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Wednesday Sep 24, 2008 04:30 AM

Shirley Deasley

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Aurora woman remembered as Elvis's biggest fan

Teenybopper who got Elvis to come to Toronto in '57 became an icon to King's cult

Shirley Deasley was Toronto's biggest Elvis fan when she was a teenager and, thanks to the cult of celebrity that still surrounds the King, that's how she will be remembered.

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She was still Shirley Harris when she sparked a 2,000-name petition that spearheaded the push that brought Elvis Presley to Maple Leaf Gardens on April 2, 1957, for his first Canadian appearance. She got to spend an hour backstage with her hero and presented him with a hand-painted banner of the signatures she gathered.

When the screaming died down, she put away her 1,000 Elvis photos, resumed life as a 13-year-old, eventually married Harry Deasley, gave birth to three sons and became a grandmother to five children. Harry died three years ago after 40 years of marriage.

Only in recent years did she let her Elvis fascination out of the closet, making her an instant hero among modern-day worshippers as someone who actually met the King. Just two months before her death from cancer last week at the age of 65, she was guest of honour and a judge at the annual Elvis tribute artist contest in Collingwood, where she was regarded as an icon.

"It was great watching as fans realized who Shirley was and started lining up for pictures and autographs," says Wendy King, chair of the judging committee for this year's festival. "She did a lot for Elvis and his fans and I think the Elvis world did a lot for her, too."

On Saturday, two of the tribute artists sang Elvis Gospel tunes at her funeral service in Aurora.