Lisa Marie Presley obituary

Daughter of Elvis Presley who spent her life in the spotlight and forged her own career as a singer

As the only child of Elvis Presley, Lisa Marie Presley, who has died aged 54, spent her life in the spotlight, much of it reflected from her father. She spent years as fodder for the tabloids, a frenzy fed by four marriages, including one to Michael Jackson at the apex of his notoriety and, later in life, delineated in three albums that first dissected her history, and later drew on her father’s musical roots. Her inheritance was not only musical; as his sole heir she became hugely rich, and in nominal control of his lucrative estate.

Her life in the tabloids began, literally, at birth, with the first photos of her proud parents, Elvis and Priscilla (nee Beaulieu), whom the singer had courted since meeting her when she was 14 and a colonel’s daughter at the US army base in Germany where the world’s most famous private was serving. Lisa Marie was born in Memphis, Tennessee, nine months to the day after her parents married. She spent her early years at Graceland but, when she turned five, she moved with her mother to Los Angeles; the Presleys divorced in 1973. Lisa Marie visited Memphis regularly, where her father doted on her, once flying her in a private jet to Idaho so she could see snow for the first time and play in it for an hour. She was at Graceland when Elvis died in August 1977.

Elvis Presley and his wife, Priscilla, leaving Baptist hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, with their baby daughter, Lisa Marie, in February 1968.
Elvis Presley and his wife, Priscilla, leaving Baptist hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, with their baby daughter, Lisa Marie, in February 1968. Photograph: Bettmann Archive

In Los Angeles, her mother was more disciplinarian, but having converted to Scientology enrolled her at the church’s Apple school. Lisa Marie left the Westlake school for girls when she was 17. Her life was increasingly wild until, the next year, she awoke after a drug-filled party and went to the local Scientology church. She wound up living at their Celebrity Centre on Sunset Boulevard, and there she met the musician Danny Keough. They married at the Scientology headquarters in 1988.

On her 25th birthday, in 1993, she inherited the Elvis Presley Trust, which included a business company and a charitable foundation, which were set up by Priscilla as Elvis’s executor. It was worth an estimated $100m at that point, though when Elvis died it had been worth only about $5m, and owed more in taxes. Lawsuits against Elvis’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, helped restore some of its wealth, and Lisa Marie became a notable philanthropist.

Lisa Marie Presley as a child with her parents, Priscilla and Elvis, 1970.
Lisa Marie Presley as a child with her parents, Priscilla and Elvis, 1970. Photograph: Sipa/Rex/Shutterstock

In 1994, after six years of marriage and the birth of a son and a daughter, Lisa Marie went to the Dominican Republic, divorced Keough and a few weeks later married Jackson. Begging for privacy, they returned to the US and began their honeymoon at Trump Tower in New York. Lisa Marie had first met Jackson when she was seven, at a show in Las Vegas, but they became friendly in 1992. When accusations emerged of child abuse at his Neverland estate, where, as at Graceland, everything revolved around him, Lisa Marie felt “he was wrongly accused and, yes, I started falling for him ... I wanted to save him.” But in another interview she claimed she “didn’t know what was on his menu”. She had felt Jackson was in “a situation comparable to mine” and did not want to marry another man “who gets trampled because they just become Mr Presley”. They divorced in 1996.

In 1997 she appeared in a music video, Don’t Cry Daddy, in which she sang a duet with her father – her vocals laid over his original recording – to mark the 20th anniversary of his death. She signed a record deal with its producer, David Foster, and spent the next five years preparing for her first album, To Whom It May Concern (2003), produced by Alanis Morissette’s producer Glen Ballard. She wrote virtually all the lyrics and co-wrote the music, detailing the personal toll of her family and celebrity. It went to No 5 on the US charts, selling more than 500,000 copies, and a single, Lights Out, reached No 18, and 16 in the UK. A dark portrait of the shadow of Graceland, it also spoke to her father – “I still keep my watch two hours behind”, the time difference between Memphis and LA.

Lisa Marie Presley and Michael Jackson arriving at Budapest airport in 1994, a few months after their marriage.
Lisa Marie Presley and Michael Jackson arriving at Budapest airport in 1994, a few months after their marriage. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

By then, on the 25th anniversary of her father’s death, in August 2002, she had married the actor Nicolas Cage, who, in the 1992 film Honeymoon in Vegas, had joined the skydiving Flying Elvises impersonators. Their honeymoon was short; Cage filed for divorce that November. Lisa Marie said Cage considered her just another Elvis souvenir.

Her second album, Now What (2005), reached No 9 in the charts, and her cover of Don Henley’s Dirty Laundry became a hit single. In 2006 she was in another hit video, a celebrity-studded cover of the traditional God’s Gonna Cut You Down (which her father had recorded as Run On) done as a black and white version of Johnny Cash’s 2003 rendition.

Lisa Marie Presley and Nicolas Cage in Los Angeles; after their brief marriage, she said Cage considered her just another Elvis souvenir.
Lisa Marie Presley and Nicolas Cage in Los Angeles; after their brief marriage, she said Cage considered her just another Elvis souvenir. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock

That year she married Michael Lockwood, the guitarist in her band, with Keough as the best man. In 2010 they moved to a mansion in Rotherfield, East Sussex, not far from the Scientology church’s headquarters. In 2012 she released a third album, Storm and Grace, a downbeat, more country album, produced by T Bone Burnett and reminiscent of Cash’s darker later work.

She and Lockwood had twin daughters, but announced they were divorcing in 2016. Her divorce papers claimed she was $16m in debt, though in 2004 she had sold 85% of the Elvis Presley Trust, retaining Graceland and its contents. In 2018 she filed a $100m lawsuit against her former business manager, Barry Siegel; and also sang another duet with her father, on the title track of Where No One Stands Alone, a compilation of Elvis’s gospel recordings.

When her first album was released, Lisa Marie had said: “I didn’t want to do anything just based on who I am. I was doing this because my heart’s in this. This is what I’m good at doing. I’m good at putting myself in a song. That’s it.” In 2020 her son, Benjamin, killed himself at her house in Calabasas, outside Los Angeles. She largely withdrew from public life, as if nothing more could be put into song.

But in the week before her death she travelled to Graceland to mark her father’s 88th birthday, and then, with her mother, attended the Golden Globe ceremony in Los Angeles, where Austin Butler won the best actor award for playing her father in Baz Luhrmann’s movie Elvis.

She is survived by her mother, and by her three daughters, Riley, from her first marriage, and Harper and Finley, from her fourth.

• Lisa Marie Presley, singer and songwriter, born 1 February 1968; died 12 January 2023


Michael Carlson

The GuardianTramp

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