RIP Lisa Marie Presley, you never stood a chance: MAUREEN CALLAHAN’s searing portrait of loner

R.I.P. Lisa Marie – you never stood a chance: MAUREEN CALLAHAN’S searing portrait of a troubled loner who watched her daddy die – and was haunted by the graveyard in her Graceland garden with the plot waiting for her…

For all the recent talk about royalty and primogeniture, there may be no greater example of its perils than Lisa Marie Presley.

The only child of Elvis, the King of Rock n’ Roll, Lisa Marie felt like she belonged to all of us, and how terribly unfair. She was the little girl who had everything: Her father spoiled her silly, giving her a tiny, bespoke fur coat and real jewels. He named one of his private planes after her, a plane you can tour at Graceland for an extra fee. He would send a car, unannounced, to pick her up at school, and that was the sign she was going on the road with her daddy. He once flew her to Utah just so she could see snow.

She was with her father when he died in his bathroom at Graceland. She saw him on the floor, rolled out of his own vomit, people working to resuscitate him as her grandfather Vernon wailed, ‘Oh God son, please don’t go, please don’t die.’

Lisa was nine years old. ‘What’s wrong with my daddy?’ she asked. ‘Something’s wrong with my daddy, and I’m going to find out.’

She was back at Graceland just four days before her own death, at age 54, from cardiac arrest. She gave a speech; it was January 8, her father’s birthday. Graceland was always a haunted place for her.

‘The backyard of Graceland is a graveyard, basically,’ she told Playboy in 2003. ‘How many people have a family grave in the backyard? How many people are reminded of their fate, of their mortality, every f—ing day? All the graves are lined up and there’s a spot there, waiting for me, right next to my grandmother.’

There was, by her own admission, a dark cloud that followed her. The Presley bloodline is a rough one, shot through with depression, mental illness, heart problems, addiction. Her father was a ‘twinless twin’ — his twin brother Jesse a stillbirth, a loss his mother Gladys never got over. Elvis himself suffered with an existential loneliness that grew in direct proportion to his fame. During his last stay in Las Vegas, in December 1976, he wrote a note that read, in part:

‘I feel so alone sometimes . . . Help me, Lord.’

The only child of Elvis, the King of Rock n' Roll, Lisa Marie felt like she belonged to all of us, and how terribly unfair.

The only child of Elvis, the King of Rock n’ Roll, Lisa Marie felt like she belonged to all of us, and how terribly unfair.

'The backyard of Graceland is a graveyard, basically,' she told Playboy in 2003.

‘The backyard of Graceland is a graveyard, basically,’ she told Playboy in 2003.

Lisa Marie said she had a lot of her dad in her. ‘I know it’s a DNA situation,’ she said. Like Elvis, she masked her more complicated feelings — insecurity, fear, sadness, rage — with drugs and alcohol. She got the good and the bad from him, she said.

‘I hear it nonstop from my family,’ she said. ‘You are just like him. My God, you’re just like your daddy right now.’

And she looked exactly like him: That oval face, the hooded eyes, the pout. It could not have been easy, being the sole heir to the Presley legacy, looking and sounding so much like one of the most unique figures of the 20th century.

Yet she was proud of her father and her lineage. ‘I would never take back any part of who I am or where I came from,’ she said. ‘I would never want to be part of anything else.’

Despite her tortured relationship with fame, Lisa Marie lived a big life: Married young, she divorced her first husband to marry, of all people, Michael Jackson — at the height of his child molestation scandal, no less. They became a freakshow: the kiss at the MTV Video Music Awards — ‘It looked awkward because I wanted out of my skin,’ she later said — the joint TV interview in which Diane Sawyer asked them, point-blank, if they actually had sex, the music video in which a half-naked Lisa appeared with Michael, as if to prove that he was just a normal heterosexual adult male.

‘I started to wake up and ask a lot of questions,’ she said of that time. The relationship with Jacko ‘went downhill pretty quick.’

She went on to marry Nicolas Cage, another Elvis super-fan. That, too, was wild in a Liz Taylor-Richard Burton way, break-ups and make-ups culminating with Cage tossing Lisa Marie’s $65,000 ring over the side of a yacht.

