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Fans, rescued miner celebrate Elvis' 76th birthday

Published:Monday | January 10, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Hundreds of Elvis Presley fans, including Chilean miner Edison Pena, gathered Saturday at Graceland to sing Happy Birthday on the late rock 'n' roll icon's 76th birthday.

Pena, the guest of honour at Elvis' birthday party, cut into a four-foot high cake fashioned to look like stacked television sets as fans cheered both the singer and the miner outside Elvis' longtime Memphis home.

An avid Elvis fan, Pena has been on a whirlwind tour of Memphis, getting a private tour of Graceland, attending a Memphis Grizzlies NBA game and leading the walking of the ducks at the Peabody Hotel.

Pena and 32 other miners spent 69 days trapped underground after a mine collapse in Chile. Pena sang Elvis songs to lift the morale of his friends before their rescue in October. He speaks little English, except for the words of Elvis tunes, and has been using a translator.

"It's a pleasure to be here, with so many beautiful people," Pena said in Spanish. "I never thought I would survive, and escape my trap. This is a gift from God. Viva Elvis. Viva Memphis."

Then, he uttered two newly learned words in English of the Southern variety: "Hey, y'all." That drew loud laughter from the crowd.

Some fans asked Pena for a song, so he led everyone in singing Elvis' The Wonder of You. He was reluctant at first, he's been asked to sing by fans and media at nearly every turn; but he showed off his good singing voice once again and did some of Elvis' trademark pointing and swirling arm motions.

Elvis' influence

Memphis Mayor A. C. Wharton read a list of musical artistes who've said they were influenced by Elvis' music and performance style, from Elton John to John Lennon.

"Before people fainted over Michael Jackson, screamed over Van Halen, swooned over the Jonas Brothers, and even goo-gooed over (Lady) Gaga, Elvis Presley set the world on fire," Wharton said.

Elvis was born January 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi. His birthday, while meaningful to Elvis fans around the world, does not attract the throngs of people who make the pilgrimage to Graceland to remember his death. He died August 16, 1977.