It was 10 years ago today that "The King," Elvis Presley, died. But the man heralded as "the world's greatest entertainer" left behind many mementoes through which his memory lives on, especially at Graceland, where more than half a million people a year come to his monument to the American Dream. To some, the Memphis mansion, opened to the public in the spring of 1982, is a symbol, to others a museum, and still to others a shrine.
You can see much of the lavish estate through a 1984 tape, "Elvis Presley's Graceland" (The Congress Video Group, 60 minutes, $19.95). The tour is hosted by Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, who adds a lot to the authenticity of a well-crafted script. In the three years since it appeared, more than 50,000 copies have been sold. This spring, with the 10th anniversary of Presley's death looming, the video took off again: More than 25,000 were sold in April and May. Expectations are that the current boom will reach 50,000 before the fall, for a combined sales of more than 100,000 cassettes.
If you're an Elvis fan or just curious about The King's lifestyle, this tape's for you. It includes the full tour of Graceland, plus some areas you wouldn't see if you went there. The stories that go with many of his belongings are an added treat. Some noteworthy tidbits:
Presley's huge jet plane, which rests on the grounds, was bought by his manager. Presley didn't even want to look at the plane before the purchase, but then spent $600,000 more customizing it. He once flew from Memphis to Denver for peanut butter sandwiches, which were served to him and his guests on a silver tray from a limousine on the Denver runway.
Elvis was fond of horses. When he added a stable to the 14-acre estate, he bought 17 horses and 17 custom-made saddles, and everyone got a pick-up truck to haul the saddles. His favorite horse was a golden palomino, Rising Sun, 24 years old when the tape was made.
A special structure was erected to handle the fan mail and gifts that came pouring in. Elvis liked his fans, and often wandered down to the gates and chatted with them.
He had hundreds of cars and gave them away as freely as he bought them. Among his favorites, parked outside the mansion, are a 1973 Stutz, a Ferrari, three supercycles, the pink jeep from the movie "Blue Hawaii," and the pink Cadillac his gave to his mother.
The mansion tour includes the exotic Jungle Room, a posh pool room, a lavishly equipped TV room (there are 14 TV sets in the house), luxuriously-appointed dining and living rooms, and a studio where Elvis often changed the color of the light bulbs to match the mood of the music he was recording. Because of the personal nature of the upstairs rooms, Priscilla notes, they are sealed from the touring public and not included on the tape.
On display are Elvis' 1958 Army uniform, many of the outfits he designed for his concerts and movies and his collection of police badges. One of the most massive displays is the "Hall of Gold," added in 1984, whose walls are lined with his gold and platinum records. His record sales totaled more than one billion, more than any other recording star, although he never toured outside North America.
Elvis loved movies, but couldn't go to them because he would cause a mob scene. So he often rented a local theater and, with his friends, watched four or five rented movies in the wee hours of the morning. (Never any of his own -- he disliked seeing himself on the screen.) He would also rent a rink and go roller skating, and once rented a nearby amusement park: He rode the roller coaster for 2 1/2 hours and liked the bumper cars so much he thought about buying the ride and setting it up at Graceland.
Presley's tastes were lavish and he spent freely, but he was very generous to the needy, especially to local charities at Christmas. That was when he would have his home and the grounds of Graceland decorated to the hilt. He enjoyed supervising every detail. On New Year's Eve he would set off $2,000 worth of fireworks at midnight.
Pianos are a big part of Graceland. He liked to sit at the piano and pick out tunes, especially gospel and sacred music. Priscilla notes that the King of Rock 'n' Roll's three Grammys were all for albums of sacred music.
Graceland was a regular zoo, and included a turkey named "Bow Tie" and his famous chimp, "Scatter." In addition, Presley would bring back all sorts of animals and birds from rides in the countryside.
Elvis enjoyed sports and watched a lot of football on TV. In 1975 he built his own racquetball court. The building included a weight room, a whirlpool and steam room.
Giving himself whatever he wished gave the one-time poor boy from Tupelo, Miss., great pleasure. Those things make Graceland a monument to his dreams.
The King lives.