August 16, 2012 21:21 IST
Hardcore fans of Elvis Presley marked the 35th anniversary of his death on Thursday after cheering his ex-wife and daughter who thanked them for their enduring love of the king of rock 'n' roll.
Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley spoke for little more than a minute at the start of an all-night candlelight vigil the night before at Graceland, the mansion where Presley died suddenly on August 16, 1977 at the age of 42.
But it was enough to thrill the tens of thousands of mainly older but passionately dedicated crowd that filled the six-lane Elvis Presley Boulevard awaiting their turn to file up the driveway to pay respect to their idol.
"I know this is something Elvis would never ever have believed would have taken place here," said Priscilla, in a white suit, looking out over a sea of candles across all six lanes of Elvis Presley Boulevard.
"You know this: he loved his fans, and this is proof that you love him... We thank you very, very much for all that you do to keep his legacy going on and on and on," she said.
Lisa Marie, 44, who opted for a dark outfit, said: ""I've always avoided this because I thought it would be too emotional but I really felt it was important to come down here tonight and be with you.
"We love you. I love you very, very much and I am honored to see you here and we're grateful that you are in our lives and we're really happy to be part of this tonight with you."
The music-themed gates of Graceland, where Elvis is buried with his parents amid statues of Jesus Christ in a small "meditation garden" next to a swimming pool, stayed open all night to a steady stream of candle-bearing well-wishers.
Police, scanning the scene from a helicopter, estimated the night's overall turnout at 75,000 -- on a par with the record number that participated at the 30th death anniversary vigil.
"There are lot of folks who don't come until after the vigil starts," Graceland spokesman Kevin Kern told AFP. "We have folks who trickle in throughout the night and it continues well into the next morning."
Events lined up for on Thursday include a meet-and-greet with contestants in the sixth annual Elvis Presley tribute artists' competition and a stadium concert saluting the blues and gospel music that shaped Presley's repertoire.
In what has become a yearly ritual of near-religious proportions, Wednesday's vigil included a brief moment of silence, plus several of Presley's more spiritual recordings, played over loudspeakers.
Elvis and Priscilla Presley divorced in 1973 after six years of marriage, but they remained close and, after his death, she played a pivotal role in turning Graceland into a major tourist attraction.
Their daughter Lisa Marie, whose four husbands notably included Michael Jackson from 1994 to 1996, is a singer-songwriter who released her first album in seven years, Storm and Grace, earlier this year.
The candlelight vigil is a high point of the nine-day "Elvis Week."
"We tell people, if you haven't come to Elvis Week, you won't ever understand why we're here," said Janet Mathis, a community college administrator from Texas, as she waited her turn to enter Graceland.
"Everybody (here) has the same ideology, basically," added her retired husband Warren Mathis. "We're here to pay tribute to Elvis and to be part of something that's ongoing."
Memphis natives Barbara Humphreys and Marynelle Vickers turned up with T-shirts bearing snapshots from the day in August 1961 when they went to Graceland and met Presley in person.
They agreed that no pop star today can compare to Presley -- not even teen idol Justin Bieber. "I can assure you," Vickers said, "when he (Bieber) is gone, there will never be people standing in line like this."