The king was dead: sprawled facedown on the red carpet in an upstairs bathroom of his Memphis mansion, Graceland. It was an ignoble end for 42-year-old, 225-pound Elvis Presley, Mississippi-born rock & roller-turned-juggernaut of recordings, stage, and screen. Or was it? In the 20 years since that afternoon of Aug. 16, 1977, everything from the cause of his death (heart disease or drug abuse?) to the circumstances of his burial (was the body a fake, and is his middle name misspelled on his gravestone?) has come into question. Perhaps the loss is simply too great to accept. Or maybe Elvis never did leave the building. Whatever the reasons, Presley has been kept alive with some extravagant tributes. Long live the King:
· On Aug. 16, Israelis sit shivah to mourn at the Elvis Inn, a diner and filling station between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem that’s a holy land for Presleyan mementos from far and near, including a 15-foot statue by the gas pumps. On the menu: a spicy burger based on a Presley favorite — served kosher, with pita bread. Don’t forget: Some claim Elvis’ mom was part Jewish.
· On seven albums and about 1,000 live performances over nine years (he just finished his ”Graciasland” nightclub tour), the 33-year-old El Vez (born in Chula Vista as Robert Lopez) infuses original, Elvis-influenced pop with mariachi sounds and lyrics (”Mystery Train” becomes ”Misery Tren,” a Pancho Villa anthem) — and plenty of vintage Vegas pageantry. (One pair of orange bell-bottoms are made of Mexican blanket fabric.)
· Oxford-educated Dr. Vernon Chadwick’s annual International Conference on Elvis Presley (ICEP), held this week in Memphis, is a six-day cornucopia of scholarly discourse: ”We’re dealing with an unprecedented phenomenon in recorded history,” muses Chadwick, 44. ”He so thoroughly transformed his limited humanity as to be a global possession of the human psyche.” On the agenda: National Public Radio’s Andrei Codrescu (who’ll chronicle the event), folk artist Rev. Howard Finster (preaching ”Art in the Last Days”), and lectures titled ”Elvis Was a ‘White Negro’ First” and ”Elvis Presley and the Elasticity of Gender.”
· Paul MacLeod, 54, is stuck on Elvis. First he named his boy Elvis Aaron Presley. Then he turned his house, in Holly Springs, Miss., into a jaw-dropping fan mecca known as GracelandToo. Jammed with memorabilia (including some 55,000 clippings), the catch-all museum — not endorsed by the Presley estate — is open round the clock, so the MacLeods sleep in their street clothes. One thing you won’t see on the tour is Mrs. MacLeod, whose ill-advised ”Elvis or me” ultimatum was too much.
· Formed after the 1992 movie Honeymoon in Vegas, the Flying Elvi are soaring higher than ever as the world’s most popular 10-man skydiving homage to the King. Bedecked in full Elvis regalia, the troupe plummets at 160 miles per hour (while speakers blast the King) at air shows and special events across America. And — they are from Vegas — they’ll also serve as earthbound groomsmen.