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THE FIRST, TRUE, ORIGINAL KING OF BLING
November 02,  2017   -  The Guardian  /   Elvis Express Radio
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More than 200 artefacts from Graceland – jumpsuits included– give London fans colourful picture of singer’s life on the road

There is the wildly impractical Fringe suit that got caught up in guitar leads and microphone cables, the ornate Spanish Flower suit complete with a 20lb cape, and of course the
Black Phoenix suit that was originally created as a zebra.

“Elvis looked at the design upside down and said ‘that’s a weird looking bird,’” explained Graceland’s director of archives Angie Marchese. “So the designer had to figure out where
Elvis had seen a bird and make it look like a bird.”

Marchese’s memories of bell-bottomed jumpsuits were prompted by the opening of a three-month Elvis Presley exhibition at London’s O2.

Opening on Friday, it explores Elvis’s touring years, between 1969 and 1977, when he was more or less always on the road in the US, performing more than 1,100 shows. More
than 200 artefacts have travelled from the Graceland archives, many of which are being seen in the UK for the first time.

The outfits are the stars of the show, particularly the jumpsuits designed by Bill Belew, all given names by fans: Amber Stone, Snowflake, Conquistador, Purple Owl, Stoned Eagle,
White Pyramid. The Jewelled King of Spades, the show reveals, was also known as the Kitchen Sink suit.

The items are among around 40 outfits going on display at the O2 and also include the DEA jacket he wore as he arrived for what would be his final gig in Indianapolis in June 1977.

Six weeks later, Elvis was dead. Marchese acknowledged that the intense touring schedule played its part.

“He was constantly on tour, basically, and it led to his death, being always on the road in different cities. It became so routine that he became bored as an artist, by ’77 it was not the
same as it was in ’69 and ’70. He was going out and doing the same thing and he wasn’t having the time to relax and renew his spirit.”

Marchese said the success of an Elvis show at the same venue three years ago, which had more than 225,000 visitors, encouraged Graceland to come up with a follow-up
exhibition.

Away from costumes there is the large tour trunk that contained books on Elvis’s interests – sport, religion and numerology – guitars, including the Gretzch Country Gentlemen,
which he used on stage in Las Vegas in 1969; and the glamorous gold belt given to him by the International Hotel in Las Vegas that he wore for his 1970 meeting with President
Richard Nixon.

“He is the king of bling, the first king of bling,” said Marchese. “Before bling was bling.”

The most poignant object is the trunk that was packed on the day of his death, ready to travel to Portland, Maine, for the first date of his tour.

The touring also put a huge strain on Elvis’s marriage to Priscilla, before their divorce in 1973. Nevertheless, his ex-wife said she was overwhelmed by the success of the first O2
show and excited by the new collection.
“To have a second exhibition dedicated to Elvis opening in London is remarkable,” she said.

• Elvis on Tour is at The O2  from 3rd November to 4th February.

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