Alas, the diver hired to retrieve it found nothing. Two days later, Cage replaced it with a ten carat yellow diamond. They, too, soon divorced.

She tried to forge her own way, carve her own identity, but seemed resigned to her fate: As the only daughter of Elvis, what should she do but become a singer? And she did, releasing three albums, her last, ‘Storm & Grace,’ very well reviewed. But she always seemed uncomfortable with performing, uncomfortable with her kind of fame, one conferred at birth.

They became a freakshow: the kiss at the MTV Video Music Awards ¿ 'It looked awkward because I wanted out of my skin,' she later said.

They became a freakshow: the kiss at the MTV Video Music Awards — ‘It looked awkward because I wanted out of my skin,’ she later said.

She went on to marry Nicolas Cage, another Elvis super-fan. That, too, was wild in a Liz Taylor-Richard Burton way, break-ups and make-ups culminating with Cage tossing Lisa Marie's $65,000 ring over the side of a yacht.

She went on to marry Nicolas Cage, another Elvis super-fan. That, too, was wild in a Liz Taylor-Richard Burton way, break-ups and make-ups culminating with Cage tossing Lisa Marie’s $65,000 ring over the side of a yacht.

She never really had a chance. Her father’s death was a lifelong trauma. Her mother’s then-live-in boyfriend confessed to having sexual feelings for Lisa when she was a child and, by her account, tried to come into her room at night. She got into drugs, and her mother had Scientologists try to straighten her out. She wound up in and out of the cult.

She married young, at 20, and had two children: her daughter Riley, and her son Benjamin. Her then-husband, musician Danny Keough, never sold her out. The family they built together was Lisa Marie at her most stable.

There was, more recently, a fourth marriage to Michael Lockwood, twin daughters, a horrendous divorce, with Lisa Marie falsely claiming Lockwood possessed child pornography – a claim investigated and dismissed by police.

Benjamin committed suicide in 2020. To look at Lisa Marie after that was to see a light gone out, for good.

Normally quite private, she wrote an essay about her unrelenting grief over losing Benjamin. First published in August 2022, it read, in part:

‘Obviously, no parent chooses this road, and thankfully not all parents will have to become a victim to it — and I do mean VICTIM here. I used to hate that word. Now I know why. I’ve dealt with death, grief and loss since the age of 9 years old. I’ve had more than anyone’s fair share of it in my lifetime and somehow, I’ve made it this far. But this one, the death of my beautiful, beautiful son? The sweetest and most incredible being that I have ever had the privilege of knowing, who made me feel so honored every single day to be his mother? Who was so much like his grandfather on so many levels that he actually scared me? Which made me worry about him even more than I naturally would have? No. Just no . . . no no no no . . .’

Lisa Marie Presley, just like her father: An American original. Rest in peace.

Lisa Marie Presley, just like her father: An American original. Rest in peace.

(Above) The Presley family Riley Keough, Priscilla Presley, Lisa Marie Presley and Benjamin Keough welcome fans during the 75th birthday celebration for Elvis Presley in Memphis, Tennessee January 8, 2010

(Above) The Presley family Riley Keough, Priscilla Presley, Lisa Marie Presley and Benjamin Keough welcome fans during the 75th birthday celebration for Elvis Presley in Memphis, Tennessee January 8, 2010

In what would be the last year of her life, Lisa Marie, poetically, worked with Baz Luhrmann and Austin Butler to cement her father’s legacy, as she saw fit. The Elvis we see onscreen is almost always pure joy, sex, and abandon, his pain glossed over, his life a triumph.

Lisa Marie died as her father did, at home. She had been living with her first husband, Danny Keough, who tried to revive her. She knew her fate was to be buried at Graceland, but in her way, she made fun of it.

‘I’m sure I’ll end up there,’ she said in 2003. ‘Or I’ll shrink my head and put it in a glass box in the living room. I’ll get more tourists to Graceland that way.’

Lisa Marie Presley, just like her father: An American original. Rest in peace.

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