36 Years After Elvis Presley’s Death, Could the King’s Popularity Be Dying?

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An Elvis fan.

Long live the King? By some indication, tourist interest in Elvis Presley is on the decline—which would make sense given that fewer and fewer people with firsthand memories of the King of Rock ‘n Roll in action are around. Yet some say the notion that Elvis interest is dying is nonsense.

A recent article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal claimed that interest in Elvis Presley, at least in Sin City, has taken a hit. The story reported that while there are an impressive 198 Las Vegas-area Elvis impersonators listed at the entertainment-booking site Gigmasters.com, the number of Elvis Presley impersonator bookings fell by over 20% from 2011 to 2012. For 2013, Elvis bookings have remained flat—roughly on pace with last year’s underwhelming numbers. One wedding planner told the paper that at least for younger clients in the market for Vegas nuptials, Elvis has left the building, so to speak:

“The whole Elvisy Vegas red carpet thing is, in my opinion, going out the door,” said Carrie Gaudioso, wedding coordinator for the Mon Bel Ami chapel. “That whole era is getting older. Almost all of our older renewals want an Elvis wedding. Our younger brides do not want cheesy, flashy, Elvis Vegas. They want something nice in their budget.”

Jimmi Ellis, a triple threat who performs tributes to Tom Jones and Elvis and works in Internet marketing full-time, told the Review-Journal that Google searches for “Elvis impersonator” have fallen swiftly over the past few years. “The business is not what it used to be,” he said. “The decline is very apparent.”

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The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority could not offer any statistics testifying to Elvis interest among tourists, but noted that the Elvis-a-Rama Museum closed several years ago and the “Viva Elvis” Cirque du Soleil show was replaced last year. According to the Las Vegas Sun, “Viva Elvis” was the first show that the Cirque troupe was ever asked to replace; host MGM Resorts made the request due to poor ticket sales.

The simplest theory for the seeming decline in Elvis interest is the aging of the fan base. According to a 2012 Las Vegas Redevelopment Agency report, more than 40% of Las Vegas tourists are 50 or under—and likely too young to have strong memories (or any memories) of Presley when he was alive.

Despite the reports from Las Vegas, however, the folks at Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE), which runs Graceland and licensing for the King—and whose job, it must be said, is to paint Elvis in the most positive light possible—insist that it’s absurd to think for a second that Presley’s popularity is flagging. “The number of Elvis impersonators or Google searches for ‘Elvis impersonator’ aren’t reflective of interest in Elvis,” said Gary Hahn, EPE vice president of marketing and media. “Our business, here at Graceland and around the world, is thriving.”

The private company does not make Graceland attendance statistics public, but the EPE website states that “Graceland welcomes over 600,000 visitors each year.” Occasionally, word does get out about specific attendance numbers from various years. As recently as 2010, Graceland hosted 519,000 visitors, down from 540,000 the year before.

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Every August, fans pay tribute to the King with a candlelight vigil on the anniversary of his death, and this year, police estimated attendance at around 35,000. That’s a sharp falloff from the previous year’s vigil, which attracted 75,000 fans—and 500 people touring the mansion every hour—according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal. The fact that 2012 marked a nice round number for the anniversary (35 years) seemed to have a lot to do with the phenomenal crowd size. Indeed, the big anniversaries regularly draw more and more vigil attendees—35,000 on the 25th anniversary (when it rained), and closer to 50,000 on the 30th.

The theory that interest in Elvis is fading due to an aging fan base is also silly, according to EPE, which estimates that 30% of both Graceland visitors and the nine million Elvis Presley Facebook fans are under the age of 35. (Overall, the average visitor to Memphis is 47, and tourists skew 59% male, according to the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau.)

“People are often surprised at the scene at Graceland,” said Kevin Kern, EPE director of public relations, pointing to Wall Street Journal’s Marc Myers, who attended Elvis Week in 2010 and later wrote that his assumptions couldn’t have been more wrong that he would be surrounded by “freaky Elvis Presley wannabes and silly like-minded vacationers stuck in a polyester time warp.”

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“The crowd is younger and more varied than they’d imagined,” Kern said of Graceland’s visitors. “Not everybody is an Elvis fan either. They could be just music enthusiasts, or fans of Paul Simon and ‘Graceland.’ Elvis is a part of pop culture, a part of history.”

And Elvis and his former home are undeniable icons. In fact, the readers of 10Best and USA Today just voted Graceland as the #1 Best Iconic American Attraction. Presley is also a regular at or near the top of the annual Forbes “Top-Earning Dead Celebrities” list, landing in 2012 at #3 (after Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson) with $55 million in earnings.

