Despite all of the love songs that their relationship inspired, his marriage to Priscilla Presley was far from glamorous.
Priscilla Ann Wagner was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1945. Her biological father died before her first birthday. A few years later, after her mother remarried a man named Paul Beaulieu, her name was changed to Priscilla Beaulieu.
As an officer in the United States Air Force, Beaulieu moved the family around frequently, and in 1956 they found themselves in Wiesbaden, Germany.
Priscilla Learns the Truth
About a year before meeting Elvis, Priscilla learned the truth about her stepfather. While babysitting one day, she decided to rummage through some things after her siblings went to sleep and found something shocking.
Up until that point, she believed Paul Beaulieu was her biological father. Upon seeing letters and photographs in a trunk at home, she found out that her father was James Wagner, a U.S. Navy pilot who had died in a plane crash.
Stuck in Her Emotions
After learning the truth about her biological father, Pricilla went through a few phases. First, there was denial — telling herself it’s somebody else. Then there was the shock of feeling betrayed and lied to.
She was so overwhelmed with emotion that through her into hysterics. She called her mother immediately after finding the photos demanding that she come home and explain. It was a tough moment for the two of them.
It was in Germany where Priscilla met Elvis for the first time. In 1959, while serving time in the United States Army, he had a party at his overseas house. Priscilla attended the party, despite being just 14-years-old.
Even though Elvis was already a household name, he was shy and boyish around Priscilla. He was smitten and later told his friend Rex Mansfield that Priscilla was young enough for him to "tame".
Where Have You Been, Young Lady?
Priscilla came home from the party late, angering her parents. They interrogated her and ultimately forbade her from seeing the musician again. However, Elvis was able to convince her parents to relent.
Like a true Southern gentleman, he showed up to their house in full uniform to win them over. And it worked! The two were frequently spotted spending time together after that.
It Wasn’t Love at First Sight
While Elvis may have been awe-struck by Priscilla’s beauty, she wasn’t immediately interested in the King of Rock.
She knew who he was and had friends who were fans, but she recalls being disgusted by a photo she saw in a magazine of the musician signing autographs. In the picture, he was signing a rather inappropriate body part of a bosomy blonde, which turned her off. It didn’t take too long for him to win her over though.
Prior to meeting Priscilla, Elvis also received some disheartening news. While away in the army, his mother had a heart attack and passed away. She was just 46-years-old at the time, leaving the musician devastated.
It was his future wife who he was able to finally open up to about his loss, allowing her to comfort him. This continued until Elvis left Germany in 1960.
After leaving Germany, Priscilla and Elvis kept in touch, ultimately becoming pen pals while he served in the army.
The two sent each other frequent letters for two years, so Priscilla's parents saw they were becoming more than just friends. It was two years before they reconnected in person, during which time Elvis was rumored to have numerous affairs.
Was She the Only One?
During their long-distance relationship, there were numerous rumors about Elivs having romantic relationships with other women. These include his co-star Ann-Margaret and Frank Sinatra’s daughter Nancy.
These affairs convinced Priscilla she would never see Elvis again. To prove his loyalty, he invited Priscilla to move in with him, however, her parents wouldn’t hear of it.
Priscilla’s Trip To Graceland
Even though her parents refused to allow her to move in with Elvis, they agreed to let her visit for two weeks as long as three conditions are met: Elvis was asked to pay for a first-class round trip plane ticket, arrange for a chaperone to be with Priscilla at all times, and Priscilla had to write home every day.
He agreed. However, once Priscilla arrived he surprised her by telling her they’d be going to Las Vegas.
Living Like a Rock Star
To keep up the illusion that she was staying in Graceland, Elvis had Priscilla write a postcard for each day they were gone and had his staff mail them out.
While in Vegas, Priscilla found it difficult to keep up with her host’s rockstar lifestyle and started experimenting with illegal substances. She would use them to stay awake and then resort to sleeping pills when she couldn’t fall asleep. It wasn’t enough to please him though.
