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Elvis was the messiah in disguise

The 20th anniversary of Elvis's death finds Americans worshipping him as they would a deity, while in Britain his fans are planning a night with Alvin Stardust.

On Sunday Elvis and The Presleytarians, a BBC1 documentary, will say the way he has been worshipped since his death has more in common with a messiah than a singer. The programme finds fans who believe Elvis was sent to fulfil a biblical prophecy. The BBC unearthed a previously unheard recording of Elvis claiming to be on a higher plane of being than ordinary people. At the Elvis Gospel Church the programme's maker, theologian Karen Armstrong, found preachers who use fan worship to bring Elvis fans to Jesus.

Ms Armstrong also explores how, for those who want to see them, there are connections between Jesus and Elvis: both died an ignominious death and in the Christian communion service the devout imitate the actions of their messiah, just as Elvis impersonators do, and Elvis impersonators can be seen as the high priests in this trailer-park religion. "People have ... found the sacred in Elvis," says Ms Armstrong.

A fan tells the programme: "I am convinced he is a prophecy that has come true and he will come on Judgement Day. It will be within ten years or less."

Todd Slaughter, president of the UK Elvis Presley Fan Club, said the 1,000 British fans heading for Memphis this weekend to mark the anniversary of The King's death are unlikely to be lured into an Elvis-based Christian cult: "We Brits find it all a bit strange. There are many things they get up to in America that take it all too far. Our members who are going to visit Graceland will probably head for the pub afterwards rather than a church." Thousands are expected in Memphis on Saturday for the anniversary. But in Britain the fan club could not get a venue on a Saturday night, so on Sunday 2,000 fans will attend a concert in the Equinox theatre, Leicester Square, featuring Alvin Stardust and Marty Wilde.