Elvis Fans Boost Economies of Two States

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Even from beyond the grave, Elvis Presley still generates big bucks. That's even more true this week.

Fans from Europe, Asia, Australia, South America, and even from exotic locales like Kansas, are spending their hard-earned money for T-shirts, coffee mugs, salt and pepper shakers, refrigerator magnets and other trinkets during the events commemorating his death 30 years ago.

Many are making the 110-mile trek from Memphis, Tenn., where the King of Rock 'n' Roll enjoyed his fame and gaudy fortune in Graceland, to Tupelo, the northeast Mississippi city where Elvis came into the world on Jan. 8, 1935, in a tiny shotgun shack built by his father.

They're also filling hotel rooms as far away as northwest Mississippi's casino row in Tunica and are spending money on meals, rental cars and gasoline, giving a significant, although difficult to quantify, boost to the area's economy.

Dick Guyton, executive director of the Elvis Presley Memorial Foundation in Tupelo, estimated that fans will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars there and at area hotels and stores this week, which - even at the birthplace - is the busiest of the year for Elvis tourism.

The more lucrative earnings are in Memphis. Last year, Graceland took in $27 million in revenue, and the overall Elvis business brings in more than $40 million a year for CKX Inc. (CKXE), the New York-based company that controls most Elvis enterprises.

That made the King the second-highest grossing dead celebrity in 2006, behind only Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, according to Forbes magazine.

About 3,000 people went to Tupelo this past Saturday for an annual Fan Appreciation Day, and Guyton predicted the visitor totals could reach 5,000 by Friday.

Lillian Dunk, a 65-year-old homemaker from Birmingham, England, said she and her financial-broker husband have traveled to Tupelo every year since 1997 to feed her Elvis addiction.

"I'm just absolutely mad about Mr. Presley," said Dunk, who uses her favorite Elvis tune, the inspirational "If I Can Dream," as her cell phone ring tone.

Dunk said she and her husband are traveling with her sister and sister's husband for the 10-day trip. They're staying at a casino hotel in Tunica, about 20 miles south of Memphis. And, she wasn't shy in saying she and her husband were planning to spend about 4,000 British pounds - roughly $8,000 - not including air fare.

"I get withdrawal symptoms if I don't come every year," she said in a telephone interview from the birthplace. "I just absolutely love the place. I adore it. I just feel so relaxed here."

In Memphis on Wednesday, thousands of Presley fans braved 105-degree heat as they wound down Graceland's driveway in a graveside procession in advance of the 30th anniversary of the singer's death, on Thursday.

The heat led to the death of a fan from New Jersey, a 67-year-old woman. The Memphis Fire Department said it also treated at least six people overcome by heat, including an 8-year-old boy who was hospitalized.

Steve Martin, spokesman for the tourism division of the Mississippi Development Authority, said the agency doesn't specifically track spending for Elvis tourism. But he said for all tourists, the state figures two people traveling for three days will spend roughly $750.

In Tennessee, no one keeps exact figures, but the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau estimated up to 75,000 people would be drawn to town for the anniversary week.

Even hotels, museums and restaurants not specifically targeted for Elvis-related events may have reason to hope, authorities said.

"We would have a crossover with the Elvis fans in terms of blues music," Martin said. "If they're that close to the birthplace of the blues, they might go other places, too."


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