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VOL. 130 | NO. 40 | Friday, February 27, 2015

Graceland Brings Elvis Back to His Las Vegas Home

KIMBERLY PIERCEALL | Associated Press

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LAS VEGAS (AP) – Graceland will always be home, but Las Vegas is set to be Elvis Presley's home away from home yet again.

Officials with Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc. and the Westgate Las Vegas casino-hotel revealed details Thursday of plans for "Graceland Presents Elvis: The Exhibition - The Show - The Experience" expected to open April 23, 59 years to the day when Elvis first performed in Las Vegas.

Some 28,000 square-feet will house a rotating display of memorabilia and artifacts rarely seen outside Graceland's Memphis, Tennessee, property. In addition, the very showroom where Presley performed several hundred sold-out shows when the casino-hotel was first known as The International and later the Las Vegas Hilton will be revamped by the Graceland crew to look much like it did in Elvis' day, complete with semi-circle booths.

Plans include a revamped Elvis Presley sanctioned wedding chapel, too, inside the Westgate Las Vegas, with Graceland taking over its operations.

Certainly Elvis-themed wedding chapels already dot Las Vegas and there has been no scarcity of exhibits and shows, including a short-lived tribute by Cirque du Soleil in 2012, but organizers say this is the real deal.

Tickets go on sale Thursday. The exhibit is expected to cost $22 and tickets for performances start at $49.

BACK IN VEGAS

"We walk into everything with 'what would Elvis want," said Joel Weinshanker, managing partner of the company that has owned a majority of Elvis Presley Enterprises since November 2013. "Absolutely positively, he would want to be back in Vegas."

In his place to perform in the same 1,600-seat showroom will be an actor singing Elvis songs, accompanied by backup singers and an orchestra.

David Siegel, CEO of Westgate Resorts, said it was destiny that he bought the property in July 2014, decades after seeing Elvis perform there, accompanied by his ex-wife whose godfather happened to be Elvis' manager, Col. Tom Parker.

And when he did buy it, he said he wanted to bring Elvis back.

As luck would have it, in a town built on it, Weinshanker wanted the same thing and saw in Siegel someone willing to reinvest in the property where Elvis lived on the 30th floor for months of the year.

"It's really going to be the authentic Elvis experience," he said.

PIECES OF ELVIS

Angie Marchese, director of archives for Graceland, said the exhibit will be the largest Elvis exhibit outside Graceland. The clothing will come straight from Elvis' closet in most cases.

Among the Vegas-centric items expected to make an appearance:

– A wooden sign larger than even Elvis. His manager paid for the 24-foot tall image of a guitar-playing Elvis to advertise the singer's first performances in Las Vegas in 1956 at The New Frontier, since demolished. For the eight years Elvis Presley Enterprises has owned it, it's been mostly in storage at Graceland because of its sheer size.

– The tablecloth contract. To ink the, essentially, $1 million a year contract to perform at The International, Parker and the casino-hotel's owner Kirk Kerkorian retreated to a nearby coffee shop to go over the details and make it official, signing where there was no dotted line – on the tablecloth itself – complete with coffee cup stains.

– A two-piece black tunic and single-button black suit. For his first performances at The International, Elvis wore two downright demure outfits – the black tunic during the show and the black suit for the news conference afterward. Neither have felt the Las Vegas air since Elvis wore them on July 31, 1969, she said.

MEMORIES OF THE MAN

"Those of us that lived it, Elvis never left the building," said Dominic A. Parisi of the performer's lingering presence.

He won't say how old he is, but he was old enough to ready Elvis' rooms at the casino-hotel with meals (an early evening breakfast of well-done eggs, well-done toast, well-done bacon) and drinks, heavy on the bottled water, from 1972 to 1976 while he performed there.

Now director of the casino-hotel's room service and specialty restaurants, Parisi recalled his encounters and talks with the King fondly.

"He loved it here. He loved the hotel. He loved Vegas," he said.

And he loved chatting one-on-one about everyday sorts of things – girls, cars and Las Vegas – Parisi said.

Every once in a while, Parisi said he goes up to the 30th floor to Elvis' old suite, has a glass of wine and reminisces.

"Hopefully he's listening," he said.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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