Elvis Presley's ex-wife and their only daughter stunned a crowd of thousands when they unexpectedly greeted fans who had flocked to Graceland for a candlelight vigil marking the 35th anniversary of the singer's death.

The vigil began Wednesday night after Priscilla Presley and her daughter, Lisa Marie appeared at the Memphis mansion and briefly thanked the crowd for their undying admiration of the rock 'n' roll icon.

It was the first time both women had appeared together at the annual gathering, which became an official event in 1980.

Priscilla said the sight of thousands of fans holding up candles in tribute to Elvis was amazing.

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Priscilla Presley, left, and Lisa Marie Presley speak to fans gathered at Graceland on Wednesday. (Mark Humphrey/Associated Press)

"This is something that Elvis would never, ever have believed could have taken place here," said the actress and businesswoman, who was divorced from Elvis Presley in 1973.

Lisa Marie Presley told the fans she loved them for their devotion to her father.

"I've always avoided this because I felt that it would be too emotional, but I really felt it was important to come down here tonight," the singer's daughter, herself a singer-songwriter, told the crowd.

Elvis admirers from around the world have flocked each anniversary to Graceland, where the singer is buried. Presley died on Aug. 16, 1977, from a heart attack after battling prescription drug abuse. His death at 42 shocked legions of fans still mesmerized by his singing, sex appeal and on-stage charisma.

The vigil, which runs through Thursday morning, marked the high point of Elvis Week, the annual celebration of Presley's life and career. Organizers said about 75,000 people were expected by authorities to take part in the vigil.

Teary-eyed mourners laid flowers on the gravesite. Sergio Galleguillo, of Argentina, said he became emotional.

"I felt the spirit of Elvis there, as if he was alive," said Galleguillo, who was making his first visit to the United States. "It really was a beautiful experience."

The sombre vigil contrasted with lighter moments beforehand.

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Fans pass by Presley's grave during a candlelight vigil at Graceland on Wednesday. (Mark Humphrey/Associated Press)

As the line of people waiting to get into Graceland grew longer Wednesday evening, a group from a Brazilian fan club waved that nation's flag, danced and sang Presley's early-'70s hit Burning Love in the street.

Steps away, an Elvis impersonator, complete with a white-sequined jumpsuit, sat alone, lip synching In the Ghetto.

Cheryl Skogen of Los Angeles said she first came to Graceland in 1981 — before the home became a museum and a tourist attraction — and has visited several times since. She remembers first seeing Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show.

"The first time I saw him he changed my life," said Skogen, now 66 and retired. "I had never seen anybody dance like he did or sing like he did or look like he did. He captured my heart."