Priscilla Presley: 12 Essential Facts

Would Priscilla Presley — formerly Priscilla Beaulieu — be famous today if she hadn't caught the eye of a young Elvis Presley? It's impossible to tell, and there's no need to: At just 14 years old, she got the King's attention in a big way and found herself going from a perfectly ordinary teenager to not-quite-center stage for the making of music history.

Although their marriage would ultimately be short-lived, it's clear that she never put her time with Elvis behind her. In 2015, she sat down with The Guardian to talk about his unpredictability, that story about him pulling out a gun ("It's funny now, but scary at first. There was no warning," she revealed), and what he'd want to see become of his music had he lived. While it's easy to assume that Graceland must have been a glamorous place to essentially grow up, it doesn't seem like that was always the case. She recalled: "I remember sitting down doing my homework, and when I would look up at him, he would slap me on my forehead and say, 'Don't do that, it gives you wrinkles on your forehead.' I didn't even think about wrinkles back then!"

She went on to say that even as she returned to Graceland decades later, she could still see, feel, and experience it as it was in the heyday of their relationship — and his career. What else has she said about what went on behind the scenes? A lot.

She grew up in a close-knit military family

In her memoir, "Elvis and Me," Priscilla Presley wrote about the impact of constantly moving, living wherever the Air Force stationed her father. By the time she was 11, they had already averaged a new city every other year, and that understandably made it hard to make friends. She described her mother as thoroughly devoted to her family and her father as strict but selfless. 

Then she discovered something shocking. She wrote that she was snooping through family photos and heirlooms as only kids can do when she came across a box, a folded flag, and a photo of her — as a baby — with her mother and a man she didn't recognize. When she asked her mother about the photo, her mother confirmed that he was her biological father, and he had been killed in a tragic, World War II-era accident.

Presley moves on pretty quickly, but according to biographer Suzanne Finstad's "Child Bride: Priscilla Presley – From Elvis's Teen Lover to Michael Jackson's Mother-in-law," Jimmy Wagner had been planning on spending one last weekend with his parents, young wife, and baby daughter before shipping out. After he was killed in a weather-related plane crash on his way to see them, Presley and her mother stayed near his family for a time. When Presley was just over two, her mother met and married Joseph Paul Beaulieu, but there was a condition: Jimmy Wagner would never be mentioned again.

Her later ambitions have been traced back to her mother

Biographer Suzanne Finstad paints a dismal picture of life for Priscilla Presley's mother, Ann Wagner. When her friend was interviewed for "Child Bride: Priscilla Presley," she explained: "She was a bride, a mother, and a widow, within a year's time." It's no wonder, then, that she struggled with depression, with jobs she didn't want, but needed, with declining health. Knowing she had to care for her daughter pulled her out of it, and she — her own dreams of being a model not too far in the past — turned to dressing her adorable daughter in the prettiest clothes with the perfect hair.

Presley was still a baby when her mother started entering her in beautiful baby contests, and even as she struggled to make ends meet with jobs she hated, she hoped that her daughter's beauty would find them a way out. Finstad observed: "The lesson for Priscilla was clear: looking pretty was her raison d'etre."

Finstad suggests the entrance of Paul Beaulieu into their lives was one made more of convenience than of immediate love. He was stable, he could provide for them, and he could allow his new wife to focus all her attention on her daughter. He, too, seemed to reinforce the idea that beauty was key: According to Ann's cousin, Margaret, "He liked the attention he got being with Priscilla, because she was so beautiful."

Her love of music started when she was young

Elvis Presley's impact on the nation's musical landscape needs no recap, and it's worth mentioning that his meteoric rise to fame happened well ahead of meeting his future bride. In her memoir, "Elvis and Me," Priscilla Presley recounted stories of how her classmates at Del Valle Junior High were all head-over-heels for him, but she was less impressed. She liked him, sure, but it wasn't the wild obsession that many teens across the country felt.

For Suzanne Finstad's biography, "Child Bride: Priscilla Presley," she looked into the impact that music had on her life — and it was somewhat unexpected. Music had been incredibly important: Long before Elvis shimmied onto the national stage, his future bride was already finding that music presented her with a much-needed way to escape a family life that was always sort of vaguely uncomfortable. Her family listened to opera, and she particularly fell in love with Mario Lanza. She'd often daydream of rescuing him from the lonely sadness she heard in his songs, and when she met Elvis, she'd discover that gave them a connection: He was one of Elvis' favorite singers.

