Kiwis can't help falling in love with the memory of Elvis Presley
Elvis Presley died on August 16, 1977, but in Hāwera he lives on.
Inside Kevin David 'KD' Wasley's garage are thousands of items of memorabilia that form New Zealand's only private Elvis Presley museum.
This Thursday will mark 41 years since Elvis Aaron Presley died at the age of 42; however, in this very Kiwi version of Graceland, The King still swings.
Wasley's wife of 46 years has never seen her 69-year-old husband without his mutton chops (sideburns). One of their three sons has the middle name Elvis while the another has Aaron.
The painter and decorator, who models himself on his hero, went to Presley's Memphis home 17 times on his two visits to Tennessee and accepts compliments on his impressive collection with "thank you, thank you very much", just like Elvis thanked his fans from the stage.
THE KING'S FINAL CURTAIN CALL
Wasley never met The King, but The King has undoubtedly taken up residence here.
"People walk in, and they say, 'God!' And I say, 'No, Elvis.'"
Every section of the garage's walls, floors and ceiling have something related to Presley from the 1950s and 60s.
"This is my time warp. If you look around it's all to do with the era when Elvis was the tops," Wasley says.
"All I'm doing is keep the man's memory alive – the real image of him alive."
As you walk past Wasley's blue Presley-inspired '70s Cadillac (and make sure you step over his blue suede shoes), you spot the private museum with a print of Graceland and a life-size version of The King on the door.
It's hard to know where to look once you're inside, but there's every piece of memorabilia from leaves that fell to the ground at Graceland 40 years ago, to magazines, to Presley-dedicated drinks.
As All Shook Up plays in the background, Wasley stands in front of the Memphis Press-Scimitar newspaper dated August 17, 1977, reporting The King's final curtain call.
Wasley was flying to Australia to see family and buy memorabilia when he heard the news. It didn't come as a shock.
"I'm going to put my hand on my heart and say when you follow a guy's career you see the differences.
"With the 'ups and downers' he was taking, that's the sad part about it.
"I don't dwell on the pills and hamburgers, I dwell on keeping his music alive."
Wasley's love for the King started when he was 12 years old and given what he now calls his "pride and joy" – an original EP of Heartbreak Hotel.
It was now or never. He was fascinated by The King's style, his look, and so a dedicated collector was born, modelled on the star.
"I used to get home and stand in front of the mirror and dad used to ban the mirrors.
"I used to drive him mad."
VISITORS COME FROM AROUND THE WORLD
Despite his dad's suspicious mind, it wasn't long before Wasley found a pen pal named Roy Lyon who lived in Memphis, Tennessee.
Lyon had no interest in Elvis, but he was a fan of the New Zealand landscape. He simply couldn't get over the wonder of New Zealand's greenery.
The pair would exchange photographs – Lyon would send Wasley images of Elvis, and Wasley would in return send pictures of New Zealand.
In 1968 Lyon bought Wasley tickets to an Elvis show, but the Taranaki man was left in Heartbreak Hotel because he couldn't afford the airfare.
The tickets, however, are a prized part of his collection.
The pair did meet on the two occasions Wasley visited Memphis, and he's heading back in September as he plans to be standing at the gates of Graceland on his 70th birthday.
Sadly his buddy won't be there this time. Lyon passed away in 2005.
When Wasley first met his wife JJ, she knew nothing about Presley – but she does now.
Did the family like Elvis, too?
"They had no option living with a father like me."
Everyone from the Topp Twins, Jeremy Wells, the Mad Butcher and countless international visitors have travelled to Hāwera just to see his collection. Even Graceland Enterprises – which manages Elvis's legacy – knows about it, which Wasley takes as a massive compliment.
He's also had New Zealand rock and roll figures like Tom Sharplin and Johnny Devlin in there too.
"I underline all the people from around the world," he says, thumbing through one of the visitors' books. "Even from Tennessee. I've had them from Elvis country come right here.
"And this is Hāwera."
But it's not just Hāwera; it's all over New Zealand.
'WITHOUT US, THERE WOULD BE NO ELVIS AT ALL'
It's something Jackie Bridges, secretary of the Memory of Elvis Fan Club New Zealand, noticed when she worked in real estate.
According to her, when you walk into a New Zealander's home there's occasionally a portrait of the Queen or the Pope, but more often than not, hanging on a lounge wall, is a piece of Elvis Presley memorabilia, she says.
"You'd see a hell of a lot of Elvis. You'd be surprised how many people have Elvis in their homes."
This burnin' love was on show on Saturday night when the club gathered to mark their idol's passing with a dinner and show in Auckland.
Bridges, who organised the event, had a Presley tribute artist playing at her wedding and proudly has a mosaic of him on her wall. As far as she's concerned, Elvis never left the building.
"People will be there this weekend over in Memphis in the heat, nearly dying in 42-43 degrees, and queuing up to do the walk up to his grave," Bridges says.
"There's nobody else in the world that this happens to."
Elvis tribute artist Brendon Chase would agree. He travels the world performing as his hero and is currently on tour in Australia.
After 25 years, Elvis is still always on his mind.
"I don't know how long it's going to take until I don't love it," he says.
"There's still an audience, and there's still a love for it."
Chase thinks he and other Elvis tribute artists are a big part of the reason people are still stuck on Presley.
"Without us, there would be no Elvis at all. He would have died ages ago."
*Selected Event cinemas all over New Zealand are playing Presley's '68 Comeback Special on Thursday at 6.15pm.
- Sunday Star Times