MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Elvis Presley fans from around the world made their annual pilgrimage to Graceland on Thursday to pay their respects to the rock ’n’ roll icon with a solemn candlelight vigil on the 36th anniversary of his death.
Thousands of Presley fans carried lit candles as they walked silently through the Meditation Garden at Graceland, Presley’s longtime Memphis home. The garden is the location of Presley’s grave and also is the spot where his mother, father and grandmother are buried.
Wreaths of flowers and pictures of Presley encircled the grave, while shadows cast by the glowing candles danced along the stone wall surrounding the garden. Soft music played in the mild night, as some in the procession bowed their heads or cried quietly.
Each year, fans of Presley’s music and movies come to Memphis for Elvis Week, the weeklong celebration of his life and career. Presley died on Aug. 16, 1977, of a heart attack after battling prescription drug abuse.
The vigil is the highlight of Elvis Week, which this year featured a listening party at Stax Records for the recent release of the three-CD box set “Elvis at Stax.” Performances by Presley tribute artists and a screening of the “Aloha from Hawaii” television program from January 1973 are other featured events of the weeklong reunion, which wraps up Saturday.
Police estimated 35,000 people would attend the vigil. Last year, an estimated 75,000 people descended on Graceland for the event. Elvis’ ex-wife Priscilla Presley and his daughter Lisa Marie Presley spoke at last year’s event, the first time they appeared together at the vigil since it began.
Christine Jeffords made her fifth trip to Graceland with her husband, Jon, and three other members of a fan club called the Elvis Midwest Mafia, whose members are from Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. They wore red T-shirts with Presley’s image emblazoned on a king of hearts playing card on the front.
The back of their shirts had a quote that gives one reason why fans have made repeated trips to Memphis for Elvis Week and the vigil: “If you have a friend who is an Elvis fan, you have a friend for life.”
“Where else can you go where you meet people from year to year who have the same passion?” said Christine Jeffords, a pre-school teacher from Hartford, Wis.
Jeffords, 52, smiled as she talked about buying her first Presley 45, “Let Yourself Go,” which she bought as a young teen with money she had saved from baby-sitting jobs. She said the vigil is a way to remember not only his career, but also his giving personality and ability to make people happy with his music.
The vigil started as an informal gathering the year after his death. It has blossomed into a major tourist event. Fans begin lining up along the outer wall of Graceland about 12 hours before the vigil, and many will stay until the early morning hours of the next day.
The event also has become an international affair and a tribute to the Tupelo, Miss., native’s worldwide popularity, hosting fans from Australia, Brazil, England and Japan and other foreign countries.
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NEW YORK — Russell Simmons apologized for a parody video of Harriet Tubman in a sex tape that appeared on his All Def Digital YouTube channel.
The clip features an actress portraying Tubman having sex with her white slave master as someone films it so the abolitionist can bribe her boss. The “Harriet Tubman Sex Tape” video was posted Wednesday.
Simmons, 55, founder of Def Jam Records, wrote Thursday that he “can now understand why so many people are upset.” He said he removed the video after a call from the NAACP.
Simmons added that he doesn’t condone violence against women and that he’s “sincerely sorry” to those offended by the clip. Though Simmons removed the video, it still lives online.
Tubman spent nearly 30 years as a slave before escaping in 1849. She led hundreds of slaves to freedom as part of the anti-slavery resistance network known as the Underground Railroad.
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LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles judge has dismissed a hit-and-run driving charge against singer Chris Brown.
The judge said Brown had reached a civil compromise with the other driver and City News Service says the misdemeanor was dropped Thursday. Brown didn’t attend the hearing.
Brown claims he traded insurance information with the woman after his Range Rover struck her Mercedes in Toluca Lake in May.
His attorney says he accidentally gave the woman the wrong insurance information. Mark Geragos also says insurance covered the $800 in damage to the Mercedes.
City prosecutor Patrick Hiscocks objected to the dismissal, saying Brown was still on probation at the time of the crash for assaulting then-girlfriend Rihanna in 2009.
He also says the other driver felt she was “castigated” on social media after the crash.
PHOTO: Nicholas Woodlief, 7, left, his sister Annabelle Woodlief, 11, and friend, Eli Crain, 11, right, struck an Elvis Presley pose before the annual candlelight vigil Thursday at Graceland, Presley's home, in Memphis, Tenn. Presley fans from around the world made their annual pilgrimage to Graceland to pay their respects to the rock n' roll icon with a solemn candlelight vigil on the 36th anniversary of his death. (AP Photo/The Commercial Appeal, Nikki Boertman)