Managers of Presley's home in Memphis plan to anoint their first-ever official Elvis 'tribute artist' on Friday, near the end of a week of events commemorating the 30th anniversary of Presley's death on August 16, 1977.
Elvis died at 42 of heart disease worsened by drug abuse. The rules are simple: Nothing tacky or kitschy, and no ridiculous spoof. The contest judges will be looking for sincerity and respect, even if it is accompanied by karate moves, black pompadours and rhinestone jumpsuits.
"It's all about paying tribute to the life and legacy of Elvis," said Paul Jankowski, marketing chief for Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc, the company that operates Graceland and its sprawling tourist complex.
The 'Ultimate Elvis' search has been under way since March with a series of preliminary contests around the world. Twenty-four contestants made it to Memphis, but 14 were eliminated on Sunday in a final qualifier.
The finalists for the contest are all white men in their 20s to 40s, but Jankowski said preliminary contests, which must be approved by Graceland, are under no orders to restrict contestants by age, race or ethnicity.
The decision to hold the contest follows a change of heart by Elvis Presley Enterprises after its sale two years ago to CKX Inc., which also owns the 'American Idol' TV show. "There are competitions all over the world and they're all fantastic, but to have one run by Elvis Presley Enterprises is something special," said Paul Larcombe, a professional tribute artist from Crewe, England, and one of 10 finalists for the Graceland crown.
Unofficial Elvis impersonator contests, with performers ranging from the ridiculous to the reverential, are held around the globe, drawing participants of all sizes, shapes, ethnicity and ages. There are even female Elvises.
But for the serious tribute artists, some of whom make a living copying the King, winning the official Graceland title, or just getting to the finals, can be particularly rewarding. "It's already enhanced my career just getting over here," said Larcombe, who got to Memphis by winning a preliminary contest in Blackpool, England. "I might get some more high-profile agents to work with me, which means more lucrative work."
For many Elvis fans, the Graceland-sanctioned contest is also special. The Elvis faithful refer to the management of the Presley business as simply 'Graceland,' in the same way a presidential administration might be referred to as 'the White House.'
D. EDWARD Stanley is royalty by marriage. His mother's.
On July 3, 1960, Stanley's mother, Dee, married Vernon Presley, widower father of Elvis Presley, the king of rock 'n' roll. Stanley, only four at the time, and his two older brothers moved into Elvis' Graceland estate in Memphis, Tennessee.
Over the following 17 years, Stanley would become part of the Presley entourage, witnessing Elvis's career highs and personal lows. Right through to the bitter end: Presley's death from a drug overdose on August 16, 1977.
On the brink of this week's 30th anniversary of Presley's passing, and this fall's DVD release of Stanley's autobiographical drama 'Protecting the King,' the filmmaker talked about living with Presley, witnessing his death and protecting his memory.
Were you aware of Elvis' fame when you first moved to Graceland?
I didn't know what an Elvis Presley was; I didn't know what a 'Hound Dog' was. I just knew that I moved into a very big house.
And after that?
When I was four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10-year-old, I was pretty much confined to the 14 acres of land that the Graceland mansion rests upon. I didn't go out much. It was this normal family: holidays, Christmas. Elvis would go to Los Angeles. Elvis would make movies. But when he was home, it was always family time.
By 15 you dropped out of high school and went to work for him?
That's when I began to become part of the so-called Memphis Mafia and to travel with him everywhere that he went. Now those were great, fascinating years. I did almost 1,000 concerts with Elvis Presley. We travelled all over the US: the best hotels, private jets, everything that goes along with it. I'll be honest with you, I was a hormone with feet when I was 16, 17, 18, 19-years-old. Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll was part of my upbringing. Some people went to the University of Southern California, I went to the University of Elvis Presley.
Elvis was living the high life then, too?
In '72, '73, '74, '75, Elvis was involved in prescribed medications, and that went from use to abuse. For example, Elvis was 165-168 (pounds), '72 until '74. '75: about 200. '76-'77: 255. These were results of medications prescribed by doctors that Elvis took on a regular basis. This went from a use-to-abuse scenario.
You were there when he died?On August 16, 1977, I was downstairs in the pool room at Graceland. ... Someone came to me and said, 'David, Elvis is sick.' When an ambulance pulled in, I realised, this is pretty serious.'
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