The Elvis stamp: stuck on you

January 07, 1993

The immense success of the new Elvis Presley postage stamp confirms the notion that sometimes death can be a great career move.

Tomorrow, on the 58th anniversary of the birth of the King of Rock and Roll, 500 million of the 29-cent commemorative stamps bearing the image of the young, lean, curled-lip Elvis will be offered for sale by the U.S. Postal Service.

A run of 300 million stamps had initially been planned -- double the usual number for a commemorative stamp. But an unprecedented avalanche of advance orders led the Postal Service to increase the printing to a half billion. That's a hunka, hunka stamps, folks.

And all for a popular entertainer who died more than 15 years ago. True, Elvis in death has become such an omnipresent American icon -- in writer Greil Marcus' term, a "cultural obsession" -- that he is invoked in everything from local TV commercials to major political speeches, as both George Bush and Bill Clinton did during last year's presidential campaign.

Yet it's worth noting that just before his death, the Elvis of the puffy cheeks and the tacky jumpsuit had grown meaningless to all but his most loyal fans. Bloated physically and artistically, he had not scored a Top 10 hit in years.

Then he dropped dead in his Graceland bathroom. A legend was born.

The new stamp should breathe new life also into the cash-strapped Postal Service, which expects to reap a $20 million profit from the sale. (The Presley estate could earn about three times that amount.)

Accustomed to getting knocked for poor service and inept management, Postal Service officials seem absolutely giddy -- dare we say "all shook up"? -- over the Elvis stamp.

The financial profits, the positive publicity that began with last spring's national referendum on "fat or thin Elvis" as well as the potential revival of stamp collecting all add up to a welcome bonanza for the beleaguered postal arm of the federal government.

Still, those officials must be kicking themselves for waiting so long to issue an Elvis stamp, even after Germany, Tanzania and other countries have already so honored Presley.

But the U.S. Postal Service is now a believer. A projected profit of $20 million will do that.

The King is dead. Long live the King.

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