She bonded with Elvis over a shared loneliness

There's been plenty of speculation over the age-gap relationship that's now considered to be wildly inappropriate: Especially when one's 14. So, what does that one-time 14-year-old object of Elvis' affections have to say about what they had in common?

Priscilla Presley wrote in her memoir, "Elvis and Me," that she and her family moved to West Germany when her stepfather was stationed there by the military. They were isolated by language and location: With housing scarce, they were forced to rent an apartment far from other American families. Far from home and with no friends, she wrote that she understood loneliness — and when she met Elvis, she was shocked to find a kindred spirit.

The story of how it all happened is famous: Spotted by Currie Grant, Priscilla was escorted to Elvis' West German home for a meet-and-greet. Initially, she said, he wanted to know what the music scene was really like and if he'd been forgotten, and after she reassured him that wasn't the case, she wrote that he got honest. He was struggling after the loss of his mother, who died when she was just 46 years old. Not only that, but his father — who had gone to Germany with him — had started seeing someone, a soon-to-be-divorced mother of three. She wrote: "He was a world-famous entertainer, a great star, and yet a terribly lonely man." And that, she understood.

She focused on what she considered ultra-feminine and ultra-masculine

As unthinkable as it is in today's world of paparazzi and a complete and total lack of privacy, Ladies Home Journal made a pretty stunning observation when they interviewed Priscilla Presley in 1973 (via Elvis Australia): few people knew what she looked like. They used phrases like "aristocratic bearing," "grace and poise," and "the most beautifully kept secret in Hollywood," to describe her, and throughout the interview, she repeatedly referred to her tendency to do and experience things through the lens of what she saw as masculine and feminine.

After moving into Graceland, she found ways to fill the long days that he was gone. For a bit, that involved taking karate lessons, but when she started to feel it didn't make her feminine enough, she opted for ballet instead. That was along with her attendance at the Patricia Stevens Finishing School, where she said she most importantly learned everything she needed to know about makeup.

The couple bought a half-a-million-dollar home in Holmby Hills, and it fell to her to decorate it. She explained that most of it was "the way he wanted it: antiques, very manly." She described a lot of suede, brass, and gaming tables, adding, "You've got to do what a man likes. He's got to live in it, and he's not going to be happy with anything feminine, that's for sure." There was one exception, though: the kitchen, which he didn't care about.

Clothes were always super-important to her

Everyone has those things that define them, and for Priscilla Presley, it was always her desire to dress really well. She told Vogue that her passion for clothes came from her mother: "She was beautiful, always immaculate, always dressed up, and I loved her clothes."

She went on to lament the loss of the idea that when you went out of the house, you dressed up: "We live in a world now that is unbelievable; I don't get it. It seems like people have lost pride. I don't know where dignity is. What happened to us?"

She went on to say that one of the reasons that she ended up divorcing Elvis was that she wanted to get out into the world. While they were together, most of her clothes were designed by a friend named Olivia Bis, so the next logical step? Opening a boutique together, named Bis & Beau. Presley described the pride she'd felt not only in the clothes but a customer base that included big names like Barbra Streisand. The Streisand Styles Files saved some of the receipts from the shop. It's not for the faint of heart: one receipt for a chiffon shirt, lace jacket, lace blouse, two hats, a slip dress and top, a wrap dress, and another dress came to a whopping $1,107. That was in 1974: In 2022, that would set customers back a cool $6,749.

She's been candid about what she went through during pregnancy

Everyone has their own reaction to a positive pregnancy test, and according to what Priscilla Presley wrote in her memoir, "Elvis and Me," she wasn't thrilled. The intention to have children was there, but she felt it had all happened way too soon: "I was still uncertain about how my unexpected pregnancy would affect our marriage. ... I wanted to be beautiful for him; instead, my debut as Elvis's bride was going to be spoiled by a fat stomach, puffy face, and swollen feet."

While that's not quite what some would say happens alongside the miracle of life, she went on to say that Elvis had often told her "women use the excuse of their pregnancy to let themselves go," so she felt she had no choice but to do some things that are incredibly unhealthy by today's standards.

She started out by losing 10 pounds, then restricting herself to a single meal a day, along with the option of an apple or a hard-boiled egg. She stopped eating dairy — thinking she could prevent stretch marks — and wrote that they were still uncertain. They were in Arizona when he asked her if she wanted an abortion, and even after she refused, it was still rocky. Around the 7-month mark, he suggested they split. It was a short-lived suggestion, but it devastated her.

