Sofia Coppola’s long-awaited movie Priscilla received a seven-minute stand ovation when it debuted at the 80th Venice International Film Festival on September 4. As audience members cheered for the cast and crew, an emotional Priscilla Presley wiped away tears and hugged actress Cailee Spaeny, who plays her in the biopic. (The movie is based on Priscilla’s bestselling 1985 memoir, Elvis & Me.) “It’s very difficult to sit and watch a film about you,” said Priscilla at the festival, “about your life, about your love.”
It’s been nearly five decades since Priscilla and Elvis Presley divorced and 46 years since the King of Rock and Roll died tragically from a heart attack at the age of 42, but the feelings remain close to the surface for Priscilla, 78. She’s also still coping with fresh grief over the loss of her beloved daughter, Lisa Marie, who passed away unexpectedly on January 12 due to complications from weight-loss surgery she’d undergone several years earlier. (She was 54.) Now the actress, author and businesswoman is telling all about losing the two people closest to her, what her marriage to Elvis was really like behind the scenes and her biggest regrets.
LIFE WITH ELVIS
Priscilla was just 14 when she met Elvis, 10 years her senior, when he was stationed in Germany with the Army. Even then, the age difference raised eyebrows, but she continues to defend their relationship. “Even though I was 14, I was actually a little bit older in life — not in numbers,” she said at a recent press conference. “People think, ‘Oh, it was sex.’ No, it wasn’t. I never had sex with him. He was very kind, very soft, very loving, but he also respected the fact I was only 14 years old.”
The Naked Gun actress, who left home at 17 to move into Graceland, Elvis’ home outside Memphis, insists the superstar didn’t take advantage of her. “It was difficult for my parents to understand that Elvis would be so interested in me and why,” she said, describing herself as a “listener.” Says an insider, “Priscilla and Elvis connected on a personal level and shared stories of their childhoods and their hopes and fears.” Elvis would often talk to Priscilla about his late mother, Gladys. “Elvis would pour his heart out,” said Priscilla.
Still, their 1967 marriage was troubled. Life at home revolved around Elvis, and he was constantly surrounded by his “Memphis Mafia” — his entourage of friends, associates and family members. “Priscilla’s life was all about pleasing Elvis,” says the source, noting that he even dictated what she wore. “It was all about him and his career. He was always with his Memphis Mafia and it was 24/7 chaos.”
There was also infidelity. Elvis kept secrets and would lie about his whereabouts. “He was seeing other women throughout their relationship, and Priscilla was deeply troubled over it but felt compelled to look the other way,” says the source. She had an affair of her own toward the end of their marriage with a karate instructor named Mike Stone; when Elvis found out, he flew off the handle. “Elvis was a complicated man,” says the source. “He was tempted by other women, but he was still possessive of Priscilla and would get jealous.”
Lisa Marie was born in 1968, and Priscilla has said that while Elvis adored his daughter, Priscilla was the primary caretaker and the disciplinarian. “He didn’t really have that much to do with the practical stuff,” she said in 2012, “but I took naturally to becoming a mother.” He did spoil Lisa Marie, however. “Elvis would take her on shopping sprees and she’d come home with bags of new clothes and toys and he’d fly her all over the place in his private plane,” reveals the source. “Priscilla asked him to tone it down but Elvis refused.”
When they officially split, in 1973, they remained so friendly that they left the California courthouse holding hands after signing divorce papers. “Yes, I left, but it wasn’t because I didn’t love him. He was the love of my life,” Priscilla revealed. “It was the lifestyle that was so difficult for me.” She’s said she blossomed postdivorce. “I was living in a bubble and I found that I had my own taste,” she’s said. “I had things that I liked that weren’t Elvis’. I found Priscilla.”
HER BROKEN HEART
Her relationship with Lisa Marie had its ups and downs through the years but they were on good terms when Lisa Marie died of bowel obstruction early this year. (Priscilla supported Lisa Marie through the suicide of her son, Benjamin Keough, in 2020.) They had attended the Golden Globes together on January 10 to support actor Austin Butler, who won an award for his turn as the music legend in the Baz Luhrmann hit film Elvis.
Celebrating later, Lisa Marie complained of a stomach ache. Though they left immediately, the source says Priscilla wishes she had urged Lisa Marie to see a doctor before it was too late. “But Priscilla didn’t want to be bossy — Lisa Marie was very headstrong and always seemed to know what she was doing.” Two days later, she was gone. “I still can’t believe it,” said her still-grieving mom. “I don’t wish this on any mother.”