ALISON BOSHOFF and CHRISTOPHER STEVENS: The tragedy of the ultimate poor little rich girl Lisa Marie Presley, who inherited her father Elvis’s $100m fortune… and his demons
There was a blankness in her gaze. A disconnect. One concerned observer said she ‘didn’t seem really present’. Others worried about how pale and frail she’d become.
This was Lisa Marie Presley, the 54-year-old troubled daughter of singing legend Elvis, just four days ago, as she walked the red carpet at the Golden Globe Awards ceremony to support the acclaimed biopic of her father — nominated in several categories — in Los Angeles.
Unsteady on her feet, at one point she clutched the arm of Elvis’s pal, 80-year-old Jerry Schilling, for support as she stopped to speak to reporters. ‘Everything is flowing together really nicely at the moment,’ she said, her words sounding somehow hollow, rehearsed and even slurred, according to some. ‘I’m so happy.’
It had been a similar story days earlier, as she attended a birthday party for her late father at LA’s Formosa Cafe. It had been a lovely night, with the throng, including director of the biopic Baz Luhrmann and her daughter Riley Keough, merrily belting out Can’t Help Falling In Love, on what would have been Elvis’s 88th birthday.
This was Lisa Marie Presley, the 54-year-old troubled daughter of singing legend Elvis, just four days ago
Lisa Marie, however, had held back, smiling, yet seemingly unsure of how to enjoy herself — her mind somewhere else.
On Thursday morning, she was dead, apparently having suffered a cardiac arrest at her $1.8 million home in Calabasas, California. The singer/songwriter was found unresponsive in her bedroom by a housekeeper when her ex-husband returned from doing the afternoon school run with her teenage twin daughters.
In a statement the Presley family said: ‘[Mother] Priscilla Presley and the Presley family are shocked and devastated by the tragic death of their beloved Lisa Marie.’
Lisa Marie, the adorable and adored, pampered little princess of The King had lived a life blighted by excess fame, melodrama, scandal, addiction and tragedy.
She was married and divorced four times — once, bizarrely, to Michael Jackson, and also to actor Nicolas Cage for a matter of days. She’d had at least five attempts at rehab. She was an heiress to a $100 million fortune and blew the lot — the ultimate poor little rich girl.
But it was perhaps the last 30 months of her life that had drained whatever fight there was left in her. In July 2020, aged just 27, her son Ben Keough — himself a veteran of four stints of rehab — apparently killed himself with a gun. He’d attempted to take his life six months earlier and had both cocaine and alcohol in his system when he died.
Lisa Marie said the grief had ‘swallowed me whole . . . absolutely destroyed and shattered my heart into almost nothing. Grief does not stop or go away in any sense, a year, or years after the loss,’ she wrote. ‘Grief is something you will have to carry with you for the rest of your life, in spite of what certain people or our culture wants us to believe. You do not “get over it,” you do not “move on”.’
She would have known how much Ben would have loved to have been by her side her at the Globes to watch Austin Butler scoop Best Actor for his stunning performance as Elvis. Lisa Marie had always remarked how uncannily he resembled his grandfather.
Tragically, it wasn’t just Elvis’s looks that Ben seemed to have inherited. Addiction, self-destruction, poor health and ruinously short lives seem to run through the Presley family bloodline.
She joined mother Priscilla Presley (left) and film star Austin Butler (middle) on the red carpet at the Golden Globe Awards ceremony to support the acclaimed biopic of her father — nominated in several categories — in Los Angeles
Elvis, a heavy user of drugs, was dead at 42 following a heart attack; his mother Gladys, who drank and took amphetamines, only made it to 46 before succumbing to heart failure. Four uncles died from lung or heart problems. Elvis biographer Sally Hoedel suggested the marriage between first cousins — Elvis’s maternal grandparents — might be responsible for an inherited genetic defect.
Lisa Marie once recounted one of her earliest memories, sitting on her father’s lap as they watched TV in his den at Graceland, in Memphis, Tennessee.
She was five. Elvis was just 38 but already obese, ravaged by drugs and stricken by hypertension and an enlarged heart.
Perhaps the child sensed he was ill or perhaps she simply needed reassurance, but she remembered looking up at him and saying, ‘Daddy, please don’t die.’ Four years later, on August 16, 1977, she was at Graceland when she heard a commotion in his suite.
Running in, she saw assistants and hangers-on crowded around his body on the bathroom floor, trying vainly to revive him.
