The daughter of Elvis Presley struggled in and out of the spotlight, yet she found a way to stand out and flourish on her own.
Children of celebrities are frequently unfairly subjected to public scrutiny, especially when the celebrity is the focus of lurid tabloid articles. Lisa Marie Presley, who died on Thursday at 54 after apparently going into cardiac arrest at her home, was aware of this truth from an early age.
She was a child when she remembered fans lurking in the trees and trespassing into her family’s mansion, Graceland. Her retort was astute and defiant. “People would give me cameras to go take pictures, and I’d take the money and say I was going to take a picture of my dad, and then I’d chuck the camera somewhere,” she told Rolling Stone in 2003.
Lisa Marie’s youth, however, was marred by tragedy. She was at Graceland when her father died in 1977 and witnessed the futile attempts to save his life. In the same Rolling Stone interview, she stated unequivocally that the events of that day had a profound impact on her.
It’s heartbreaking to think of a nine-year-old witnessing something so awful, especially given she had no choice but to become a public figure. (Among other things, Lisa Marie was regularly in the headlines in the years following her father’s death due to the legal wrangling over Elvis’ estate.) Priscilla Presley sought to shield her daughter from the strains of being Elvis’s daughter, but Lisa Marie understood her renowned name preceded her.
“I’ve always had a strength that intimidates people,” she told Playboy in 2003. “It’s a safeguard. Every child in every school would dislike me and believe I was arrogant. But I wasn’t.”
Yet Presley never distanced herself from her father’s music or legacy; she was always proud of him and used her celebrity to help others. She established the non-profit The Presley Charitable Foundation, which supports Presley Place-New Orleans, a living space for homeless families, and The Dream Factory, a Make-a-Wish-like organization.
Presley loved music as a child and even performed for her father. She also enjoyed his music, telling Rolling Stone she gravitated toward “the gloomy [songs] that weren’t particularly a smash on the radio.” As a result, on several anniversaries of her father’s death, she recorded sad but loving posthumous duets with him on In the Ghetto, and I Love You Because.
However, Presley did not pursue a solo music career right away. “I didn’t want to learn the ropes in front of everyone; I couldn’t afford it,” she explained to Playboy. “I thought I’d get more attention than anyone else releasing a debut record.”
Despite the pressure, she didn’t back down from writing about herself in her 2003 album To Whom It May Concern. Lights Out, a modest pop song in the US and UK, talked about Graceland’s graveyard and “keeping [my] watch two hours behind” in honor of her father. Nobody Noticed the more subdued Nobody Noticed. Meanwhile, it was a touching tribute: “All that you had to bear / I think nobody noticed.”
Presley matched these songs with frank assessments of her own life. “In this record, I walked back through a lot of the dark passages of my life,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “I wanted people to recognize me based on my music, not what they read in the newspapers.”
Musically, she forged her path, collaborating with pop-rock producers like Glen Ballard and Clif Magness on To Whom It May Concern and co-writing a song with Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan. As a result, the album has a modern pop-rock feel with overtones of country and blues.
On her second album, Now What, released in 2005, she essentially took over songwriting duties. Despite including a cover of Don Henley’s infamous Dirty Laundry, the album saw Presley sounding much more at ease as a poet and singer. She embraced a more direct rock sound (including a soulful interpretation of the Ramones’ Here Today, Gone Tomorrow) that suited her smokey, bluesy vocals. A live duet with Pat Benatar on the latter’s Heartbreaker only added to her rock’n’roll credentials.
Storm & Grace, Presley’s final studio album, was another step ahead. T Bone Burnett produced the album, full of dusky Americana and blues songs with elaborate arrangements and a definite country-soul vibe. Presley also found her voice as a vulnerable singer, especially on wonderful, stripped-down ballads like How Do You Fly This Plane?
In retrospect, it’s difficult not to draw connections between Storm & Grace and her father’s music; the record even prompted Presley to make her Grand Ole Opry debut. “I think it’s a really unique mix of a lot of different things,” she told Billboard in 2012. “I’m not sure if it’s Americana. It’s bluesy. Everything inspires me.”
In addition to music, family became an important part of Presley’s life. She had two children with her first husband, Danny Keough: Benjamin and Riley. The latter has developed into a well-known performer, now appearing in the highly anticipated streaming version of the novel Daisy Jones & The Six, and has won a Caméra d’Or at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival for her directorial debut, War Pony.
Unfortunately, Lisa Marie’s life became tabloid fodder due to many high-profile romances. Presley first came under fire for her marriage to (and later divorce from) late music sensation Michael Jackson, followed by a brief relationship with Nicolas Cage. This keen interest in her life extended to her religious beliefs (she was a Scientologist before leaving the group in 2014) and substance abuse (a teenage dalliance with drugs and opioid addiction). Her teenage twin girls, Harper and Finley, were the subject of a public custody fight with her ex-husband Michael Lockwood in recent years.
Lisa Marie endured another unspeakable tragedy when her son Benjamin committed suicide in 2020. Presley was candid about the impact of her son’s loss and her great sorrow in an essay published in 2022 on National Grief Awareness Day. Nonetheless, she emphasized her fortitude. “I’ve been dealing with death, sadness, and loss since I was nine. I’ve seen more than my fair share of it, yet I’ve made it this far.”
Indeed, viewing Lisa Marie Presley’s life as a sequence of disasters is reductive and unfair. The premiere of Baz Luhrmann’s renowned Elvis film was a ray of hope that seemed to point to better times. Presley was at Graceland last Sunday, celebrating her father’s birthday, before heading to the Golden Globes on Tuesday night, where she interrupted Austin Butler’s red-carpet interview.
Butler praised the Presley family for “opening your hearts, your memories, your home to me” after winning the Oscar for best actor in a drama motion picture for his portrayal of Elvis. He specifically thanked Lisa Marie and Priscilla. The former appeared moved, echoing her comments at Graceland and elsewhere. “I thought the movie was great,” Lisa Marie stated the previous Sunday in Memphis. “I’m quite proud of it, and I hope you are as well.”
Details of what was discovered at Lisa Marie Presley’s death scene have emerged…
Before her death, Presley reportedly complained of stomach issues.
Before Presley was transported to the hospital, her heart was restarted at the scene.
Page Six verifies she coded multiple times before her death.
It was also reported that no narcotics were discovered at the scene.
However, Page Six adds that it is awaiting confirmation of the formal cause of death.
Her death is currently thought to have been caused by cardiac arrest.
The same thing that killed her father, Elvis.
During this difficult moment, our thoughts are with the Presley family.
Rest in peace, Lisa.