All Dolled Up
During their trip to Las Vegas, Elvis bought Priscilla new clothes to make her appear older and more mature. He also had her hair styled and makeup put on to suit his preferences, but he didn’t want to watch the process.
“Some can’t have the truth,” she recently explained. “I always had a little bit of makeup. He never wanted to see me getting dressed, he wanted to see the end result.”
Christmas In Graceland
Priscilla's next visit to Graceland was the following Christmas. After letting it be known that he planned to marry her, Elvis was able to convince her parents to allow her to finish high school in Memphis so they could be close to each other.
After agreeing that she would live with Elvis’ father and stepmother, Priscilla was enrolled at Immaculate Conception High School. However, she ultimately moved in with Elvis before she graduated.
A Barbie Girl in a Barbie World
Elvis kept shaping Priscilla’s appearance. He had porcelain caps put on her teeth, scolded her poor posture, told her to dye her hair black, style it into a pompadour, and made her dress similarly to himself. He pushed her to have a similar image to his own. It went so far that Priscilla claimed she was, "Elvis’ living doll, to fashion as he pleased."
Elvis would also provide her with substances so that she would have the energy to go to school during the day but also be available to him at night. That was just the beginning of his controlling ways.
Saving Herself for Marriage
As the two met when Priscilla was just a child, it should come as no surprise that the two weren't being physical with each other. Elvis is said to have valued Priscilla's purity and wanted things to stay that way until the two got married.
This didn’t mean Elvis stayed celibate, however, as he had numerous affairs during this time.
While filming in Hollywood, Elvis would often have intimate relationships with his co-stars and other celebrities. He got away with it by making Priscilla stay at home in Memphis, often keeping her secluded while he worked.
When rumors of his affairs hit the press, his live-in girlfriend would question him about it but he always had a reasonable excuse. He would often claim that the rumors were put in the press to promote a movie or project of his.
While cohabiting, the media often referred to Priscilla as Elvis’ "live-in Lolita."
The musician’s manager was concerned that there would be a negative impact on his career if he continued to live with Priscilla without getting married, and pushed Elvis to propose.
Pressured Into It
The manager wasn't the only one pushing for marriage to happen. There is also speculation that Priscilla threatened to go to the press with intimate details about their relationship if he didn’t propose.
Her father also allegedly threatened to have Elvis charged for taking a minor across state lines for sexual purposes if he didn’t get down on one knee as he promised. Whatever his reason, Elvis ultimately proposed around Christmas in 1966.
Did He Even Want This?
There are disputing reports over the musician’s feelings about getting married. While some friends insisted that Elvis was excited to walk down the aisle, others claimed he was reluctant.
His cook, Alberta, even revealed that she walked in on Elvis crying about having to get married. When she asked him why he didn’t cancel it if it made him so upset, the singer allegedly said he didn't have a choice.
Elvis and Priscilla ultimately tied the knot at the Las Vegas Aladdin Hotel in May of 1967. The ceremony lasted just eight minutes and was designed by Elvis’ manager to provide maximum publicity.
Very few guests were invited to the ceremony, and only a few friends and family members attended the breakfast reception. Like the ceremony, the reception was also designed to promote the singer’s career, mostly catering to those in the industry. This ultimately led to a rift in many of Elvis’ true friendships.
Elvis Loses Friends
Many of Elvis’ closest friends weren’t invited to the wedding, and despite this being his manager’s doing, some took it personally. Actor Red West especially took it hard, as he was Elvis’ closest friend and bodyguard. West even had Elvis as his best man during his own ceremony!
When West and his wife got all dressed up for the wedding only for their invitation to be rescinded at the door, he was quite upset. Not only did he end the friendship, but he quit working for the star as well.
A Palm Springs Honeymoon
After the reception, Elvis and Priscilla took a private plane to Palm Springs for their honeymoon. Priscilla claims this is when she and Elvis were intimate for the first time, however, there are rumors claiming the two didn’t wait until their wedding night.
