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The enduring image of Elvis

Elvis lives. While this month marks the 36th anniversary of Elvis Presley’s death, his legacy is alive and well.

Legions of fans will make the pilgrimage to Memphis this weekend to mark the start of Elvis Week.

Billed as the most famous home in America after the White House, Graceland welcomes more than 600,000 visitors every year. Its popularity is a testament to the King’s status as a cultural icon.

“He burst upon the scene with an impact that was unprecedented and will probably never be equaled,” President Jimmy Carter said when Elvis died.

Although Elvis has left the building, he has not left our public consciousness.

Forbes magazine consistently ranks him near the top of its annual list of the highest-earning dead celebrities. He brought in an estimated $55 million in 2012.

That should come as no shock, as there’s no shortage of Elvis-branded memorabilia. His likeness can be found on everything from commemorative plates and velvet paintings to T-shirts and tattoos. It’s a worldwide phenomenon.

Magnum photographer Steve McCurry met an Iraqi vendor in 1984 who was selling a carpet adorned with a portrait of Elvis. More than two decades later, his colleague Alex Webb captured an image of the show-stopping singer outside a trendy East London pub.

“Greater communication has led to global use of (photography),” said Webb, who was initially troubled by copyright concerns in the digital age. “But musicians have similar issues. … (Now) I accept it as part of the interest in one’s work.”

And images of Elvis have proven to be everlasting.

While he didn’t invent rock ‘n’ roll, he left his mark, blending influences from rhythm and blues, country and gospel music. Hits like “Hound Dog” and “Heartbreak Hotel” propelled him to become the world’s best-selling solo artist.

Over the years, he also acted in 31 motion pictures, finding some success in the box office with classic films like “Jailhouse Rock.” But there were also a lot of duds and his acting career was largely dismissed by critics.

With his sultry looks and brazenly erotic live performances, Elvis also played a role in the sexual revolution. When he was booked for “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1956, the TV cameras strategically avoided his gyrating hips.

“I don’t know what he does, but it drives people crazy,” Sullivan said.

Elvis went on to become rock ‘n’ roll royalty and the personification of cool, and he changed the face of American popular culture.

After his death, his longtime manager predicted that the legend, and the merchandise surrounding it, would live on.

“Elvis didn’t die. The body did,” Colonel Tom Parker said at a press conference. “We’re keeping up the good spirits. We’re keeping Elvis alive.”

Thirty-six years later, the world still seems to sing: “Long live the King.”

- Christian Pierce, CNN

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