Bush, Koizumi Pay Homage to the King

President Bush accompanies Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi on a tour of Elvis Presley's home at Graceland, in Memphis, Tenn. Koizumi, a long-time fan of Elvis, is headed back to Japan as his official visit ends. NPR's Don Gonyea reports from Memphis.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

There were Elvis movies on Air Force One today, the grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches on the flight menu. President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi headed to Memphis to celebrate the life and music of one of Koizumi's heroes, the late Elvis Presley.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports from Graceland.

DON GONYEA reporting:

At 10:15 this morning, the presidential motorcade rolled up Elvis Presley Boulevard and through the wrought-iron musical notes on the Graceland gates. Waiting at the front entrance were the late singer's only child, Lisa Marie Presley, and her mother, Priscilla Presley. Koizumi said to Lisa Marie, you look like Elvis. She smiled and thanked him in Japanese.

Down they went to the mansion's so-called jungle room, a favorite Elvis hangout with Polynesian carved wood furniture and fake animal fur upholstery. The president and Prime Minister posed for photos in this room.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for agreeing to come here. A lot of Americans are thrilled you're here, particularly at Graceland.

GONYEA: Koizumi, who shares a birthday with Elvis, is known to occasionally sing Elvis songs in public and he did so today.

President BUSH: You're a pretty good Elvis singer.

Prime Minister JUNICHIRO KOIZUMI (Japan): (Singing) Love me tender -

Wise men say only fools rush in, but I -

President BUSH: I thought you were going to do Blue Suede Shoes

GONYEA: Outside across the street, a small crowd gathered, hoping for a glimpse. 20-year-old Sinee Conley(ph) is from nearby Horn Lake, Mississippi.

And tell me why you're here.

Ms. SINEE CONLEY: Because I love my President and I love Elvis and if you put the two of them together and add the guy from Japan, I mean, it's the perfect combination. It's the best thing to ever happen to Memphis.

GONYEA: How much do you know about Koizumi?

Ms. CONLEY: About who?

GONYEA: Koizumi.

Ms. CONLEY: Not a whole lot. I can't even pronounce his name. I just, I just know he's a really big Elvis fan and, you know, got to love him for that.

GONYEA: But there were protestors as well, including a quartet of Elvis impersonators calling attention to Japan's commercial whaling industry.

Unidentified Elvis Impersonators: (Singing) Don't be cruel to a whale that's true -

GONYEA: Others protested the Iraq War. One held up a sign that read, Jailhouse Iraq. As President and Koizumi left Graceland, they made an unannounced visit to Memphis's Lorraine Motel, the site of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination. It was a sobering moment in a day that was designed as a thank you to Koizumi for being such a staunch supporter over the past five years.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Graceland.

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