On Saturday morning, July 1st, 2006, a somewhat out-of-the-ordinary front-page photograph greeted readers of The Washington Post. President George Bush and Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, had visited the former home of rock `n roll legend Elvis Presley. Known today as Graceland, the Elvis home had recently been designated a National Historic Landmark. In the Washington Post front-page photograph, Koizumi, a known Elvis fan, was shown demonstrating some of his Elvis moves at Graceland while President Bush, Elvis’s former wife Priscilla, and Elvis’s daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, looked on.
A few months earlier, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton, declared the Graceland estate to be a National Historic Landmark, which is the highest U.S. recognition accorded historic properties. Fewer than 2,500 such places share the honor, among them, Mount Vernon and Monticello, Virginia, the former homes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Graceland is also the first, and to date, the only home of a rock `n roll star to be so designated.“In recognition of Elvis Presley’s achievements and contributions to American culture and musical history, we designate his home, Graceland, as a National Historic Landmark,” Secretary Norton said during the March 27th, 2006 dedication ceremony.
“American culture and music changed irreversibly because of Elvis,” Secretary Norton said during her remarks. “It would be difficult to tell the story of the 20th century without discussing the many contributions made by this legendary, iconic artist.”
Former wife of Elvis, Priscilla Presley, and Jack Soden of Elvis Presley Enterprises were on hand to receive the formal certification. Less than three months later, Bush and Koizumi would make their visit to Graceland.
Prime Minister Koizumi, it turned out, was a big Elvis fan, not uncommon in Japan, where at least two Elvis fan clubs thrive with thousands of members. Prior to the Bush-Koizumi visit to Graceland, the two heads of state had conducted earlier business in Washington over two days. They had a series of talks on world and bilateral issues, ranging from Iraq and North Korea to U.S. beef exports. But following a black-tie dinner at the White House, the next day’s itinerary was devoted to Graceland.
On the Air Force One plane ride to Graceland, it was also “all Elvis” as White House staff and traveling press joined in the festivities. “Love Me Tender” and “Don’t Be Cruel” and other Elvis songs were played over the Air Force One public address system. DVDs of Elvis movies were available for viewing. Even fried peanut butter-banana sandwiches – an Elvis specialty – were offered to those willing to indulge.
Arriving at Graceland, which was closed to the general public while the heads of state were there, Koizumi and Bush saw what most visitors see. In the museum portion of the home, there were displays of the King’s extravagant concert costumes, his guitars, wall after wall of gold records.
In the living areas of the Graceland mansion they saw a glossy black baby-grand piano and a 15-foot-long white sofa. There was also the billiard room with multicolored fabric covering the walls and ceiling and a yellow-and-blue basement entertainment room with mirrored ceiling and triple televisions embedded in the walls.
And not least on the tour was the famously furnished Jungle Room, with its shag carpet, reportedly decorated from Elvis’s memory of a Hawaiian visit.
It was in the Jungle Room where Koizumi was treated to a pair of Elvis’s gold-rimmed sunglasses, which inspired him to offer what appeared to be a brief display of some Elvis air guitar while singing, “Glory, glory, hallelujah.” Press photos, such as that at the top of this story, captured the moment and appeared in news outlets around the world. Outside, just off the drive way and parked on the lawn was one of Elvis’s prize cars – a pink Cadillac.
Some 300 journalists came out to document and report on the trip. In fact, a separate press center was set up in the Elvis Presley Automobile Museum, a separate building where the Cadillac and an MG used in the Elvis movie “Blue Hawaii” were on display, along with other Elvis cars, reported at one time to have numbered more than 30.
While at Graceland, Bush and Koizumi shared some private time for official business in the Meditation Garden – an area where Elvis and his parents are buried next to an eternal flame.
President Bush had decided that a Graceland visit for Koizumi would be the perfect way to honor his friend and fellow world leader. The two had apparently hit it off on a personal level since their first meeting. In fact, at a 2005 birthday party for President Bush, Koizumi sang a few bars of Presley’s, “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,”( also appropriate at the time regarding the U.S.-Japan relationship).In addition to the July 2006 Graceland visit, and as a parting gift to Koizumi for his then forthcoming retirement from office that September, Bush also arranged for a jukebox loaded with Elvis hits to be given to his friend.
Although Elvis never performed outside of the U.S., he continued to have fans around the world, including thousands in Japan. Koizumi, who shares a birth date with Elvis, January 8th, was also an active Elvis fan back home. His brother once ran Presley’s fan club in Yokohama.
