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Fans all shook up at King's 75th birthday celebrations

Wrapped in leopard-skin blankets and sporting some of the most frozen quiffs in the history of rock 'n' roll, thousands braved a frigid Memphis morning to celebrate the 75th birthday of Elvis Presley outside his Graceland home.

They had arrived from the four corners of the Earth, bringing with them handwritten birthday tributes, wreaths as kitsch as Graceland's interior -- a shrine to Elvis that has been frozen in time since his death in 1977 -- and an undying love for the King.

Graceland receives 700,000 visitors a year but the crowd that gathered yesterday to see his former wife Priscilla Presley, Lisa Marie, their daughter, and her children Riley and Benjamin cut a four-tier cake, had a particular intensity.

"Wow, this is absolutely amazing," declared Priscilla. "To see all of you really touches my heart."

Here at Graceland, where tours and souvenirs help to earn Elvis Presley Enterprises $55m (€38m) a year, the more tawdry aspects of the King's life are nowhere to be seen.

Inside the mansion, where he was found dead at 42 in a bathroom, bloated and addicted to food suppressants and tranquillisers, all the photographs depict the young, lithe and handsome legend. There is, of course, no mention of the karate instructor whom Priscilla ran off with in 1972.

For the fans, too, Elvis will always be young and gorgeous -- and immortal. They cannot imagine him aged 75, which is probably a good thing, given the grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches that he gorged on in the months before his death.

Bending over and touching his grave next to the mansion is Yoko Hika, from Tokyo. She has visited Graceland in January and August -- the anniversaries of Elvis's birth and death -- every year since 1983.

When he sings, he is in my heart, my soul," said Ms Hika.

Nearby sit Elvis's private jet, the Hound Dog II, and the Boeing 707 Lisa Marie. When Elvis realised that his little girl had never seen snow they flew to Colorado to build a snowman before turning around and returning to Graceland.

Priscilla said that her former husband "had such a young spirit" that she could not imagine him as a 75 year old.

She said it was "mind-boggling" that the singer she married in 1967 was still a global attraction. (© The Times, London)

Irish Independent