Bush, Koizumi Tour of Graceland Highlights Elvis' Enduring Legacy

By Stephen Kaufman
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - It has been called the most famous home in the United States after the White House, and now Graceland, the former mansion of rock and roll legend Elvis Presley, will become the only other U.S. residence to host both a sitting president and a foreign head of government when President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi take a tour on June 30.

More info on Graceland

The Japanese leader is one of the “the King’s” most famous fans and had scheduled a tour of the residence, located in Memphis, Tennessee, to coincide with his final visit to the United States as prime minister. 

The White House announced June 13 that President and Mrs. Bush would accompany him, and the visit will be made all the more noteworthy because of its tour guides: Priscilla Presley and Lisa Marie Presley - Elvis’ former wife and his only child.

The estate has attracted millions of visitors from around the world since Elvis’ death and burial on the property in 1977 at the age of 42. Graceland, the title track from singer Paul Simon’s 1986 hit album, was inspired by such a visit, and the lyrics describe it as more of a pilgrimage than a tour.

Presley achieved his initial fame in the mid 1950s as a rock and roll pioneer, combining musical elements from African-American blues, Christian gospel, and Southern country.  He became a cultural icon through his recordings, films, dance moves and clothing, inspiring modern day impersonators, as well as a continuing fan base.  Even in 2006, nearly 30 years after his death, he remains the top selling artist of all time, according to the Recording Industry Association of America, with more than 1 billion record sales.  Forbes magazine recently reported that Presley’s estate earned an estimated $52 million in 2005, making him the top-earning deceased celebrity.

One of the most interesting legacies of Elvis is his huge international fan base in Japan and elsewhere, despite the fact that he never performed outside the United States.  Besides Koizumi, Japan is well represented with the country’s Elvis Presley Fan Club boasting approximately 5,000 members, and another 2,000 belonging to the more recently formed Elvis Presley Society in Japan.

A June 16 Associated Press article claimed that Presley’s Japanese popularity is due to his voice, “which conveys emotions and feelings that resonate across the language barrier,” or due to his image either as a rebellious young rocker from the 1950s or the more seasoned 1970s artist, famous for wearing sequined suits. “Serious music fans, meanwhile, rave about his varied catalogue, which exposed them to an exciting mix of rock 'n' roll, country, gospel and other musical forms,” the article said.

The Japanese leader, who humorously serenaded a 2005 birthday party for President Bush with Presley’s song, I Want You, I Need You, I Love You, shares the King’s January 8 birthday and personally selected 25 Elvis songs for a 2002 limited-edition charity CD that was released in Japan, and quickly sold out.

Koizumi and the Bush family will join an estimated 600,000 tourists who have visited Graceland each year since it was opened for tours in 1982.  On March 27, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton declared the estate to be a National Historic Landmark, which is the highest U.S. recognition to historic properties and an honor shared by fewer than 2,500 other U.S. sites.

Additional information is available on Graceland’s official Web site.