In 1987, Koizumi also played a key role in erecting a bronze statue of Presley in Tokyo. And in 2001, he personally selected 25 Elvis songs for a limited-edition charity CD released in Japan under the title, “Junichiro Koizumi Presents My Favorite Elvis Songs,” a CD that quickly sold out. (In 2009, after he retired, Koizumi attended an unveiling of another Elvis Presley statue, this one in Kobe, Japan.)
Near the end of the July 2006 visit to Graceland, President Bush, reflecting on the tour and satisfied that he helped provide a good time for Koizumi, noted: “I knew he loved Elvis,” he said of the Japanese prime minister, “I didn’t realize how much he loved Elvis.”
600,000 VisitorsGraceland, it turns out, is not only a nice diversion for a visiting head of state. In fact, for nearly 35 years now the Elvis homestead has become big business. Tens of thousands come there every year – as paying visitors. Forbes magazine reported that Presley’s estate – including Graceland visitors, licencing fees, and merchandise – earned an estimated $55 million in 2013, placing Elvis among the top-earning deceased celebrities for that year and a number of years past.
Elvis Presley died at Graceland in August 1977 at the age of 42. Since his death, Graceland has become essentially a memorial to Presley and national monument of a kind. The site was opened to the public on June 7, 1982. It was first listed in the National Register of Historic Places on November 7, 1991, becoming a National Historic Landmark in March 2006. Since its opening to the public it has become, after the White House, one of the most-visited private homes in America with more than 600,000 visitors in recent years.Graceland includes the mansion house, located on nearly 14 acres. There are 23 rooms, in the mansion, including 8 bedrooms and bathrooms. There is also a full stable on the grounds. The estate is located just under 10 miles from downtown Memphis, Tennessee and less than four miles north of the Mississippi state line. Elvis was born in Tupelo, MS. Presley, his parents Gladys and Vernon Presley, and his grandmother, are buried in the Meditation Garden at Graceland. A memorial gravestone for Presley’s stillborn twin brother, Jesse Garon, is also at the site. When Presley died in 1977 he was originally buried at Forest Hill Cemetery. But after attempts were made to steal his body that August, Presley’s father, Vernon, had the bodies of Elvis and his mother both reburied at Graceland.
Graceland also includes a museum across the street where various Elvis artifacts are on display, including some of his famous Las Vegas jumpsuits, gold records, guitars he used, and other material. Elvis’ extensive collection of automobiles, including his pink Cadillac, are also housed there. And although they were put up for sale in 2015, two of Presley’s specially-outfitted airplanes were also on the grounds, exhibited there for tourists by a separate company.
Elvis originally purchased Graceland on March 19, 1957 for the amount of $102,500. In those days, the property was located in a mostly rural area, which in subsequent years filled in with residential and commercial growth expanding from Memphis. After purchasing the property Elvis spent more than $500,000 making modifications, including a low-lying stone wall of Alabama fieldstone surrounding the grounds; a wrought-iron front gate shaped as a page of sheet music with musical notes with a silhouetted guitar player o each side; a kidney shaped swimming pool; a racquetball court; the “jungle room” mentioned earlier, with indoor waterfall and recording studio; and other additions. Although his performances kept him away from home a good deal, and he also had other homes, Elvis regarded Graceland as his homeplace for 20 years, from 1957-1977, during which, off and on, an assortment of family members lived there as well.
