- The Washington Times - Friday, January 8, 2010

Folks remain all shook up over Elvis, who would have turned 75 on Friday. Though he has been dead for more than three decades, Elvis Presley nevertheless earned $55 million last year, still landing in the upper ranks of Forbes’ list of top-earning dead celebrities.

But Elvis, an old guy? Never.

Fans, entrepreneurs, journalists and tribute artists see to it that “the King” remains forever young in the world’s collective consciousness - and it is no mere cultural moment. Elvis fills a whole cultural hour, fueled by affectionate obsession, a tumult of brand products and entertaining adulation. But he also has ascended into the historic realm, ranked as a mid-20th-century icon on par with presidents, artists and astronauts.

Scholars have seen to that.

“In many ways, Elvis embodied free expression in America,” said Ken Paulson, president of the Newseum, which has collaborated with archivists at Presley’s Graceland mansion to produce “Elvis! His Groundbreaking, Hip-Shaking, Newsmaking Story,” a major foray into all things Presley that will remain open for a year.

The Smithsonian Institution has mounted not one, but two, major Elvis exhibits, including “One Life: Echos of Elvis” at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, which examines the influence of Presley’s image after his death.

The proverbial Elvis comfort food - banana pudding, and fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches - is a serious topic of study at the Center for Southern Folklore in Memphis, Tenn.

The U.S. Archives says a photograph documenting a meeting between President Nixon and Elvis at the White House on Dec. 21, 1970, remains one of the most requested images in the federal agency’s 15-million-item collection. The unusual tete-a-tete inspired a recent special event at the National Archives that drew such heavyweights as Timothy Naftali, director of the Nixon Presidential Library, and David S. Ferriero, archivist of the United States.

Elvis never has really “left the building.”

The adoration factor has not lessened as legions of fans gather to celebrate his birthday with former wife Priscilla Presley and their daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, in grand style at Graceland - and at hundreds of other events, from modest to extravagant, around the planet.

“Why does the Presley appeal continue? I believe, as Elvis did, you give, and you receive back threefold. The public is still giving back to him,” said Steve Bahle, a Cleveland-based Elvis tribute artist who dresses in head-to-toe black leather and appears as “Stelvis,” backed by the four-man Graceland Band.

Fan interest remains so intense that Graceland maintains a special “Elvis sighting” feature at its Web site for those who think they have spotted “the King,” or would like to record their favorite “Elvis moment” of all time for posterity. A premium membership in the Elvis fan club includes a 24-hour live webcam trained upon the Elvis Presley bedroom within his Memphis mansion.

The persistent affection for Elvis among his fans translates to devoted global audiences who are fiercely devoted to the well-polished Elvis “brand” and consumer experience.

This weekend’s birthday events launch a yearlong Elvis celebration that includes ocean cruises, a new Las Vegas show and international music tours by Elvis’ original band members, plus several officially sanctioned Elvis tribute bands. Henrik Knudsen, a Danish fan who has operated an Elvis museum and store in the town of Randers for two decades, will begin construction of a replica Graceland on his property in a few weeks, to be open by 2011.

There’s a new Elvis channel on Sirius radio, and Mattel Toys will offer a commemorative “Elvis Presley Jailhouse Rock Doll.” This year alone, 188 companies are licensed to manufacture Elvis-themed products in staggering varieties - from luggage and belt buckles to undergarments, golf accessories and guitar picks imprinted with Elvis’ fingerprint.

As the old Mojo Nixon pop tune reminds us, “Elvis is everywhere.”

Look-alikes and impersonators have expanded beyond the traditional white archetype to include every race, ethnicity, physical size and sexual persuasion. Impersonators will gather in New York City’s Greenwich Village to perform Friday, and distribute free fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

A commemorative iPhone application - the “Pocket Elvis” - is now on the market, meant to honor the singer’s birthday with ringtones and 150 assorted phrases voiced by British vocal impersonator Mitch Benn.

“The voice of Elvis is so recognizable to people across the world its always a pleasure to perform as him,” Mr. Benn said. “With Pocket Elvis, you can take a bit of Elvis everywhere you go.”