Priscilla Presley on a life lived in Elvis' shadow

By Paul Ewert

Priscilla opens up about her marriage to Elvis Presley. Photo / Getty
Priscilla opens up about her marriage to Elvis Presley. Photo / Getty

She was the wife of rock 'n' roll's reigning king - a union that put Priscilla Presley on an irreversible path to stardom. And though 2017 marks 40 years since the passing of Elvis, the association between her and the legendary performer is still as strong as ever.

"I miss his laughter," she says, eyes brightening at the memory. "His laughter was so contagious. He'd start and everyone would start - they didn't know what they were laughing about, they just got so much enjoyment from being with him.

Circa 1975: American popular singer and film star Elvis Presley. Photo / Getty
Circa 1975: American popular singer and film star Elvis Presley. Photo / Getty

"Watching him was such an experience, It was really heartfelt and I really miss that a lot. I don't think I've ever met anyone who laughed like that. He was like a little boy," she tells news.com.au.

Talking about Elvis is something that Priscilla has spent most of her lifetime doing.

For close to half a century, she has provided insights into the life of one of the music world's most renowned figures, as well as nurturing his legacy, and rearing his only child.

13th February 1968: Elvis and Priscilla Presley with their daughter, Lisa Marie. Photo / Getty
13th February 1968: Elvis and Priscilla Presley with their daughter, Lisa Marie. Photo / Getty

Meeting in Germany when she was 14, a 25-year-old Elvis - who was stationed there after being drafted into the US military - became captivated by the air force captain's daughter.

They began a romance, and Priscilla eventually followed him back to America after his discharge from the army, moving into the east wing of his famous Graceland estate.

For the sheltered 14-year-old, dating the superstar at the height of his fame was a rude introduction to the world of celebrity.

1st May 1967: American rock n' roll singer Elvis Presley (1935 - 1977) cuts his wedding cake with his wife, Priscilla. Photo / Getty
1st May 1967: American rock n' roll singer Elvis Presley (1935 - 1977) cuts his wedding cake with his wife, Priscilla. Photo / Getty

"Yes it was," she recalls. "I'm still not comfortable being in the limelight.

Memphis was pretty good about protecting him and letting us live our lives. But in California though, we'd be lying out by the pool in our backyard and hear the rustling of trees and, sure enough, the paparazzi would be hiding behind them.

Outside an airport terminal building, fifteen-year-old American Priscilla Beaulieu stands amid a group of fans as she says goodbye to her then-boyfriend (and future husband). Photo / Getty
Outside an airport terminal building, fifteen-year-old American Priscilla Beaulieu stands amid a group of fans as she says goodbye to her then-boyfriend (and future husband). Photo / Getty

"You'd always be on guard, always looking around. I don't think you ever get that comfortable being in the limelight. Sure, there are a lot of people who love it, but it still doesn't seem normal to me."

In 1967 the pair married eight years after their first meeting and one year later, their daughter, Lisa Marie, was born. Having literally grown-up within the walls of Graceland, Priscilla's identity was tied inextricably to his.

"Oh definitely, yes!" says the youthful looking 71-year-old.

Rock and roll singer Elvis Presley poses for a family portrait with his parents Vernon Presley and Gladys Presley in 1937 in Tupelo, Mississippi. Photo / Getty
Rock and roll singer Elvis Presley poses for a family portrait with his parents Vernon Presley and Gladys Presley in 1937 in Tupelo, Mississippi. Photo / Getty

"I realised that - towards my mid-20s - that I would go out with people and didn't really have much to offer. I couldn't comment on things, because outside of my life with Elvis I didn't really know anything. I had to start editing what I was saying, I had to start being careful with what I said, because I didn't want to betray Elvis in any way. I found that people were more interested in his life - and still are - so, it made me clam up."

Divorcing in 1973 after five years of marriage, a 27-year-old Priscilla remained close friends with the legend, raising Lisa Marie together, until his death in 1977.

While an adult and a mother, her breakaway from Elvis and life at Graceland put her on a path of self-discovery.

Wedding photos of Elvis Presley to Priscilla on May 01,1967. Photo / Getty
Wedding photos of Elvis Presley to Priscilla on May 01,1967. Photo / Getty

"I had to start discovering who I was," she explains. "Because, and still to this day, I'm very influenced by everything he said. But I've been able to decipher now and realise, 'oh, that's Elvis, not me.'"

Part of this rebirth involved stepping out of Elvis's shadow and into the spotlight herself.

After her divorce she notched up various TV guest appearances, before landing the part of Jenna Wade Krebbs in 1983 on soapie sensation, Dallas - a role she held for five years.

Swapping the small for the big screen that same year, she made her debut in the first Naked Gun movie, co-starring alongside Leslie Nielsen. Her turn in the hit franchise would span three movies and six years.