After Elvis’s death in 1977, the executor of his estate initially was his father, Vernon, who then passed it on to Elvis’ former wife, Priscilla, until daughter Lisa Marie came of age. The estate, meanwhile, faced $500,000 a year in upkeep costs and considerable taxes. There was some worry that Graceland might have to be sold in order to avoid bankruptcy. Priscilla then set about examining how historic homes and museums operated and she hired business executive Jack Soden to help turn Graceland into a tourist destination.On June 7, 1982. Graceland was opened to the public under the management of Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE) with Soden at the helm and Priscilla as chairwoman and president. At first, there was uncertainty that Graceland could sustain itself as a tourist location, but after the first few months of visitation the estate recouped its upgrade investment and began turning a profit. There had also been some litigation and court-ordered investigations of the handling of Elvis’s past business affairs by former manager Colonel Tom Parker. Favorable resolution of these and other legal issues helped put the estate on better financial footing. EPE, meanwhile, became more aggressive in securing rights to Elvis’s image and related intellectual property, even helping push through new copyright and trademark legislation in the U.S. Congress. EPE also had a hand in a new Tennessee law that guaranteed that commercial rights to the name and image of a deceased celebrity would pass to his or her heirs. During the 1980s and 1990s, Elvis Presley Enterprises also bought up some of the properties and businesses around Graceland. And over the years EPE also filed more than a hundred lawsuits to assert and protect the estate’s exclusive right to Elvis’s name and image. Licensing fees were also bolstered to help produce income for the Presley estate. Any business selling Elvis memorabilia in the U.S. pays EPE both a licensing fee and an advance royalty based on expected sales. In terms of Elvis’s music, however, Colonel Parker sold those rights long ago to RCA for a song. But in the 1990s, EPE negotiated a new deal with RCA for royalties from newly packaged anthologies of old Elvis tunes. Among these, for example, was a five-CD boxed set released in 1993 that topped a million in sales. More new releases have followed.
At Graceland, meanwhile, tourist visitation continued to do well through the 1990s. On the 20th Anniversary of Elvis’ death in 1997, throngs of fans descended on Graceland, including several hundred media, whose coverage of the event brought more public notice to Graceland, helping spur more visitation. Each August now, at the anniversary of Elvis’ death, thousands come to Graceland for a range of activities during “Elvis Week.” At the 25th anniversary in 2002 as estimated 40,000 people came to Graceland during Elvis Week. And Elvis’s music, even in 2002, still had popular currency. When RCA rereleased some of his singles that year to promote a greatest-hits compilation, more than a dozen of them became top five hits in Britain.
In the early 2000s, however, visitation at Graceland hit a plateau in the 500,000-to-600,000 range. Priscilla, Lisa Marie, and Jack Soden at EPE had watched visitors from the U.S. and all over the world express their enthusiasm, and open their wallets, for all things Elvis. They suspected there was more potential upside at Graceland and the Elvis Presley legacy. But they did not have the experience to take it to the next level. That’s about when some bigger players entered the picture.
Sillerman/CKX DealIn December 2004, Lisa Marie Presley made a business deal with CKX, Inc. and its chairman, Robert Sillerman, a notable player in the entertainment business and celebrity rights management. In a $114 million deal with CKX, she sold some 85 percent of the business side of her father’s estate, along with some Elvis Presley rights. She kept the home and the Graceland property, as well as the bulk of the possessions there. But she turned over the management of Graceland and EPE to CKX.
“For the past few years, I’ve been looking for someone to join forces with to expand the many facets of (Elvis Presley Enterprises), to take it to new levels internationally and to make it an even greater force in the entertainment industry,” said Lisa Marie Presley at the time of the deal.
Lisa Marie received $50 million from the sale plus stock in CKX. Priscilla Presley got $6.5 million and a 10-year consulting contract with CKX at $560,000 a year. She also received a seat on the CKX board of directors.
Sillerman and CKX got the rights to the Elvis name, image, likeness, and trademark, then used in 100 or so merchandising and licensing deals. CKX also got the publishing rights to 650 songs, royalty rights to fewer Elvis songs recorded after 1973, and royalty rights to 24 Elvis movies.Robert Sillerman, the chairman of CKX, had become a billionaire in the 1990s after collecting and selling off a network of radio properties, and concert and entertainment venues. Sillerman was known as something of wheeler dealer in the entertainment management world. In fact, shortly after the Graceland deal, his company also acquired 19 Entertainment, the company that owned the American Idol TV show. That deal was valued at $190 million.
Sillerman, a friend of Mel Brooks who years earlier had invested in Brooks’ Broadway production, The Producers, also came to own Muhammed Ali rights as well as the firm that managed Woody Allen, Robin Williams and Billy Crystal. In April 2006, Sillerman paid $50 million for an 80 percent stake in Muhammed Ali’s name, image and likeness. “When we created CKX and came up with the idea for it,” Mr. Sillerman said in an April 2006 interview, “we came up with three things that we thought had the greatest impact on American culture,” then naming the three: Elvis Presley, American Idol, and Muhammed Ali.
