Michael Jackson 248.88.
(photo credit: AP)
In the days after Michael Jackson's death, Joann Smith couldn't turn off her TV. She felt she was reliving the pain of her own idol's death almost 32 years ago - Elvis Presley.
"I said 'I can't believe it's happening again,'" Smith recalled. "It hurt, it really did. Even though I wasn't a Michael Jackson fan, I could feel the pain because it happened to somebody I had loved, and I know what his family and his fans were going through."
Smith, who is president of the Elvis Fever fan club in Jacksonville, Florida, and millions of others will remember the fallen icon August 16, the day he was found dead in his home at age 42 in 1977, the victim of heart failure worsened by prescription drug abuse.
They are quick to offer advice to Jackson fans: Focus on the pop idol's music and generosity, not his shortcomings or the rumors about his death.
"Don't believe everything you hear and read," Smith warned. "Respect him for what you hear of his music and don't listen to the gossip."
Sandi Pichon of Slidell, Louisiana, who says she knew Presley personally and has written two books about him, Raised on Elvis! Elvis! Elvis! and Elvis on Tour '75, says the pain will ease but never lift.
"Much like Elvis, once he touched your life you're never the same," Pichon said of Jackson. "The comfort they are going to find is listening to his music and relying on his memories and keeping the positive things alive."
Pichon will travel to Presley's Graceland mansion in Memphis for Elvis Week, a nine-day run of festivals and events that begins Saturday.
If Presley is any guide, there will be a proliferation of Jackson fan clubs. Elvis Presley Enterprises, a corporate entity created by Presley's trust to run Graceland, recognizes more than 500 active fan clubs around the world.
"It's really nice to get together and reminisce - 'Did you see Elvis in concert?' 'What was it like?' 'I played this record until it was no more and I had to replace it,'" said Geri Vegher, president of Oklahoma Fans for Elvis. "It makes a difference to get together and talk things out and relive your memories. I'd tell Michael Jackson fans to be prepared to do that and to do it with gladness."
Fans say it also helps having Graceland, a bustling museum and tourist site with more than 600,000 people a year passing through its music-note encrusted gates. The 13.8-acre home and grounds include the singer's grave.
"I think it makes a difference," Vegher said. "I stand honor guard every year [at Graceland], and when people go up the hill to the grave site they're laughing, they're talking, they're reliving their memories. But when they come back down on the other side, they're sober, they're crying, they're very emotional."
The connections between Presley's Graceland and Jackson's Neverland ranch are strong. Presley's daughter, Lisa Marie, was once married to Jackson, and some of the same questions about the future of Neverland were raised about Graceland.
The Presley estate opened the property as a for-profit museum in 1982 to help pay for upkeep. Graceland has since become one of Memphis's top attractions.
"Elvis kind of set the bar for a lot of things, not just the music but even concert production and how security is done. I think beyond his death he's still setting the bar in terms of how to manage the estate and market him," said Jamie Coyne, founder and vice president of Elvis Extravaganza Fan Club in Columbus, Ohio, which bills itself as the largest Elvis fan club in the world with 164,000 members.
"If you take Elvis's grave away from Graceland and put it in a cemetery, you take away the moneymaking ability and the focal point for fans," Coyne said.
But others believe Presley and Jackson shared a magnetism and connection to their fans that transcends any physical place or structure.
"He could give you a grin that would melt your heart or make you believe you were the most special person in the world," Pichon said of Presley. "His love for his fans was reflected through his performance, and I think the same thing is true of Michael Jackson. People felt they were part of his life whether they knew him or not."