They then spent three weeks on their private ranch in Mississippi where Priscilla her new marital status. "I loved playing house," she claimed. "Here was an opportunity to take care of him myself. No maids or housekeepers to pamper us."
A Bun in the Oven
The couple held a second reception for all the friends who weren't there for the first time. It was at their home at Graceland after returning home from their honeymoon.
Shortly after, Priscilla learned she was pregnant. Both her and Elvis were disappointed to become parents so soon after getting married, and even considered terminating the pregnancy. While Priscilla likely felt she was too young, Elvis was concerned that fatherhood would have a negative impact on his career and that his wife would use motherhood as an excuse to let herself go.
Even though Priscilla enjoyed being a housewife, Elvis became increasingly possessive. He felt the need to control his wife’s every move, including the times she was allowed to clean their home.
The musician continued to choose what Priscilla wore and became obsessed over her maintaining her youthful appearance. He would regularly slap her forehead and call attention to her facial expressions that might one day lead to wrinkles. As his controlling behaviors worsened, so did his anger. He would often carry around a small handgun and was known for shooting his television if he saw something that he didn’t like.
The Couple Welcomes A Child
Lisa Marie Presley was born on February 1, 1968, precisely nine months after the couple’s wedding. From the outside, their relationship may have seemed picture-perfect, but they couldn’t be further from that.
At eight months pregnant, Elvis shocked his wife by asking for a trial separation, during which time he was reportedly having an affair with a co-star. The separation was short, however, it was strained even further after their daughter was born.
After the birth of Lisa Marie, Elvis became reluctant to share a bed with his wife. He claimed to want to give Priscilla time to heal after giving birth, but according to her autobiography, there may have been more to it than that.
According to her, Elvis mentioned he had trouble making love to a woman who’d given birth. With this added strain on their relationship and the continued rumors of her husband’s affairs, it wasn’t long before Priscilla found herself seeking companionship elsewhere.
In 1968, Priscilla began to fill her time while her husband was away taking dance classes. Tired of being left home alone with Lisa Marie while Elvis was gallivanting around with other women, she ended up making a romantic connection with her dance instructor.
The affair was short and something she would later regret, but it helped her learn a lot about herself. She realized she was more than just her connection to the singer.
Trying to Save the Marriage
After her affair, Priscilla made an effort to save her marriage by imitating the styles of major Hollywood actresses. She thought that by appearing trendy and flawless she could keep her husband from straying to another woman. Priscilla would also act out her husband’s sexual fantasies hoping it would bring them closer together.
However, according to her autobiography, his thrill standards were higher than this, especially when he had taken certain substances. In 1968, Elvis’ music career started to take off again with his television special, and he was traveling more often than not, leading to more marriage problems.
Priscilla began to realize that she wasn’t a priority in her husband’s life. "My life was his life," she said in a 1978 interview with People Magazine. "My problems were secondary."
At the time, Elvis was known for being a fan or karate, often taking lessons as a hobby. When he suggested that Priscilla take up the sport to dull her restlessness while he was on tour, she jumped at the chance, hoping it would fix things. Little did she know, it would ultimately lead to the end of her marriage.
After meeting martial artist Mike Stone backstage at one of Elvis’ concerts in 1972, she began taking lessons with him. Her new hobby, however, soon developed into an affair.
Priscilla still had loving feelings for Elvis when she and Stone were having their affair. Still, a few months into that affair, she chose to tell Elvis about it and leave him for Stone.
When Priscilla met with her husband to tell him about the affair, it was in his hotel suite, with him seemingly noticing a change of sorts in his wife.
His response to what she had to say was troubling. Priscilla said he forcefully made love to her and stated that this is how a "real man" takes his woman. Priscilla later retracted the allegations in an interview, regretting her choice of words.
