2022 YIR: Was Elvis, King of Rock and Roll, Jewish?
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2022 YIR: Was Elvis, King of Rock and Roll, Jewish?

This story was one of the AJT’s most read stories of 2022. Bob provides an update.

Baz Lehrman’s “Elvis” was a big box office success this year.
Baz Lehrman’s “Elvis” was a big box office success this year.

This year, 45 years after his death in an upstairs bathroom of his home, Graceland in Memphis, Tenn., Elvis Presley remains a legendary and fascinating performer for millions of his fans. The Atlanta Jewish Times’ article this year about Elvis’s Jewish roots was read by more visitors to our website than any other story that was published.

Baz Luhrman’s two-hour biography, “Elvis,” that premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this summer, went on to rack up a worldwide box office of $282 million. That made it No. 13 on the list of the most successful films of 2022. If you missed it in the theaters, you could stream it from any one of more than a dozen sites.

The show business icon, whose great-great grandmother, Nancy Burdine, was an immigrant Jew from Lithuania who married into the Presley family, still attracts 700,000 visitors to visit the singer’s Memphis mansion.

Tens of thousands are expected in January for four days of celebration marking the singer’s 88th birthday. The highlight of the celebration is the 50th anniversary showing of “Elvis: Aloha from Hawaii,” the televised concert that was an early beneficiary of satellite TV technology. It is said that the concert reached more than a billion viewers worldwide.

You can get an early start on sightseeing with a free visit to Graceland’s Meditation Garden, where Presley and his parents are buried. His mother’s grave is marked with a headstone that carries both a cross and a star of David, Elvis’s tribute to his mother when she died in 1958. On the program this year is a talk by the Graceland archivist, Angie Marchese, who rediscovered it.

Or you can visit the Alabama Street neighborhood downtown where Elvis and his parents lived in an apartment downstairs from Rabbi Alfred Fructer and his wife, Jeannette. He was the rabbi at Beth El Emeth Congregation and Elvis used the rabbi’s phonograph to listen to the first inexpensive recording he made for his mother in 1954. His mother was a good friend of the Fructers, although his father was said to not be particularly fond of Jews.

You can also visit the Lansky Brothers clothing store, once on Beale Street and now located in the Peabody Hotel. The store is still owned by the Jewish family that provided Elvis with his blue suede shoes and many of his fancy duds. Both the gold chai and the star of David he wore around his neck were said to be from the Iraqi-born Jewish “King of Bling,” Mordechai Yerushalmi, in Las Vegas.

Or just stroll around the many attractions that surround the Graceland mansion, a 200,000 square-foot entertainment and exhibition complex, the new 50,000 square-foot Graceland Exhibition Center, and the 450-room resort hotel across the street from the home. They were once owned by Robert F.X. Sillerman. He was a wealthy Jewish media entrepreneur who controlled Elvis Presley Enterprises shortly before his death in 2019.

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