The Commercial Appeal has a piece today on Graceland’s preparations for Elvis Week, the annual August celebration commemorating the August 16, 1977 death of the King. According to Elvis Presley Enterprises CEO Jack Soden, “Elvis is getting bigger all over the world. We say it, and I know it sounds like a company fight song, but it’s true.”
Well, maybe. The article notes that “tourism to Graceland was down last year to roughly 554,000 visitors from an annual average of roughly 600,000.” As noted on this blog and other places, Elvis has been surpassed on the list of top-earning dead celebrities by Kurt Cobain. The youngest teenager to have seen a first-run movie in which Elvis was an actor is now 51 years old. Graceland, as do all attractions, needs to have something new from time to time. Over the years the Elvis people have opened new rooms and exhibits, and have even given their blessing to an Elvis impersonator contest. This year, by means of a mirror, visitors will be able, for the first time, to peer into Elvis’s mother’s closet.
The big lures, the one that would make the turnstiles spin, however, are Elvis’s bedroom and the bathroom in which he died. No one other than family and, one presumes, Graceland staff have been admitted to this holy of holies. According to this William F. Buckley column from 2000, “Even Al Gore we had to say no to. Even Peter Guralnick (the renowned Presley biographer).”
The question is not if Graceland will ever open the bedroom and bathroom, but when. As wonderful as Elvis was and as timeless as his music is, his fans are aging, and it’s not clear how many of the iPod generation will want to make the pilgrimage to Memphis. To keep Graceland at the top of the list of the most-visited private homes in America, those doors will someday open.
The person who holds the key to this decision is Lisa Marie Presley, Elvis’s only child and the owner of Graceland, who is now 39 years old. She has her own show business career, to be sure, and could never work another day and still remain a wealthy woman. But the pressures to open that door will build, and someday those doors will open.
My money is on Elvis Week of 2027.