Lisa Marie was Elvis’s only child, born in 1968, nine months to the day after he married 21-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu, whom he’d dated from her early teens, in Las Vegas. When the baby was born, Priscilla, now 77, said Elvis ‘looked petrified’ to hold her, but he was soon lavishing his wealth on her.
She had a miniature fur coat and jewels before she could walk. One day, on a whim, Elvis flew her in a private jet to the Utah mountains, just to show her snow. She had, Priscilla commented sharply, everything a little girl ‘shouldn’t have and couldn’t appreciate’.
Her birth, however, precipitated the end of her parents’ marriage. Promiscuous but bizarrely repressed and devoted to his mother, Elvis was repelled by the thought of sex with any woman who had given birth, even his own wife. He and Priscilla both had affairs from Lisa Marie’s earliest days and they divorced in 1973.
Elvis, a heavy user of drugs, was dead at 42 following a heart attack. She was five. Elvis was just 38 but already obese, ravaged by drugs and stricken by hypertension and an enlarged heart
Priscilla was a strict mother but during the shared parenting years, whenever she stayed at Graceland with her father, Lisa Marie could run riot. ‘There was nobody looking after me and everyone was afraid of my dad, and he was sleeping. So I was a tyrant.
‘Fans would give me cameras to go and take pictures, and I’d take money and I’d say I was going to take a picture of my dad, and then I’d throw the camera somewhere.’
Life at her mother’s house, however, presented other dangers. Priscilla’s then boyfriend, model Michael Edwards, admitted he’d started to be sexually attracted to the 12-year-old and got her to pose for deeply inappropriate photographs. Lisa Marie later accused him of ‘attempting to come into my room while drunk’.
She was nine when she inherited Elvis’ vast fortune — although it had been severely depleted by his manager ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker and his iniquitous dealings in which he’d sold The King’s publishing rights to RCA Victor records.
It was Priscilla who turned the family fortunes around, however, transforming Graceland into a kind of theme park that attracted millions of visitors. The profits — along with Elvis’s legacy — were put into trust until Lisa Marie was 25. This was a wise move: by 14, she’d started experimenting with drugs. She lost her virginity a year later. Aged 17, she spent three days and nights partying on cocaine and alcohol. Losing patience, Priscilla, who was by then an active Scientologist, handed her over to the church elders who put her through her first rehab.
Within weeks, she had met musician Danny Keough, three years older and also a Scientologist, and married him. They were together for six years and had two children, Riley, now 33, and Benjamin, who was two years younger.
Keough complained that his wife was ‘emotionally cold’, however, and they divorced in 1994. Just 20 days later, she married again, in one of the most bizarre couplings of the decade. Lisa Marie had dreamed of a music career and when a mutual friend sent her demo tape to Michael Jackson, he got in touch and they arranged to meet.
She was immediately smitten, believing she’d met a man who, because of his own fame and global success, wasn’t impressed by either her wealth or her famous name.
On the face of it, they had much in common. Aside from their riches, both were obsessed with UFOs, loved amusement parks and lived oddly immature lives surrounded by sycophants. Both loved chimpanzees.
Tragically, it wasn’t just Elvis’s looks that Ben (right) seemed to have inherited. Addiction, self-destruction, poor health and ruinously short lives seem to run through the Presley family bloodline
In May 1994 they flew on a private jet owned by Sony Records to La Romana in the Dominican Republic, checked into the Casa de Campo resort, and were married in secret. They told no one, not even Priscilla, for two months.
At first the marriage seemed to make Lisa Marie happy. Joe Esposito, one of her father’s former aides, remarked: ‘She’s got a smile on her face. Before, she never ever smiled. Never ever.’
In a TV interview, Michael claimed he’d had a crush on Lisa Marie since they met as children at a Jackson 5 concert and that he’d always planned to marry her.
The interviewer asked if theirs was a ‘proper’ marriage. ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ Lisa Marie retorted indignantly. The headlines generated by their union were an effective distraction for Jackson who was already facing accusations of child abuse.
Unknown to his new wife, just weeks earlier, he had paid one family $23 million to withdraw their accusations. Lisa Marie later told U.S. talk show host Oprah Winfrey that she felt used by Jackson. He loved her, she said, ‘as much as he was capable of loving somebody’ but had tried to manipulate her into having his children, threatening that if she didn’t, his nurse Debbie Rowe would.
She did: Rowe was the surrogate mother of Jackson’s children, Prince and Paris. ‘When I imagined having a child with him,’ Lisa Marie said, ‘all I could ever see was a custody battle nightmare.’
