MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Edison Pena stood in Elvis Presley’s “jungle room,” planted his foot, slightly swiveled his hips, and pointed to a chair with a teddy bear resting on it.
“Oh let me be, your teddy bear,” said Pena, one of the rescued Chilean miners, surrounded by green carpet in one of his idol’s favourite rooms in Graceland.
Pena’s impromptu, spot-on interpretations of many of Elvis’ hits, including “Teddy Bear,” highlighted his tour of Graceland on Friday. An avid and knowledgeable Presley fan, Pena was on a six-day trip to Memphis and Las Vegas paid for by local business and tourism groups. The invitation included a private tour of Elvis’ longtime home and burial place.
Pena, who sang Elvis tunes to lift the spirits of 32 fellow Chilean miners while they were trapped underground for 69 days last year, shot video of the mansion with his cellphone. He broke into parts of “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Hound Dog” as he walked through rooms with displays of gold records, movie posters and flashy Elvis outfits. He knows little English outside of Elvis songs.
In the high-ceilinged “racquetball room,” he pointed to a black jacket-and-pants combination and said in Spanish, “I would love to wear this outfit on the street, to go shopping. I’d be saying. ’Why are you looking at me?”
Some rooms made him emotional. Pena, 34, shook his head and exhaled as he learned that the last songs Elvis sang and played on his piano before he died were “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” and “Unchained Melody.”
Pena’s Graceland visit was an experience that fulfilled a dream, he said.
“I was paralyzed, a lot of images came to me,” said Pena. “There’s nothing impossible for God. That’s why I’m here.”
The Chilean miners were trapped a half-mile (0.8 kilometre) below ground, in a collapsed gold-and-copper mine. They were pulled out of the mine by a rescue capsule in October.
Pena was reportedly among the most depressed of the trapped men and asked rescuers to send down a photo of the sun. He jogged regularly in the adjacent tunnels that weren’t blocked by collapse.
As a youngster, Pena would stand in front of the mirror, singing Elvis songs and mimicking his onstage style. So Pena, shrouded in darkness in the mine, sang Elvis songs to pass the time.
On occasion, he would move farther down in the collapsed mine, allowing him to belt out Elvis songs as loudly as he wanted without bothering his mates.
“His music was a message to me, that I could get out,” Pena said. “We were living in death. It could have come at any time.”
Shortly after his rescue, an invitation was extended for the trip to Memphis and a tour of Graceland, where Elvis lived for 20 years before he died there at age 42 on Aug. 16, 1977.
Since his rescue, Pena has received a flood of invitations to attend several events.
Pena has run in the New York Marathon and appeared on “Late Show with David Letterman.” He also performed on stage with singer Olivia Newton-John in a concert in Santiago, Chile.
His U.S. visit doesn’t end Thursday. On Saturday, he will cut a cake to celebrate Elvis’ birthday, Jan. 8, 1935. Sunday, he will visit Elvis’ birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi.
Pena will leave Memphis on Monday for Las Vegas, where he will watch “Viva Elvis,” the popular show by Cirque du Soleil.
“I don’t deserve so much attention,” Pena said.