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Tuesday, 17 August, 1999, 10:07 GMT 11:07 UK
Keeping the King's flame alive
Vigil: Elvis fans gather at Graceland for 22nd anniversary of his death
Flames from thousands of candles lit up the Memphis night as Elvis fans paid their annual tribute to the legend of rock on the anniversary of his death.

The candlelight procession passed by the gates of Graceland, the singer's Memphis mansion, where he died on 16 August 1977, and is also buried.

By the grave in the grounds heartbroken fans sobbed while the sounds of Presley hits filled the air.

The candle vigil is the highlight of Elvis Week - a series of memorials, dances and parties marking the anniversary of the singer's demise.

A fan waits patiently outside Graceland for the procession
Each year thousands of the faithful from all over the world descend on the star's home to take part in the act of devotion, which began in 1978.

"When you're an Elvis fan, you must be here if you can," explained 57-year-old Jerry Engelby.

And this year's event has proved just as much of a draw as always. An estimated 4,000 people gathered in front of the mansion for the procession before walking single file up the driveway to the grave.

Many in the crowd were on their 10th or 12th anniversary pilgrimage, queuing since the early hours for the 9pm event.

LaVera Chapel, 45, from White Lake, Michigan, was just one fan who had been waiting at the gates to Graceland since 3.30am.

She said: "I just felt I had to come. I want to show my patronage to Elvis for all the good times he gave me and I'm here to represent the fans who can't be here."

Throughout the week, there are plenty of events officially sanctioned by Graceland or Elvis Presley Enterprises.

Most are musical tributes and organisers estimate around 30,000 people attend altogether.

Elvis impersonators from all over world compete in the annual competition
Another highlight is the annual Elvis impersonator contest, which sees fans of all nationalities trying to emulate the sound of the man they call the King.

This year 31 of the 80 entrants made it to the finals and the possibility of winning the $1000 prize money.

But for most it is the honour, not the value, of the contest that means the most.

Former victor Ronnie Craig tried to explain his feelings: "In 1991 when I first entered I found out I had won, I was so moved, I bawled."

Elsewhere around Graceland during the week fans can dance to rock 'n' roll bands performing under two tents.

Others choose to indulge fully in Elvis nostalgia in the museum and souvenir complex opposite the Graceland estate.

But, as Graceland spokesman Todd Anderson explained, most fans come for the night-time procession, on the eve of Elvis's death.

"We at Graceland try to keep Elvis Week an upbeat celebration of Elvis's life culminating in one solemn event, the candlelight vigil at the gravesite on Sunday night," he said.

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