By Mike Celizic
updated 10:11 a.m. ET Jan. 8, 2010
Elvis Aron Presley would have been 75 years old today, and his former wife has no doubt that if he were alive, he’d still be singing — and maybe doing a little preaching, too.
“I think Elvis would always be a part of music, no matter what,” Priscilla Presley told TODAY’s Matt Lauer Friday from the King’s Graceland home in Memphis. “It was in his blood. I don’t know if he’d be doing rock ’n’ roll right now; I think that maybe he’d be going into gospel. Maybe even preaching a little bit. He loved to teach and loved the Bible. He always would have been dedicated to his music, that’s for sure.
“He gave us so much, with his movies, with his concerts, with his touring,” Priscilla continued. “I can’t see him ever stopping that. That’s truly who he was. He was born to be the entertainer that he was. I can’t imagine life without him being larger than life. He lived a larger-than-life life.”
Some 3,000 people had purchased tickets to visit Graceland on Elvis’ birthday. Priscilla said that they would be treated to the opening of a yearlong birthday celebration and a number of exhibits created especially for this milestone.
The mansion itself is decorated for Christmas. Priscilla talked to Lauer from the living room, which is done all in white, including a white Christmas tree with red ornaments. Elvis used to leave the tree up until the day after his birthday, but now the holiday decorations are left up until the end of January.
Presley died in his bathroom in 1977 at the age of 42, the victim of addiction to prescription drugs. In the 33 years since, his legend has continued to grow.
Priscilla Presley spoke to TODAY live from Graceland, which is still decorated for Christmas. Elvis used to leave the Christmas tree up until his Jan. 8 birthday.
Priscilla met Elvis in 1959 when she was 14 years old. Her father was in the military and stationed in Germany, where Elvis had been assigned after being drafted into the Army. They married in 1967 and divorced in 1973. Despite the breakup of the marriage, which produced daughter Lisa Marie Presley, they remained on amicable terms and Priscilla eventually became executor of Elvis’ estate.
Priscilla was responsible for pouring money into Graceland and building the Elvis legend into the Elvis brand. As part of his yearlong 75th birthday celebration, Cirque du Soleil’s Las Vegas troupe is performing a “Viva Elvis” show.
The NBA Memphis Grizzlies are also getting into the act by wearing blue suede sneakers for one of their games, while Turner Classic Movies is chipping in with an Elvis movie marathon. At least two collections of all of Elvis’ recordings have also been released, including one by the Franklin Mint. There’s even an Elvis iPhone app.
Hold the phone
And speaking of phones: Elvis was a fan of the Sean Connery James Bond films, Priscilla said. He got particularly excited over a telephone that Bond could use from his car.
An admirer of James Bond-style gadgetry, Elvis had an early-model mobile telephone.
“Elvis went nuts over this. He wanted to know if something like this was available,” Priscilla told Lauer.
She pointed to a suitcase-size carrying case behind her that contained one of the world’s first mobile phones. The case was labeled with the King’s name.
“Sure enough, he got the first one,” she said. “We traveled in a limo. People would be driving by and he’d be on the phone. There’d be second takes: ‘Is that a phone? Is that a phone?’ ”
His spirit lives on
But the phone is only one among many items in special exhibits at Graceland. Another exhibit contains 30 of his stage costumes, including the wide, gold-studded belts he wore around his jumpsuits.
Elvis’s third-grade report card reveals he was a good student, although he struggled in arithmetic.
Another exhibit, “Tupelo to Memphis,” traces Elvis’ early years from childhood in Mississippi to stardom. Priscilla showed off a third-grade report card that showed Elvis earning E’s for “Excellent” in all his subjects except arithmetic and math, in which he got an S+ for “Superior Plus.”
“He was a really good student. Teachers really liked him,” Priscilla said. “Elvis was quite shy as a little boy.”
Although a generation has passed since Elvis left the planet, Priscilla spoke as if he were still there in Graceland. From where she sat in the living room, she could see the stairs leading to the second floor.
“I can visualize him coming down that staircase every time I come in,” Priscilla told Lauer. “His spirit is definitely here.”