mr Potato Head character resembling Presley in his "Aloha from Hawaii" period.
Much more of a crowd-pleaser -- indeed it was greeted with cheers -- was a Canadian-made suitcase emblazoned with an airbrushed portrait of Presley. "It's really nice," said Butler, who gave $100 as its price.
And in cross-cultural fusion of pop culture icons, Butler lifted the wraps off a forthcoming Elvis version of Japan's Hello Kitty doll. "We just love it," she said. "She's just cute in her little Elvis duds."
In another part of Memphis, unconnected with Graceland, several lots of Presley artifacts went under an auctioneer's hammer, including a hand-painted concert poster from 1954 with an estimated price of $30,000.
It had been created for a show that Presley -- who only a few months earlier had put out his first commercial single, "That's All Right" -- gave at a nightclub on a highway outside Memphis.
Other memorabilia at the sale include a Colt Python double-action revolver that Presley used for target practice in the backyard of Graceland. It sold for $13,750, just a tad under its estimated price.
A pair of sunglasses from 1974 went for $22,500 while Presley's gold Longines wrist watch -- a gift from his manager Colonel Tom Parker -- realized $16,250, a spokesman for Heritage Auctions told AFP by email.