MEMPHIS: On what would have been Elvis Presley's 77th birthday on Sunday, hundreds of fans from around the world made the annual pilgrimage to the Graceland mansion where the “King of Rock and Roll” lived.
This year, the birthday celebration also served as the kick off to what is expected to be a year of global Elvis mania marking the 35th anniversary of the beloved icon's death.
Memphis officials expect record numbers of visitors all year, leading to the August 16 anniversary commemoration of his death at Graceland, where Presley is also buried.
In Dusseldorf, Germany a new Elvis Presley museum opened its doors in December; an “Elvis Cruise” departs from Florida to the Bahamas next week; and in Sao Paulo, Brazilian officials are planning one of the largest exhibits of Elvis memorabilia outside of the United States to open in September.
“Every five years, we see history repeat itself and we expect that to happen again this year as fans remember Elvis Presley,” said Kevin Kane, president and CEO of the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau, who added that the city is preparing for a wave of visitors to exceed the typical 600,000 to 700,000 fans who visit Graceland each year.
Georgina Trejo, 55, from Mexico City is among the singer's diehard fans who flew to Memphis to attend Presley's birthday celebration, and plans to return with friends – all members of the Mexico City “Forever For Elvis Fan Club” – in August to observe his memorial ceremony.
“He sang the sound track of my life,” said Trejo, who was bundled up against the blustery Memphis morning in an Elvis-illustrated jacket and carried a black purse painted with dancing Elvises. “All the important moments in my life, I can remember Elvis' songs playing.”
Trejo said she has lost count of the number of times she has visited Graceland since the site first opened to the public in 1978.
Presley's popularity has endured since he released “Blue Suede Shoes” on his first studio album “Elvis Presley” in 1954. He has sold more than a billion albums since then and continues to out-earn many other living celebrities.
Forbes Magazine estimated Presley's earnings at $55 million in 2011, exceeding contemporary superstars such as Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber.
Graceland will open three exhibits to mark the 35th anniversary of Presley's death.