Priscilla Explains Her Allegations
Priscilla explained her statement accusing Elvis of forcing her to sleep with him in an interview. She said that she was most hurt by Elvis's lack of sensitivity to her as a woman and his reconciliation attempt which was too late.
She excused Elvis’s actions as him trying to make up for not showing any sexual interest towards her after giving birth to their daughter. Priscilla later recognized how their lack of intimacy affected her, writing in her book that she felt that her physical and emotional needs were unfulfilled.
Filing for Divorce
Priscilla and Elvis separated in February of 1972, and she later filed for divorce that July. In a 2016 interview, Priscilla stated, that at the time of the separation, she was still in love with him, but also felt like she had to explore the world.
Priscilla ultimately wound up with a lump sum of $725,000. (About $4.2 million today.) She also received spousal support, child support, a small percentage of the earnings from Elvis' publishing companies, and half of the sum earned from the sale of their Beverly Hills home. While Priscilla was willing to accept far less, her lawyers convinced her to ask for more.
Finalizing the Divorce
The couple’s divorce was finalized on October 9, 1973, and the couple remained amicable afterward. They even held hands walking out of the courthouse. The two remained good friends, and Elvis took the blame for their split at a Las Vegas concert.
His ex-wife, daughter, and new girlfriend were in the audience when he said him being away too much due to his career was what got in the way of his marriage. He said that he and Priscilla agreed to still be friends for the sake of their daughter.
Even though Elvis agreed to a divorce and their separation was amicable, he wasn’t happy about losing his wife to another man.
Those surrounding the King of Rock at the time described him as paranoid and disturbed. His outbursts became so severe that a doctor was called to prescribe him medications that would help him calm down. It barely helped though, and Elvis allegedly said, that he was in too much pain and that Stone must die.
Priscilla Opens A Boutique
After her divorce from Elvis, Priscilla wanted to pursue a career that would allow her to stand on her own two feet. She opened a boutique clothing store in Los Angeles with friend and stylist Olivia Bis called Bis & Beau.
With Elvis’s help, the shop was successful and helped to dress celebrity clients including Cher, Barbra Streisand, and Natalie Wood. It lasted just three years.
Elvis’s Failing Health
Elvis’ health significantly deteriorated after separating from Priscilla. His substance abuse worsened and he suffered two ODs in 1973, the first which left him in a three-day coma. At the end of the same year, he was hospitalized for the same reason, remaining in a nearly vegetative state throughout his stay.
His tour schedule was hectic and he was busier than ever, which certainly didn’t help his condition. Rather than rest, however, in 1974 he agreed to go on another tour.
The Tour That Almost Didn’t Happen
Since Elvis was prescribed his meds from doctors, he denied having a problem. However, everyone else saw that he was struggling.
The King’s keyboardist, Tony Brown, recalled Elvis stumbling out of a limo when arriving at the University of Maryland for a concert. According to him, people jumped to help Elvis out, only to be pushed away by him. He also said that Elvis spent the first thirty minutes of the show holding on to the mic stand to not fall down. The entire tour was at risk.
The King's Gut
It was also during this time that Elvis developed his infamous gut that nearly made him unrecognizable. His performances were so bad that many around him suggested he took a break. Guitarist John Wilkinson spoke about this period and said Elvis was in such bad shape he was hardly intelligible.
Wilkinson thought Presley should take a year off and even mentioned it to him once. Elvis replied with a pat on Wilkinson's back and told him not to worry about it.
The Crew Gets Fired
The King’s substance dependency eventually got so bad that he ended up firing anyone who commented on it. Unfortunately, this included his team of bodyguards and close friends.
Elvis’ father handled much of the musician’s finances, and for this reason, he was the one to let them all go claiming they had to cut back on expenses. He also claimed that the bodyguards were too hard on fans, costing Presley too much money in lawsuits. However, those people closest to him knew this wasn’t true.
