Fifteen years after his death, Elvis Presley has another No. 1 hit.
Only days after a mass mailing of some 800,000 brochures to people who voted in the "young Elvis-bloated Elvis" popularity contest last April, telephone orders began pouring in for a 29-cent stamp that is well on its way to becoming the best-selling piece of gummed paper in U.S. history.
Although the Elvis stamp will not be available until Jan. 8, the 58th anniversary of the rock and roller's birth, postal officials are worrying that the initial printing of 300 million -- double the normal commemorative issue -- won't meet demand.
"It's just phenomenal," said Carl Burcham, manager of philately for the U.S. Postal Service.
Postmaster General Marvin T. Runyon is insisting there be enough Elvis stamps available to cover the usual 60- to 90-day life span of a commemorative, says Mr. Burcham. "We'll have to decide soon about going back to press," Mr. Burcham added. "We've just never experienced anything like this."
Indeed, the response to the stamp honoring Mr. Presley is almost as extraordinary as the fact that an overweight entertainer whose death was reportedly caused by an overdose of prescription drugs is on a postage stamp at all. In a 23-year career, the one-time poor boy from Tupelo, Miss., had 107 Top 40 hits, made 41 million-selling albums and starred in 33 mostly forgettable movies before succumbing to a heart attack in Memphis in August 1977.
When the idea of honoring Elvis with a stamp first came up in 1987, many were opposed. Some critics cited his reported drug abuse. Others claimed he was still alive, and thus ineligible.
After Mr. Runyon's predecessor as postmaster general, Anthony Frank, embraced the idea, controversy raged over which Elvis should be remembered: the lean Elvis of "Hound Dog" days, or the overstuffed, sequined Elvis of the later, Las Vegas years. More than 1 million people voted, and the young Elvis won in a landslide.
Since the advertising brochure was mailed late last month, telephone operators have not only been swamped with advance orders for stamps, but also for four limited-edition Presley philatelic collectibles ranging in price from $5.95 to $19.95. Included are a program from the first day of issue ceremony planned from the singer's Graceland home, a 16-page booklet with pictures and facts about Mr. Presley, sheets of 40 stamps that come in a special sleeve designed to look like an album cover, and a full-color 12-inch by 12-inch glossy reproduction of artist Mark Stutzman's "young Elvis" portrait in a package with a stamp and a Graceland cancellation.
Orders placed before Jan. 1 are guaranteed. (The telephone number is 800-STAMP-24, Extension 885.)