Sillerman had big plans for the future – including those built upon the licensing rights of baby boomer cultural icons like Elvis. He even had hoped to land some Beatles’ rights, but that did not happen. Still, with Graceland and the Elvis Presley legacy, Sillerman saw new business opportunities ahead. “Does it make sense to invest in Elvis Presley enterprises in Japan? Does it make sense in Germany?,” he asked at the time of the Elvis deal. “Are there things that can be done in other jurisdictions in the United States? The answer to some of the questions is obviously yes,’ he said., “we just don’t know which ones.”There was thinking at the time of possible Elvis-themed venues around the world, prehaps something similar similar to a Hard Rock Café type design. Some observers believed that taking the Elvis brand into foreign markets could dwarf U.S. opportunities. “Put a casino in Macau or Dubai, put a replica of Graceland in Tokyo—the opportunities are huge,” offered one business analyst. EPE’s Jack Soden had also been eyeing the international potential, and he offered one anecdote as an indication that foreign visitors were just as crazy about Elvis as Americans. “The Bolshoi Ballet came en masse to Graceland,” Soden told Fortune magazine in 2005. “All these ballet dancers from Russia were huge Elvis fans, and [their handlers] were asking for our help to get them out of here and back to rehearsal. They had a per diem, and they were missing meals and saving money so they could buy more stuff at the shop.”
In February 2006, Robert Sillerman announced plans to turn Graceland into a much improved tourist destination that would also draw international visitors. What Sillerman had in mind was something on a par with the Disney or Universal theme parks. Graceland and the immediate area would be made over to accommodate a doubling or even tripling of annual visitors, possibly to around 2 million a year. CKX began working with Disney Imagineering based in Orlando, Florida, to improve the tourist area around Graceland. While keeping the historic home intact, the make-over would include a three-mile Elvis Presley Boulevard as an entertainment district near the estate. Elvis Presley Enterprises, meanwhile, had already bought up over 120 acres of land, apartments and existing shops that would make way for the expansion.
There was also some potential for Elvis/Graceland cross-promotion between Sillerman properties and Elvis venues. In May 2006, Sillerman’s American Idol show featured some of its contestants visiting Graceland. Not long thereafter, attendance at Graceland in July 2006 was up six percent over July 2005, which some attributed to the American Idol linkage. And in September 2006, Memphis was one of seven cities where American Idol held auditions. American Idol contestants doing Elvis songs on that show in the future was another distinct possibility.Sillerman was also working on an Elvis venue to be built in Las Vegas. And his firm was helping Cirque du Soleil develop a high-concept production about Elvis that would launch later in Las Vegas and potentially tour the world. That production was planning to use Elvis imagery, music, and artifacts in an artistically-colored act with Cirque du Soleil dancers and trapeze artists.
After some time in development, that show, billed as a tribute to the life and music of Elvis Presley and titled “Viva Elvis,” debuted with preview performances in December 2009 at the Aria Resort & Casino.
However, Sillerman’s bigger plans for Elvis and CKX began to fall apart after he invested in Las Vegas property with the idea of creating an Elvis Presley-themed casino. That occurred not long after the economy turned bad in 2008-2010, as stocks and real estate values plummeted, when Sillerman and CKX got into financial trouble. In May 2010, Sillerman stepped down as chairman and CEO of CKX. About a year later, in May 2011, CKX was sold to Apollo Management for $512 million, and Apollo changed the name of CKX to CORE Media Group. Not long thereafter, Apollo began to sell off some of what it has acquired, though keeping American Idol, at least for the time being.On November 19, 2013, Apollo sold its stake in Elvis Presley Enterprises and Muhammad Ali Enterprises to Authentic Brands Group(ABG), a New York-based intellectual property corporation that already managed Marilyn Monroe rights, among others. In this deal, ABG would then own Elvis Presley’s intellectual property rights and Elvis Presley Enterprises. ABG was believed to have paid something north of $130 million for the Presley and Ali rights. In the deal, ABG assumed the global rights to a vast library of Elvis Presley photographic imagery, including artwork, album covers and movie posters; video and audio assets, including television appearances and music specials; Elvis’ name and likeness; and other assets, including the rights to major Elvis-themed events such as Elvis Week.
With the ABG deal, Priscilla Presley noted in a statement: “We look forward to working with the ABG team to further promote the legacy of Elvis. This is the opportunity the family has been envisioning to expand the Graceland experience and enhance Elvis’ image all over the world.” Lisa Marie Presley added: “While I will continue to own Graceland and Elvis’ original artifacts, we are looking forward to working with our new partners to continue the growth and expansion we have been working towards. The licensing and merchandising aspect of this business is not to be confused with the fact that the property will always remain with me and my family. However, this is a great partnership for our family and Elvis fans worldwide.”ABG soon put its Elvis properties to work, taking their new Graceland brand on the road for the first time with a nine-month exhibition of Elvis Presley artifacts displayed at London’s O2 arena.
