MEMPHIS, Tennessee - Call it the international house of Presley. With tens of thousands of Elvis Presley fans gathered in Memphis to mark the 30th anniversary of the singer's death, a striking number of the most dedicated returnees are carrying passports and international flight tickets along with their VIP passes for Graceland tours.
The first time I came here, it was like a dream. I could hardly see through my tears," said Toshiko Okada, who has made the trip from Japan six times to mark either the January anniversary of Elvis' birth or his August death.
"Now when I come here, I run into friends I've made from Hawaii, Alabama and California," said Okada, 66, as she waited in line to buy tickets to tour Presley's Graceland mansion.
Although Presley never toured overseas during his career, many of his most ardent fans remain in Europe and Asia and hundreds have come to Graceland for Elvis Week -- a string of events organized by his estate.
Lesley Stewart, president of an Elvis fan club in Scotland, came to Graceland on Wednesday morning with a group of fellow fans in kilts and tartan to celebrate both Elvis and a friend's wedding at the chapel on the mansion's grounds.
"She's an Elvis fan but she also wanted a full Scottish wedding with as many of the men in kilts as possible," Stewart said of the bride-to-be from Edinburgh.
Nearby, Coral Johnson, 63, and her husband, Francis, were taking a tour of Elvis' private jet, the Lisa Marie, after flying in from Melbourne, Australia, earlier in the week.
"We're having an absolute ball," Johnson said of the trip the couple planned for over a year. "I'm afraid of flying, but I knew that this was the 30th anniversary and I had to come."
Some of the Elvis faithful from closer to Memphis also say they enjoy the oddly international nature of the annual celebration of an American icon.
"Every year, I meet up with people from all over the world, because of Elvis," said Gigi Dixon, 47, of Florida.
Dixon, who sports a tattoo of Presley's profile on one arm and the abbreviated emblem of his "Taking Care of Business" motto on the other, added: "Elvis has brought us all together."
Presley, widely credited with revolutionizing popular music and re-defining the power of international celebrity, died on August 16, 1977.
Up to 50,000 fans are expected to pay their respects on Wednesday night in a candlelight vigil in which visitors will stream into Graceland and pass Presley's grave site.