American singer and actor Elvis Presley (1935 - 1977), circa 1956. Photo / Getty
American singer and actor Elvis Presley (1935 - 1977), circa 1956. Photo / Getty

"It was all by accident really," she says of her acting career. "I got one offer, and then another one and so on. I don't like having to be afraid of something - I want to face it and take the challenge, so I wound up in the Naked Gun series being a comedian - and I'm so not a comedian!"

It's this go-getting ethos that saw the redhead garner new fame, this time for her dancing skills as a contestant on the 2008 season of America's Dancing with the Stars.

"Dancing With the Stars was probably my biggest challenge! Facing 28 million people live and thinking: 'what the heck am I doing?'!" she says, laughing. "But it was the best experience in that it changed my life again. It was very frightening, but very rewarding at the same time. It's always nice when you can beat fear."

Priscilla Presley in Memphis, Tennessee, 2006. Photo / Getty
Priscilla Presley in Memphis, Tennessee, 2006. Photo / Getty

While her screen credits are illustrious, when quizzed about whether her acting career could be due for a resurgence, Priscilla doesn't see a screen comeback any time soon.

"Not really," she says. "If it was the right role and if it was a project that really touched me, then I would probably do it. I haven't really come across anything I've fallen in love with. But then, I'm not really pursuing it either.

"I have other things that I'm working on. I'm doing a stage show called An Evening With Priscilla Presley and I'm getting some great feedback. It's only now that I'm able to do this, whereas I wouldn't perhaps a couple of years ago. I've come to terms with a lot of things."

It's this strength and ability to face her fears that has undoubtedly came in handy during her daughter, Lisa Marie's, current messy separation and ensuing custody battle.

Filing for divorce from guitarist Michael Lockwood in June 2016 after 10 years of marriage, court papers show that her estranged husband is now also facing charges of child abuse and neglect.

Breaking her silence on the subject in February, Priscilla confirmed that she had taken custody of her eight-year-old twin granddaughters, Harper and Finley. Taking to her Facebook account, she posted a picture of the twins playing in a pool and said:

"There is lots of confusion, commotion and concern from all the talk circulating. Let me put this to rest ... the girls have not been in foster care and never will be. The girls have been with me and will be until all this is sorted out."

While Priscilla is forced to live in the spotlight and to give commentary on her private life on social media. She's adamant that her former-hubby - who was notoriously private - wouldn't be doing the same if he were alive today.

Newlyweds Elvis and Priscilla Presley, who met while Elvis was in the Army, prepare to board their private jet following their wedding. Photo / Getty
Newlyweds Elvis and Priscilla Presley, who met while Elvis was in the Army, prepare to board their private jet following their wedding. Photo / Getty

"I could not see him doing that at all!' she says, giggling when asked about whether he would be on Twitter and Instagram. "He just never got into the fame thing. He performed, but if you look back he hardly did any interviews.

"He did what he was supposed to do, but he wasn't into it. He was a very private person. I definitely can't see him on social media. We've joked about this before with some of the inner-circle, saying that 'Elvis would never be on Facebook!'

"He just wasn't that guy. He was so much more into his art and music than being Elvis Presley."

Preserving his musical legacy became Priscilla's life's work after the icon's death in 1977. A mission that has also parlayed into a company that turns over millions of dollars annually.

"We thought we might manage five years of tours when we opened (Graceland) in 1982," she says. "But the fans kept coming. Last year we welcomed our 20 millionth visitor and are about to complete a $140 million expansion."

This insatiable appetite for all things Elvis has led to the most recent project - a global arena tour entitled, Elvis: The Wonder of You. Featuring performance vision of the late-performer via a series of state-of-the-art screens specially designed for the tour, and backed by a full 40-piece symphony orchestra, the show is set to tour nationally in Australia in May and June following on from a sellout run in the UK.

"Elvis never appeared outside of the US," she explains. "Other than briefly in Canada. So this gives audiences in Australia, and the world, a chance to see what he was like as a performer and why he's so beloved throughout the world. I know that he's got a lot of fans in Australia!"

Indeed, January's annual Elvis Festival in Parkes, NSW celebrated its 25th year with record crowds of more than 22,000 Elvis fanatics, so the fanbase for a national arena tour is clearly there. And though Priscilla - even 40 years on from his death - is still very much living in the shadow of her iconic former-husband, she doesn't have any regrets about her life.

"It was an amazing experience," she says, earnestly. "And I don't regret it. It has made me a better person, I've had challenges I never would have had, and I've had to up my game to be prepared for things I never would have had to. While it has meant that my life hasn't been 'normal', I've just accepted it all."

- news.com.au

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