Though it’s been four decades since iconic entertainer Elvis Presley died, his legacy in Sin City, the town with which his memory is inexorably intertwined, is still alive, well, and kicking booty. The King is a veritable industry niche of his own in Las Vegas, via hundreds of impersonators, endless souvenir shop chatkes, and of course, his historic memorabilia.
In fact, it could be argued that Presley is even more popular and well-known now than when he tragically died at age 42 on August 16, 1977 from a massive heart attack.
A cynical record executive once said that Presley dying was a “smart career move.” But the numbers don’t lie, and in 2016 alone, Fortune reported that his estate, managed by Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc., had made $26 million in licensing deals for souvenirs, as well as selling a million albums for just that year.
Nowhere is his presence more pervasive than in Las Vegas, however, the town that he ruled for nearly a decade. His first concert at the International (now the Westgate) sold out, as did the next 836 shows, leading to a then unheard-of run that lasted from 1969 to 1976.
His fingerprints are all over the town. In addition to concerts, he filmed one of his most successful movies, “Viva Las Vegas” there (along with sex kitten and power entertainer Ann-Margret), and his marriage ceremony to Priscilla was performed at a suite at the Aladdin Hotel. One of most historic Elvis signs is downtown near the former Normandie Motel site that states “Elvis Slept Here.”
The market for those capitalizing on his fame is just as vibrant. Want to get married in an Elvis-themed wedding chapel? There are several. Want The King to officiate at your nuptials? Just tell the clerk at any of the wedding businesses in the city. Light on cash? “Elvis” can still show up and take a picture with the happy couple.
It seems you can’t throw a rock in Sin City and not hit someone who dresses like The King. There are numerous Elvis impersonator shows, including one on the Strip at Harrah’s and one downtown at the Four Queens. And that’s not to mention the hundreds of lookalikes who work conventions and do limited-run appearances at other casinos.
Those who want to connect with him via his famous love of food and beverage later in his life have many options to do so. Tributes such as a dessert flatbread spread with peanut butter, topped with bananas and bacon, and drizzled with vanilla anglaise at the MGM Grand, or a shake with peanut butter, banana, chocolate, vanilla, and whipped cream at the Palms, are just a few of the delights that honor Presley’s memory.
Souvenirs Still Reign Supreme
Entrepreneurs realize that if an item is associated with Elvis, then it’s time to back up the armored truck. An auction five days ago in Memphis, part of Elvis Week, saw his blue armadillo jumpsuit sell for $250,000. A gold-and-diamond ram’s head necklace sold for $138,750.
Souvenirs from his days in Las Vegas were also part of a much-publicized recent legal battle. In late 2014, The Westgate hosted “Graceland Presents Elvis: The Exhibition.” Some of the 350 artifacts included his high school yearbooks, his first gold album, a 1957 Harley Davidson motorcycle, and various concert costumes he wore.
It didn’t last long, however, closing in less than a year. Elvis Presley Enterprises wanted the items returned, but the resort refused, claiming another company defaulted on a 10-year contract for the exhibit. The case is winding its way through the courts and the hotel now has the possessions locked away in a room, hidden from the curious eyes of the public.