The King and I
By LEONORA LaPETER
Clem Surace, a man with blue shades, long black sideburns and seven diamond-studded gold rings on his fingers, will hold a candlelight vigil today in front of the small shrine he has built to Elvis in his apartment.
Larry Harmon of Clearwater will break out his guitar and sing a few songs in his Elvis room.
And Nora Stern, well, she's not sure what she's doing. Her Elvis room -- including the framed velvet Elvis, the posters and photographs, the collector plates and the gold records -- has long been packed away in boxes. But Elvis certainly will be on the Tampa woman's mind today.
Twenty-five years after Elvis Presley died, his fans still keep him in their lives, some more so than others, with memorabilia, tapes, albums, photographs and whatever else they can find that signifies their King.
"It's something that's fun for me, but I'm not a real fanatic," said Stern, 28, who got engaged at Graceland in Memphis several years ago and had a cardboard cutout of Elvis in her dressing room at her wedding. "I would still like to go up to Graceland again and see his house. It's amazing the impact he has even now, 25 years after his death."
Fans point to the remix of his single, A Little Less Conversation, and other Elvis hoopla that has emerged recently as further evidence of his enduring presence in American culture.
Surace, 42, a former medical technician from Clearwater who became disabled a few years ago after a bad car accident, acknowledges he is probably one of the more die-hard fans around. His apartment has been called a mini-Graceland. He dresses like Elvis and sings his songs; he has his black hair styled like Elvis; and he wears a lot of the typical Elvis thick gold and diamond-studded jewelry, including a chunky gold cross with 3.4 carats of what he says are real diamonds.
Today, the Cadillac-driving Surace mourns for Elvis.
"I think 25 years is quintessential because a lot of Elvis fans are in their mid 60s, and a lot won't see his 50th," said Surace, who is the same age Elvis was the year he died, 42. "This could be it for me."
Harmon, chief financial officer at Morton Plant Mease Foundation, is an Elvis impersonator in his spare time. He's even got an agent to help him find Elvis gigs.
But Harmon's not as flashy as Surace when it comes to his everyday appearance. He wears dress pants, a striped button-down shirt and brown loafers. But he does have an Elvis 'do, as well as Elvis' nose and Elvis' baritone voice. And he has an Elvis music room.
There you will find Elvis movies, Elvis albums, Elvis posters, and dozens of CDs on which Harmon has recorded his voice over the background music of Elvis' songs. Harmon, 58, has been an Elvis fan since the '50s.
"I like his music," said Harmon. "But my profession is as a CPA, a chief financial officer for a foundation. That's where I make my living. This is just a hobby."
Many of Elvis' fans headed to Memphis this week, including a Plant City man who heads the Love Me Tender Project, an effort to get the federal government to make the day of Elvis' death, Aug. 16, a national holiday.
Gary Britt, a 47-year-old who calls himself Garyelvis, said he would be headed down to Elvis Presley Boulevard today with thousands of others.
"From my perspective, what I'm seeing, is that a lot of people just miss him," Britt said.
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