The Final Proposal
In 1976, Elvis was dating model and actress Ginger Alden. He ultimately proposed, but friends of the singer claimed he wasn’t serious about getting married again after his recent divorce.
The quality of his performances declined even further. When he managed not to sleep through his shows, he would be slurring so badly that his words were inaudible. While he was able to lose some weight before his death, his health never recovered.
A Tell-All Book
To Elvis’ surprise, three of the bodyguards he fired chose to write a tell-all book — " Elvis: What Happened?" . While he tried to pay off the publishers to not release the book, it ultimately went public on August 1, 1977.
It not only detailed The King’s issues with substance abuse but his romantic and personal relationships as well. The musician was devastated, but his former employees claimed it wasn’t written as a way to bring light to his troubles and encourage him to get help. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the time to do so as he died just two weeks later.
On August 16, 1977, Elvis’ fiance found him unresponsive on the bathroom floor. He was scheduled to fly to Memphis for a concert, one which he ultimately never made it to.
A witness described the scene and said that Elvis's body looked like it froze while he was using the toilet and then fell down right in front of it. He was pronounced dead the next day.
Priscilla Is Devastated
Despite them having been divorced for several years at the time, Priscilla was devastated upon learning of Elvis’ death.
When interviewed about this day, she recalled being overwhelmed with the news and not being able to do anything or wrap her head around the events until a plane was sent for her. When she went into the house, she heard people cry with his father, who was grieving badly.
Elvis’ funeral was held on August 18, 1977, at Graceland where thousands of fans stood outside the gates hoping to get a glimpse of the casket. He was buried next to his mother at the Forest Hill Cemetery followed by a procession of nearly 80,000 people.
Just a week after the funeral, someone tried to steal the body, which was moved to Graceland's Meditation Garden in response. The public got a good look at Elvis in his casket though after his cousin, Billy Mann, was offered $18,000 by the "National Enquirer" for a photo. It was the magazine's biggest-selling issue.
Death at a Funeral
As thousands stood outside of Graceland to mourn the loss of their idol, a car drove through the crowd killing two and seriously injuring a third.
Alice Hoverter and Juanita Johnson were just 19-years-old at the time and had driven 200 miles to Memphis to attend the funeral proceedings. In addition to being friends, the girls were also roommates and coworkers. The four teenagers who were in the car were arrested after the incident, the driver being intoxicated behind the wheel.
Cause of Death
Medical examiner Dr. Jerry Francisco performed the autopsy the day Elvis died. He claimed that Elvis’ cause of death was cardiac arrest likely caused by narcotics. The report stated that he suffered from anaphylactic shock caused by the pills his dentist prescribed, to which he was mildly allergic.
Testing later found fourteen types of narcotics in the musician’s system, most in high quantities. His physician, Dr. George Nichopoulos, was largely to blame for this as he prescribed him more than 10,000 doses of different substances between January and July of 1977 alone. He was exonerated of all criminal charges but lost his medical license.
What About Graceland?
As executor of Elvis’ only heir, Lisa Marie, Priscilla suddenly found herself responsible for the upkeep of Graceland, which cost more than $500,000 a year to maintain.
After barely staying afloat and spending much of her inheritance, she finally decided to turn Graceland into a tourist attraction. Just four months after it opened to the public in June of 1982, Priscilla had made back all of the money she invested into the project. She remained the chairwoman and president of Elvis Presley Enterprises until Lisa Marie was old enough to take on the role herself.
Finding Work on Television
It wasn’t long before Priscilla got into acting. Her first television appearance was in 1980 as the co-host of "Those Amazing Animals". She went on to star on "Dallas" and made guest appearances in shows like "Spin City", and "Melrose Place".
Priscilla was offered to play one of "Charlie’s Angels", an offer she declined since she didn’t like the show. She eventually went on to appear in films including "The Naked Gun" franchise.
Joining the Church of Scientology
Not long after Elvis’ death, Priscilla became heavily involved with the Church of Scientology. Both she and Lisa Marie worked through the steps involved, as many other celebrities have done over the years.
