By Laurence Lerman / New York City
I was six or seven years old when I first became aware of Elvis Presley—the music, the movies, his presence in the world, a presence that had long been in place prior to my arrival.
At about the same time, I became aware of his newly born daughter Lisa Marie Presley, in all of those pictures of her as a swaddled baby being held by the King of Rock ’n’ Roll and his pretty bouffanted wife Priscilla. And saw Lisa Marie grow into an adorable little girl, her legendary father dying dramatically at the age of 42 when she was only nine years old. And she continued to pop up in pictures as I began to regularly listen to Elvis’ music throughout my teenage and young adult years.
It wasn’t until Lisa Marie was a young adult that I recognized she had a life beyond the snapshots as simply Elvis’s daughter, a tumultuous life that came with her being the only child of one of the most famous people in the world.
Lisa Marie died in a Los Angeles hospital last Thursday (Jan. 12), after suffering cardiac arrest at her home in Calabasas, Calif.
Her death occurred two days after she was seen and interviewed while attending the Golden Globe awards ceremony with her mother Priscilla. They were there to see Austin Butler win the prize for Best Actor in a Drama for his starring role in Baz Luhrmann’s popular biopic about her dad’s life, Elvis. Lisa Marie seemed unwell in the red carpet interview with Extra that was widely replayed after her death.
Though she had to weather her parents’ internationally publicized divorce at the age of five and the blow of her father’s unexpected death four years later, her younger years may have been her happiest, or possibly her least turbulent.
Lisa Marie was married four times, each of the marriages ending in divorce, beginning with musician Danny Keogh, whom she wed at the age of 20 and had a son, Benjamin Keough, and a daughter, actress Riley Keough. She was subsequently married to musical legend Michael Jackson for two years (1994-96), actor Nicolas Cage for another two (2002-04) and guitarist/producer Michael Lockwood in 2006, from whom she filed for divorce in 2016. Lockwood was father to Lisa Marie’s fraternal twin girls, Harper and Finley, who were born in 2008.
According to Lisa Marie, it was during the recovery from her daughters’ difficult birth that she became addicted to prescription opioids and painkillers, a problem she claimed to have overcome over the subsequent decade, in part through her embrace of Scientology.
But tragedy followed when her son Benjamin, who was rumored to also have struggled with drugs and alcohol, took his own like in 2020 at age 27.
The suicide of her only son hit Lisa Marie especially hard, a period she wrote about movingly last year in an essay for People magazine to mark National Grief Awareness Day. “Grief has to get talked about. I’m sharing my thoughts in the hopes that somehow, we can change that,’ she wrote.
There were many other sad episodes in Lisa Marie’s adult life, but she appears to have garnered satisfaction in her pursuit of a musical career. She released three rock albums between 2003 and 2012, as well as the single “In the Ghetto” in 2007. A gospel-tinged country-rock Elvis song from 1969 that was re-recorded to commemorate the 30th anniversary of his death, the new version of “In the Ghetto” featured Lisa Marie in a “duet” with her father. Recorded to raise money for the not-for-profit Presley Charitable Foundation, the song reached No. 1 on the iTunes sales chart that year.
Elvis’ legacy always played a major role in Lisa Marie’s life. It was a legacy that she always respected and stood by, even as she inherited his entire estate at the age of 25 and sold of the bulk of it in 2005. She did, however, keep control of Graceland, Elvis’s famed Memphis mansion and 13.5-acre estate, where he and his parents are buried. Her son Benjamin was also buried there and Lisa Marie will be laid to rest next to him. Heartbreak Hotel, indeed.
Laurence Lerman is a film journalist, former editor of Video Business--Variety's DVD trade publication--and husband to The Insider's own Gwen Cooper. Over the course of his career he has conducted one-on-one interviews with just about every major director working today, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, and Werner Herzog, among numerous others. Once James Cameron specifically requested an interview with Laurence by name, which his wife still likes to brag about. Most recently, he is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online review site DiscDish.com.