Elvis Fans Worry About New
Company in Charge of Graceland

By Woody Bair - August 6, 2005
           The pilgrims will still weep at Elvis Presley's grave, and the souvenir shops will still swarm with credit-card waving fans, an occasional black pompadour hardly drawing a glance.
           But change is in the air: Strangers are in Graceland. Lisa Marie Presley has sold the business side of her father's estate and turned over his famous, white-columned house to CKX Inc., an entertainment company that also owns the "American Idol" TV show. Now, some of fans who flock to Memphis each year to commemorate Presley's death on Aug. 16, 1977, are worried their annual homecoming won't be quite so homey.
           "They call themselves a company now," said Jean Donovan, a fan from Derry, N.H. Of course, Elvis Presley Enterprises was already a company. Forbes listed Presley as the world's top earning dead entertainer last year.
           Graceland managers say the Elvis business, which brings in $40 million a year, is poised to grow even more. CKX says it's looking into "Elvis-related attractions" in places like Las Vegas, Asia, the Middle East and Europe. No details have been announced.
           "Elvis sells all over the world, and that's where the real opportunity for growth lies for us, to take more of Elvis and Graceland out to the world," said Jack Soden, chief executive of Elvis Presley Enterprises, now a subsidiary of New York-based CKX.
           Soden oversaw Graceland's opening in 1982, and he's staying on the job. But the Elvis faithful are ever-watchful for hints of change at Graceland, where Presley is buried in a small garden.
           Elvis won't be the only American idol in the stables of CKX, a company founded by Robert F.X. Sillerman, an investor who specializes in media and entertainment. A month after the Elvis deal, CKX acquired 19 Entertainment, the British company that produces the TV show "American Idol" and its British predecessor, "Pop Idol." CKX also has an agreement to buy MBST, a Hollywood talent-management company, and expects to make other acquisitions.
           CKX says its strategy is to buy companies that control "established entertainment content" - which could include music, TV, films and video games - and then to enhance the value of those companies. Lisa Marie Presley got $50 million at the sale, stock in CKX and kept a 15 percent interest in Elvis Presley Enterprises, along with title to Graceland and her father's personal possessions. Priscilla Presley, Lisa Marie's mother and Presley's ex-wife, got $6.5 million and a 10-year consulting contract with CKX at $560,000 a year. She is also on the company's board of directors.
           When Presley died at age 42 of prescription drug abuse and heart disease, his finances were in sad shape. But led by Priscilla Presley, the estate formed Elvis Presley Enterprises, opened Graceland to the public and began a campaign to solidify the legal rights to make money on Elvis' name and image.
           For the fans, there's little concern that Elvis' light will dim. They worry instead about access to Graceland and whether an expanding marketplace will show Presley the reverence they believe he deserves.

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