And in February 2015, ABG announced it would establish a second permanent Elvis home in Las Vegas, at the Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino, on the site where Elvis had performed in earlier years.
In 1969, Elvis had played a record 58 consecutive, sold-out shows at that location at the former International Hotel. He would eventually play some 837 performances in Las Vegas.
The London and Las Vegas venues, according to ABG, demonstrated the potential for using the million or so Graceland-Elvis artifacts that often remain in storage. “Once you give someone a taste of this,” said ABG managing partner Joel Weinshanker of the Elvis exhibits and other artifacts, “they’ll want more.”
Back at Graceland proper, meanwhile, Authentic Brands was also at work. By August 2014, they introduced an interactive iPad tour guide and the Graceland Archive, in which curators exhibit and discuss material not on permanent display. ABG and EPE were also moving ahead with the planned Graceland expansion. A 450-room hotel and conference center – dubbed the Guest House at Graceland (noted on map earlier), is scheduled to open in 2016. It will be Memphis’s largest new hotel and will also include a 500-seat theater. In conjunction with the larger Graceland area development plan, EPE is also seeking to designate the area a “tourist development zone.” It also wants state and local tax breaks – as much as $40 million according to one report – noting that the projected expansion will generate jobs and business income.Still, there have been some “doubting Thomases” out there who wonder just how long the Elvis magic can last. Elvis followers and fans are mostly older, and some analysts have called the Elvis enterprise a “boomer play,” expecting a downturn as this cohort dies off. But there are signs that the Elvis story and his music can have legs with new followers and new markets. In recent years, new compilations of Presley’s music, and rediscovered or never released material, have resonated with younger listeners and buyers. Elvis’s appeal musically also cuts across the rock, gospel and blues genres, and that will also help broaden and sustain his fan base going forward.
So stay tuned. Elvis hasn’t quite left the building yet – and if the investors and entertainment moguls have anything to do with it, he never will.
For additional stories on Elvis Presley at this website, see for example: “Elvis on the Road, 1955-1956” (the travels and town-by-town concert itinerary of early Elvis and his band); “Elvis Riles Florida, 1955-1956” (Elvis & band come to perform at the Florida Theater in Jacksonville, but face arrest warrants there if he “gyrates” too suggestively on stage); and “Drew Pearson on Elvis, 1956,” (a video commentary on Elvis Presley’s rapid rise to stardom by a famous syndicated newspaper columnist of that era). See also the “Annals of Music” category page for additional stories on the history of popular music, artist profiles, and selected song analysis. Thanks for visiting — and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support this website. Thank you. — Jack Doyle
Date Posted: 17 September 2015
Last Update: 17 September 2015
Comments to: email@example.com
Jack Doyle, “They Go To Graceland, Elvis Home a Big Draw,”
PopHistoryDig.com, September 17, 2015.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Koizumi weren’t the only high-profile visitors to tour Graceland in recent years. Since their July 2006 visit to Graceland, other heads of state and/or related royalty have also gone to Graceland. On August 6, 2010, Prince Albert II, Monaco’s Head of State, and his fiancée, Charlene Wittstock, on a U.S. vacation, toured Graceland. Prince William and Prince Harry of the U.K., while in Memphis for a friend’s wedding, visited Graceland on May 2, 2014, where they were joined by Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie for a private tour. Rock `n roll “royalty,” as well, have also had some interaction with Graceland. American singer-songwriter Paul Simon, visited Graceland in the early 1980s and wrote a song which became the title track of his 1986 world music hit album, Graceland, suggesting some homage to Elvis and his home place (Simon has also mentioned Sun Records recordings of country rhythms as an influence on the album). On May 26, 2013, Sir Paul McCartney visited Graceland, leaving a guitar pick on Elvis’s grave “so Elvis can play in heaven.” And of course, in prior years, a long list of celebrities, aspiring musicians, and other notables – from conservative columnist William F. Buckley to world famous architect, I.M. Pei – have visited Graceland. A few years after he left the White House, President Jimmy Carter and former first lady Roslyn Carter visited Graceland.
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