Surely, the popularity of Elvis and Graceland has ebbed and flowed over the years, and it’s difficult to pinpoint how high (or low) interest is at any given moment. But looking forward, it’s easy to imagine the fascination with the King on the rise.

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The 2017 anniversary of Presley’s death will be the centerpiece of what could be the biggest Elvis Week ever. Not only will the vigil mark 40 years since Elvis’s passing, but by then there may be a whole new generation of fans drawn to the King of Rock ‘n Roll. As Variety reported, Fox has a new Elvis film is in the works: It’s based on the Peter Guralnick’s 1995 best-selling biography, The Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley, Kevin McDonald of “Last King of Scotland” is on board to direct, and, perhaps most intriguing, another rock legend, Mick Jagger, is one of the producers. In an open casting call for an actor to play Elvis at the ages of 18 to 22, the movie’s story is described as an “against-all-odds success due to his uncanny gift for self-invention, his unstoppable drive, and the new sound he created that changed the music world forever.”

17 comments
stro45
stro45

And maybe with the employment rate maybe the prices need to drop a little to get it to climb again.I havent made it there yet but I will this summer.

stro45
stro45

I am 46 and I am just as crazy now about Elvis then I was when I first liked and saw him at 8.You here so much that it was drugs to he was murdered.Either way had he got out of the spotlight for awhile cleaned up he would more still be with us in person but his legend lives and both my kids watch him and listen to him and know and what he did.There will never be another person like him.Its time people our age and younger start taken over where others and do what they did and make it even stronger.I miss the man and even if he has been alive all these years which is so so much likely.He deserves it.He busted his behind off for all those years.God bless him and lets get together and keep it rolling.Tell your kids.

JimmiEllis
JimmiEllis

Although I enjoyed reading this article by Mr. Tuttle I have to admit the ending left a better taste for me than it's title.

Because I was quoted in this article I feel it's appropriate to respond.

After reading this article that asks the question regarding Elvis popularity and that it could be dying it's important that I clarify a couple of things.

The article of which I was interviewed for and originally quoted in was specifically for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which seems to of inspired this story.

That being said the content of the two stories, although related to Elvis and similar in nature, to me are not the same and are asking very different questions.

The RJ article titled “Fading glory: Demand for Elvis impersonators isn't what it used to be” was specifically about the demand for “Elvis impersonators in Las Vegas” and was not questioning Elvis overall popularity.

Using excerpts and quotes from another story about the demand of “Elvis impersonators” in Las Vegas in this story seems to paint a picture where I believe Elvis popularity is dying. That of course could not be further from the truth of how I feel.

Elvis raw talent, charisma, electricity and his presence has unequivocally captivated the hearts and souls of people both young and old from around the world.  

There's no doubt in my mind that during our lifetime, likely even after, that we'll ever experience another entertainer, singer, or celebrity that will remotely ever come close to matching that of Elvis Presley!

My belief is that the phenomenon and musical legacy of Elvis Presley will forever leave a lasting impression beyond that of most presidents as well as the kings and queens of great nations.

Long live the only “King Of Rock N Roll!”

tcbcan
tcbcan

I am from Istanbul TR. Born in 1981; 3 years after he had died. Elvis's popularity will always be around because he's timeless just like Marilyn Monroe.Her image is always around so is Elvis's.Just search youtube as "Elvis o2" and you will see even in death, in a place where he had never been when he was alive, still packing huge arenas as other artists of this era do. It will be much better in the future. Elvis doesn't mean LasVegas. He means music. Lasvegas can die but music will always be around. Long Live The King.

DavidHorvath
DavidHorvath

Elvis was the "King of Rock and Roll " ! Was? Always will be the KING !! Elvis' voice was tremendous . There will never , I repeat , never be a greater entertainer in anyones lifetime ! Never ! Oh there may be ... after the earth as we know it is blown to the heavens . But until then? There will never be another Elvis Presley . RIP KING ! We still love you !!