The marriage soon soured and the break came when Jackson was hospitalised in 1996 for ‘exhaustion’. Determined to know the truth about his life, and worried that he might be a drug addict who could die at any moment as her father had, Lisa Marie confronted him at his bedside. ‘When I started asking too many questions about what was wrong, he asked me to leave. He said: “You’re causing trouble.” The doctors wanted me to go. I freaked out, because it was all too familiar.’
She was disturbed, too, when Priscilla visited Jackson’s ranch, Neverland in Santa Barbara, California, and reported back that she found him sitting on the living room floor surrounded by ‘a dozen babies’. Jackson had always opened up his ranch, with its carousel and petting zoo, to young children — which went on to have more sinister connotations after he was accused of child abuse.
After just 20 months of marriage, Lisa Marie filed for divorce.
Husband number three was actor Cage. He’d approached her at a party in Los Angeles in 2000 and talked nervously about how much he admired Elvis. It didn’t go down well: ‘Is that the best you can do to have a conversation with me?’ she snapped. ‘Talk about my father?’
But Cage persisted. Although he was still married to actress Patricia Arquette, he made it plain he was besotted with Lisa Marie. She made it clear she was not interested in a married man, saying: ‘Call me when the ink is dry. And not until then.’
They eventually married in 2002, with one newspaper dryly commenting: ‘For the avid Elvis fan, Lisa Marie Presley is the ultimate limited edition.’
Within weeks they had split, then got back together, then split again. The marriage lasted 107 days.
She was nine when she inherited Elvis’ vast fortune — although it had been severely depleted by his manager ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker. Pictured with mother Priscilla and father Elvis
She married a fourth time to her guitarist, Michael Lockwood, in 2006, bizarrely with her first husband, Keough, as her best man. The couple’s twin girls, Harper and Finley, were born in 2008. Two years later, desperate to escape the ‘goldfish bowl’ life in California and perhaps the temptation of drugs, she and Lockwood bought a sprawling £3 million 15th-century, Grade II listed mansion, with pool, stables and 50 acres of land, in the East Sussex village of Rotherfield.
The move may also have been linked to Scientology, which has an HQ in Sussex.
The couple became regulars at the The Kings Arms — where their tipple was Guinness — with Lisa Marie volunteering for shifts in the fish and chip van owned by the pub because it was a good way to get to know the community.
She took part in local events, including a fun run, and relished her ability to go about unrecognised. She also found new creativity, recording an album there.
Within ten years her fourth marriage had, sadly, fallen apart, amid ugly scenes: Lisa Marie told a court she had found hundreds of disturbing photographs and videos of children on her husband’s computer. Police investigated, but no action was taken.
The end of the marriage also shed a light on her own previous drug addictions. She went to rehab at least five times including a stint at the $50,000-a-month Hills Treatment Center and her daughters spent some time in the custody of their grandmother Priscilla.
During the divorce proceedings, Lisa Marie admitted she’d abused opioids, painkillers and alcohol, and had been ‘abusing cocaine terribly’ in the last year of her marriage. In 2019 she wrote about her addiction in the foreword for a book, The United States Of Opioids. She said that she was ‘grateful to be alive today’ before explaining that she first started taking opioids after the birth of her twins.
She said: ‘You may read this and wonder how, after losing people close to me, I also fell prey to opioids. It only took a short-term prescription of opioids in the hospital for me to feel the need to keep taking them. It’s a difficult path to overcome this dependence and to put my life back together.’ She added that, having detailed her drug abuse, her therapist called her a ‘miracle’ and told her: ‘I don’t know how you are still alive.’
First husband Danny Keough remained her great support and was living with her in Calabasas when she died.
Legal battles over money were continuing at the time of Lisa Marie’s death. Fourth husband Lockwood had asked for $40,000 a month in maintenance but she claimed she was in debt after disastrous business decisions had led to the loss of her fortune.
The heaviest blow of her life, though, was the death of son Ben. She was ‘devastated’ when he died from a self-inflicted gunshot at the family’s home after an argument with his girlfriend of three years, Diana Pinto.
Like his mother, grandfather and great-grandmother before him, Ben had addiction issues, and had been to rehab four times but never completed his recovery.
After his death, Lisa Marie retreated from view.
She didn’t go to Cannes last spring for the premiere of the film Elvis; it was said that she was just ‘too fragile’ to cope with travel and the spotlight.
Now, she will be buried at Graceland, next to her father and son.
‘All the graves are lined up and there’s a spot there, waiting for me, right next to my grandmother,’ she once said presciently.
Sadly, she will be joining them all too soon.
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