Elvis fans brave heat and long lines in tribute.

Thousands of Elvis Presley fans, many carrying pictures of the late singer, braved a sweltering heat wave to stream through Presley's Memphis home on Thursday to mark the 30th anniversary of his death.

Fans began lining up on Wednesday evening -- many waiting hours -- to file up the driveway of Presley's Graceland estate and past his grave in a candlelight vigil that continued into Thursday.

The annual tribute came amid an intense heat wave, with temperatures in Memphis rising past 100 degrees (38 degrees Celsius).

Eight deaths in the area were blamed on the extreme heat, including a New Jersey woman who was found dead in a tent after camping near the Heartbreak Hotel off Elvis Presley Boulevard, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported.

Memphis officials estimated that the vigil and related concerts and seminars organized by Elvis Presley Enterprises, the firm that controls his estate, had brought some 75,000 visitors to the area for "Elvis Week."

On Wednesday, Mike Meridian, a 46-year-old construction foreman from Houston, was waiting under a golf umbrella, one of the first through the Graceland gates to pay his respects.

"We're doing our best to keep cool," said Meridian. "Elvis blows the wind our way every now and again."

Meridian was holding a space for his wife, Shirley Roberts, who had been coming to Graceland to pay tribute every year since August 16, 1977, when Elvis died suddenly at age 42 from heart failure after battling health problems including weight gain and a dependency on prescription drugs.

Nearby Meridian a hand-painted sign in pink on the brick gate at Graceland read: "I will always love Elvis." Another, in brilliant orange, said: "Elvis = World Peace."

Inside the air-conditioned visitors' center, Elvis impersonators compared notes on self-made costumes. Souvenir stands did a brisk business in commemorative T-shirts for the anniversary that featured Presley's image and included a note thanking fans "for 30 great years!"

The first candlelight vigil began as an impromptu tribute from fans, whom Elvis had often greeted at the brick gates of Graceland in the early days of his career.

The event has grown bigger in the years since Presley's ex-wife Priscilla took control of his estate and opened Graceland as a tourist destination in 1982.


Thousands of fans paid up to $68 each to tour Graceland during the week and take in exhibits showcasing Presley's penchant for the outlandish, including his signature 1970s-era jumpsuits, his white-fur trimmed bed and his favorite gun: a turquoise-handled Colt .45.

The upstairs of Graceland, including the bathroom where Presley died, remains off-limits to visitors.

Fan clubs from around the world sent handcrafted tributes and bouquets for the Meditation Garden at Graceland, which includes the singer's grave.

Elvis Presley Enterprises has plans for a $250 million overhaul of Graceland that would add a convention hotel and a high-tech visitors' center.

Graceland attracts some 600,000 visitors each year, making it the second most-visited residence in the United States after the White House.

Elvis Week concludes on Friday with the first-ever Presley estate-sanctioned contest for Elvis imitators, many of whom prefer to be called "tribute artists."

The winner of the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest, to be named after a sequin-studded sing-off on Friday night, will win $15,000 and the chance to work with Presley's estate.

Jay Zanier, one of the finalists, installs heating and cooling systems in Ontario, Canada, as a day job, but said he was hoping a win on Friday would put him in another league of Elvis imitators. "If I win, this is it, full-time," he said. "This is huge."


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