victormanuelabreu
victormanuelabreu

How can it be dying? Presley hold the record for the most Gold, Platinum and Multiplatinum albums and singles . He has a combined total of 257 certified  awards. He is way ahead of the second place Beatles  who have a combined total of 148 certifications. Moreover,  Presley is also the only entertainer in the history of recorded music to have sold a Billion records worldwide.  Since his death in 1977, it is estimated that he has sold over 500 million records in all formats. Apart from record sales, Graceland has become the  most iconic place to visit in the United states. Elvis Presley's fan base  keeps increasing and amplifying its stature globally. It is safe to say that Elvis Presley has become the most famous and arguably the greatest entertainer of all time.   "Thank you very much"



yarilen93
yarilen93

los imitadores son los culpables a mi me cansan de verlos nadie puede imitar al rey es imposible q puedan lograr la chisma el buen humor que tenia elvis su personalidad arrolladora nadie puede superar eso..y no se puede afirmar q porque ya no hay imitadores la fama de Elvis esta desapareciendo eso es imposible Elvis es mucho mas... los imitadores son los q están en declive y no Elvis.


gjyshmaloku
gjyshmaloku

Elvis' fan base isn't only those who live through his years. My parents are in their 40's so they were under 5 when he died but they love Elvis. I was born in the 90's and I love Elvis. Elvis' fan base is universal. His popularity renews himself which is amazing considering the fact that Hollywood has not been the one to renew his popularity like with other artists. There hasn't been one big screen movie to chronicle his life yet. That Last Train to Memphis movie we're not sure if it'll even get to theaters, there have been many mini-series and television movies made of Elvis but none to hit the big screen. Elvis still remains the male artist with most number one hits, more top ten hits, most top 40 hits and more Hot 100 entries in total. His popularity can never really fade  because he is statistically the best charted artist so he will always be referenced and marketed as the best. Show me another artist who close to 40 years after his death is still as popular as he is today.

ChrisClarke
ChrisClarke

Oh boy, what a silly article. In 2012 Elvis had been dead for 35 years, a round figure. 75.000 turned up for that event, no one expects that figure every year, it is like any "round figure" 25 years married, 50 years married etc., those celebrations are always made more of. If 35.000 turned up this year for 36 years since his passing I would say that is very good. I would like to know anyone else who has been gone for that long having such a huge following. No, Elvis popularity is not on the decline, there is around 85.000 Elvis tribute artists around the world and many many young fans who love Elvis, I personally spoke to people in Memphis in 2012 who were around 15 who told me they love Elvis, I would say that is amazing considering Elvis had been gone 20 years before they were even born.

jimburrows71
jimburrows71

Since the Forbes list of highest grossing dead celebrities was first published, and that was in 2000,  Presley is the only  one to consistently  land inside the top 4 rankings,  every time, with cumulative earnings   in excess of a half a billion dollars.   The recession is a huge  variable, and it should have been noted in the article,    especially since tourism appears to be the main subject. Moreover,   as long as Graceland remains the tourist landmark that it currently is, interest in Presley will continue unabated in the state of Tennessee,   irrespective of how strongly he is remembered in others like Nevada, or in Mississippi, where his birthplace is,  for that matter.  Memphis is the key...

PPOLLAK05
PPOLLAK05

2013 gwr " Elvis is the highest selling solo artist in history with a billion in sales"American idol live broadcast " Elvis is and will always be the world's greatest idol"

ChrisClarke
ChrisClarke

@DavidHorvath  As with the comment above, you are totally right. Elvis was, is and always will be the greatest singer/entertainer to EVER walk the planet, no one will replace him because no one will ever be half good enough.

ChrisClarke
ChrisClarke

@victormanuelabreu  It makes me so angry when people write nonsense about Elvis, you are right in what you are saying. He has so many trophies the former racquetball court at Graceland had to be made into a trophy room, I don`t know where they will put future trophies, maybe they will need to build.

jimburrows71
jimburrows71

@ChrisClarkeHi Chris!!  You took the words right out of my mouth. The main problem with this article is the headline. It's like the author was too unsure, one way or the other, of the outcome (LOL),  so he chose the most politically correct one.    Anyone whose life, or even segments of it,    has been written  about in  1,234 biographies in print,   has his own exhibit in 5 Presidential libraries,     has been the subject of at least  61 characterizations  in movies and television and in as many as 32 plays,   not to mention  having  a home which is visited by over 18 million paying customers,   or  sold 34.5 million albums since the so called Soundscan era began (14 years after the subject in question passed away) ,   as well as  being   a member of 5 Music  Hall of Fames, or having   34 statues around the world  and  110 markers, or  present in 56 Wax Museums  or  referenced in 1,000 biographies of other celebrities,   some of whom   met him for only  five minutes, (e.g, Colin Powell),    can not be in the "decline ", his image, that is,   for the simple reason that 99 percent of these occurrrances  happened  years, even decades AFTER passing away  (LOL)