“I ain’t no saint, but I’ve tried never to do anything that would hurt my family or offend God.” Regardless of what Elvis Presley thought about himself, you’d be forgiven for thinking the man had entered the pantheon of timeless angels.
Since his death at age 42 in 1977, loyal worship of the King has shown no signs of abating. The singer’s estate generates $55 million annually, and he remains music’s most successful solo artist, with over a billion records sold. Some 600,000 visitors a year make the pilgrimage to Graceland, his former mansion (and now resting place), in Memphis. The city dedicates an entire week every August to mark his passing, with conferences, candlelight vigils and a memorial Mass. Most saints should be so lucky.
On Jan. 8, tribute concerts from Japan to Switzerland will celebrate what would have been Presley’s 78th birthday. A month later, the Tony Award–winning musical Million Dollar Quartet, touching upon the nascent days of Presley’s recording career, will make its Vegas debut. And there will be places all over the globe where you can catch a middle-aged, sideburned man rotating his sequined pelvis in birthday homage to the King. But if you feel like making your own anniversary tribute in the form of a pilgrimage to the sacred sites of the Elvis legend, here’s a rundown of places you can’t miss:
1. Memphis: Youth and Destiny
Born into poverty in northern Mississippi, the baby Elvis survived the stillbirth of his twin, as well as a tornado that killed 233 people around his hometown of Tupelo. The gods were evidently smiling upon the future King, and when he was 13, fate brought his family to Memphis, home of the blues.
Despite failing music class, Presley became mesmerized by the city’s African-American sounds and later incorporated them into his own unique style. Trace his youthful steps along downtown Memphis’ historic Beale Street, where a young Presley watched B.B. King perform and where old-time jazz and blues continue to spill out of honky-tonk joints. Tour Sun Studio (sunstudio.com), where an unknown Presley, fresh out of high school, recorded his first demos. Then head to Lansky Brothers (lanskybros.com). As a teenager, Presley would gaze longingly at the suits through the windows of the store, which later dressed him for his first TV appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show and furnished the white suit Presley wears in his grave.
You’ll want to save Graceland (elvis.com) for last. The bizarre and garish interiors — including the Jungle Room with carved monkeys and indoor waterfall — will leave you gobsmacked, as will excesses such as the King’s funky private jet and its olive green in-flight bedroom.
2. Palm Springs, Calif.: Honeymoon Hideaway
Presley met his wife Priscilla when she was a mere 14 years old and wed her seven years later in an eight-minute Vegas ceremony. The marriage dissolved after just five years, but the couple’s desert honeymoon house in Palm Springs (elvishoneymoon.com) endures in a pristine state. Looking like the wacky love child of a treehouse and a UFO, the structure features a 19.5-m crescent sofa and a hot pink canopied wedding bed. The house can be rented out for $1,500 a night. Tours of the property are periodically conducted by “Darling Presley” (a Priscilla look-alike).
The Presleys later resided in another Palm Springs home that once belonged to McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc. Dubbed Graceland West (elvispalmsprings.com), it features a metal relief of the King on its stucco exterior. The current owners have restored the historic 1946 property to its vintage state, and future plans include an Elvis museum, wedding chapel and guesthouses.
3. Las Vegas: Triumphant Return
Las Vegas didn’t get Presley when he performed there as a 21-year-old (“like a jug of corn liquor at a champagne party,” one critic snarled). But following his 1969 comeback, Sin City became the King’s natural habitat. For seven years, he resided in the penthouse of the International Hotel while performing 837 consecutive sold-out performances downstairs. Now named the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino (thelvh.com), the property capitalizes on its history with a show called The King, starring award-winning Elvis tribute artist Trent Carlini.
To be sure, in Vegas, there are plenty of Elvises to go around. The King will even preside over your wedding vows. In the 1964 movie Viva Las Vegas, the wedding scene between co-stars Presley and Ann-Margret took place at the Little Church of the West (littlechurchlv.com). Built in 1942, the redwood structure is one of Vegas’ oldest wedding chapels. And of course, its Elvis wedding package includes a singing impersonator, with the option of Elvis walking your bride down the aisle — if you want to take the chance she won’t run off with the King instead.