He may have left the building, but he hasn't left our hearts. Echoes Of Elvis, a new exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., explores the many depictions of the rock 'n' roll legend — from pictures on a postage stamp to a bust that portrays him as Julius Caesar.
"This is a fun exhibition," exhibit curator Warren Perry tells NPR's Guy Raz. "It is a tribute to Elvis."
In both serious and playful ways, artists in the exhibit "place Elvis out of the earthly orbit," Perry explains.
Artist Howard Finster portrayed Elvis as toddler with angel wings, and Ralph Wolfe Cowan painted a dramatic rendering of Elvis standing in front of Graceland — one of the only portraits the larger-than-life entertainer ever sat for.
Alfred Wertheimer photographed Elvis in 1956, back when the young musician was quickly gaining popularity. His photographs have been compiled in a new book, Elvis 1956, and are featured in a traveling Smithsonian show called Elvis at 21. See a gallery of Wertheimer's images.
"Elvis had that something ... that undefinable something," Perry says. "He set the pattern for the rock 'n' roll generation in many ways."
It wasn't just his good looks, his talent or his charisma that made him so popular, Perry says. It was his rags-to-riches story, his playfulness and his spirituality; Elvis was mainstream enough to be familiar, and rebellious enough to be exciting.
And then, of course, there was his sudden, untimely, tragic death — he was "that person who couldn't die," Perry says. The world was shocked.
Elvis would have celebrated his 75th birthday on Jan. 8, 2010. Instead, the National Portrait Gallery celebrates the short life of the King of Rock 'n' Roll with Echoes Of Elvis, which will be on display through Aug. 29.