Picture Stories

A Tribute To The King

On the 40th anniversary of Elvis's death, mourners from all over the world gathered at Graceland to celebrate the pop icon's legacy.

Photograph by Landon Nordeman, National Geographic
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Mario Kombou, an Elvis tribute artist from London, England prepares to perform at the Daisy Theater during the Images of the King showcase during Elvis Week in Memphis, Tennessee.
Photograph by Landon Nordeman, National Geographic

This week, on the 40th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, devotees flocked to Memphis, Tennessee, where Elvis lived, performed, and died. Photographer Landon Nordeman visited Graceland to capture the ecosystem of devotion that has grown since the king departed. While some people make what seems like almost a religious pilgrimage to lay flowers on his grave, others see the anniversary as a commercial chance to move merch. Fully formed fan clubs pulled up in buses from every corner of the world—England, Qatar, Chile—and others arrived, in costume, to croon to a captive audience.

Who are Elvis' biggest fans? It's difficult to typecast the kind of people who remain captivated by Elvis music and charisma. Nordeman met a young boy who road trips with his grandmother on weekends to impersonate Elvis and make money. He met another man who traveled from England, without his wife and kids, to pay his respects. "He just loves Elvis. It's just a personal passion for him," says Nordeman.

For such an occasion, there are official Elvis events organized by the company that runs his estate. And then there's everything else—from the impersonator strumming a guitar on the street to the impromptu meet-up in a parking lot to blast some of his music. On the 40th anniversary of the king's departure, there's plenty of love, passion, and creativity to go around. "Everyone's wearing the Elvis merch, the music is everywhere, some people were openly weeping," says Nordeman. "You couldn't be there without being fully overwhelmed."

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Elvis tribute artist Riley Jenkins, 15, from Clarksville, Tennessee, performs onstage at Mary Jo's Elvis Rockin' Oldies at the Magnuson Hotel.
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Sharon O'Brien from the UK, shows off one of her six Elvis tatoos while a 1958 Pink Cadillac stands behind her on Elvis Presley Boulevard. This is her 7th time visiting Graceland.
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The grave of Elvis Aaron Presley is strewn with flowers from visitors the morning after the 40th anniversary of Elvis's death on August 17.

Photographer Landon Nordeman searches for the eternal in the ephemeral. His first monograph, Out of Fashion, published by Damiani in 2016, was named one of the best Photo Books of 2016 by TIME. Follow his work on his instagram: @landonnordeman