As Lisa Marie struggled with substance abuse, however, she became unwelcome in the Scientology community. Priscilla begged the church to save her daughter but Lisa Marie ultimately left in 2016. She recalls slowly self-destructing and having everything taken away from her by the church. There were reports that Priscilla had left the church as well, but they were never confirmed.
Priscilla Welcomes a Son
During a relationship with Italian screenwriter Marco Garibaldi, Priscilla gave birth to a son. She was introduced to Garibaldi in 1984 while reading one of his scripts, one he hoped she would produce. They quickly fell for each other and wound up in a 22-year relationship.
Navarone was born in 1987 and is Priscilla’s only other child. She gave birth during her time starring on the show " Dallas", and her pregnancy was written into the show’s script.
Reopening the Autopsy
In 1994, Elvis’ autopsy was reopened after Dr. Joseph Davis’ review found no connection between his death and narcotics. According to him, there was no data connecting the heart attack to other substances.
Dr. Dan Warlick, who was present at the autopsy, believed Elvis’ chronic constipation was caused by years of substance use and high cholesterol. He speculates that his heart shut down when too much strain was put on the abdominal aorta when visiting the toilet. Elvis’ cause of death remains a heart attack to this day, but what brought it on is still a mystery.
Lisa Marie Follows in Her Mother’s Footsteps
Priscilla has dated her fair share of men over the years including photographer Terry O’ Neill, financier Kirk Kerkorian, and lawyer Robert Kardashian. It was her daughter’s relationship with Michael Jackson, however, that worried her.
The two met when Lisa Marie was just seven years old attending one of his concerts and later married in 1994 just 20 days after divorcing her first husband. Fortunately, their marriage only lasted two years and Lisa Marie didn’t end up trapped in a controlling relationship like her mother.
In an interview, Priscilla claimed that she can see and hear Elvis’ presence when she goes to Graceland. She said it feels like communicating with his spirit. She can see him coming down the stairs, laughing, or playing music.
According to her, it’s more beautiful than scary. Apparently, she’s not the only one who has these experiences!
These days Priscilla is still monetizing on the Presley name. She often appears on television, usually playing herself in TV movies such as "Christmas at Graceland: Home for the Holidays", "Wedding at Graceland", and the documentary "Elvis Presley: The Searcher".
Additionally, she released a book in 2020 titled "Elvis by the Presleys: Intimate Stories from Priscilla Presley, Lisa Marie Presley, and Other Family Members". Unfortunately, 2020 also brought some hard news for Priscilla and her family.
Tragedy Hits the Presley Family
Lisa Marie’s son, Benjamin Storm Keough, took his own life on July 12, 2020 at just 27-years-old. The tragedy shocked the Presley family. Lisa Marie’s manager released a statement on her behalf saying that she is crushed but doing her best to hold on for her three remaining children.
Little is known about Priscilla’s grandson other than how similar he looked to his grandfather. Lisa Marie once said that the two were so alike that many people wanted to take a photo with Benjamin when seeing the resemblance.
Understandably, the Presley family is devastated by their loss. Priscilla took to Facebook to express her grief saying, “These are some of the darkest days of my family’s life. The shock of losing Ben has been devastating. Trying to put all the pieces together of all the possible ways has penetrated my soul. Each day I wake up I pray it will get better.”
Ben was last publically seen going out with his family on the 40th anniversary of Elvis’ death. A vigil was held at Graceland in honor of the late King of Rock.
Both Priscilla and Lisa Marie have worked tirelessly to maintain Elvis’ legacy over the years. Everyone who knew the musician has come forward to share a story and a point of view. The Presley women, however, work to make sure the public receives an honest interpretation of who he was.
Priscilla once said that many of the books written about Elvis are incredibly inaccurate and that she would like to set things straight. This proves that the love between Priscilla and Elvis is truly timeless!