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She cheated on Elvis after their daughter was born

Priscilla Presley got pretty candid in her memoir, "Elvis and Me," writing that even though she was astounded by her daughter every day, her relationship with Elvis grew more and more tense. With the benefit of hindsight, she wrote that she suspected it had something to do with how close he had been to his mother, and now that she was a mother, too, there were uncomfortable feelings there. A diary entry reflected on his regular use of sleeping pills: "Another lonely night," she had written.

The days go on, regardless of what's going on in anyone's personal life, and she wrote that even as he was getting back to work filming his next movie, she searched for ways to fill her days. Dancing — and particularly ballet — had always been a favorite, so she began taking dance lessons again. Her teacher brought out the best in her, she wrote, and then, "I had a brief affair and decided to end it."

She went on to enroll in karate classes, and she wrote that gradually, her relationship with her karate coach (pictured) turned into another affair. She wrote about how she realized that she was the only one who could change: "From my adolescence, [Elvis] had fashioned me into the instrument of his will. I lovingly yielded to his influence, trying to satisfy his every desire." And now, it was no longer enough.

Her other longtime, serious relationship was complicated

After her divorce from Elvis, Priscilla Presley did move on. Her next long-term relationship was complicated, though, and according to Suzanne Finstad's "Child Bride: Priscilla Presley," the tabloids had a field day when she and new beau Marco Garibaldi were photographed getting up close and personal in Brazil. Garibaldi told stories of a life that 100% sounds like something out of a Netflix movie: He was a screenwriter and a director, and he had been recruited into a top-secret intelligence agency when he was younger. They moved in together about the same time as the release of her memoir.

Fast forward just a bit and Presley stayed in the headlines with the announcement that she was pregnant. Still, those same tabloids had other things to say, uncovering an ex-wife who claimed everything her fiance said was a lie, including his name. He wasn't Marco Garibaldi from a long-established Italian family, but Marco Garcia from Brazil, the ex said, and she also claimed his life goals included attaching himself to a rich woman.

Presley called off the planned wedding, but the couple stayed together. The birth of their son, Navarone Anthony, was predictably high-profile, and when they were interviewed about their new arrival, journalists were quick to point out that their home contained no photos or memorabilia relating to Presley's famous first husband. She explained, "I would never do that to Marco or Navarone."

Her daughter's crush opened the door to Scientology

Those who end up getting involved in Scientology tend to stay involved in Scientology, and Priscilla Presley has been a devout follower for decades. According to Suzanne Finstad's "Child Bride: Priscilla Presley," her involvement with the church started around Lisa Marie Presley's birthday in 1978. Lisa Marie, like every 10-year-old in the late '70s, wanted to meet John Travolta. So, Presley made it happen.

Her own friendship with Travolta developed during that birthday meeting, and Presley says that's also when he introduced her to Scientology. She liked the idea of a science-based faith, saying "He told me ... how there's a strong ethical bond with the universe. ... So, I joined. I joined blindly, because there was a connection there that I felt for it." Although she decided to join, there's a bit of an ironic footnote: Scientology had previously courted Elvis, who refused because he saw it as a get-rich-quick scheme, and thought they were only trying to package religion in a way that would sell books. 

Over the years, there have been occasional rumors that Presley has decided to break off the decades-long relationship she's had with Scientology. She, however, has repeatedly denied it, issuing a formal statement disputing the rumors in 2017.

No, she didn't want her daughter to marry Michael Jackson

It was sort of a weird thing when Lisa Marie Presley and Michael Jackson announced they were going to be getting married, and without rehashing just why it was so weird, let's look at what Priscilla Presley had to say about it. She was absolutely against it from the beginning but for some surprising reasons.

For starters, she told The Guardian that she saw her daughter making the same mistakes she did — namely, marrying someone super-famous, who was never going to be out of the spotlight. She'd been there, done that, and it wasn't the kind of life she wanted for her daughter: "In a strange way, maybe history was repeating itself. ... As her mom, though, I was concerned as I could see it could be a disaster. At that point, the right thing to do would have been to bite my tongue, but I didn't bite my tongue."

She added that she was also aware that Lisa Marie hadn't spent much time in the real world: She grew up in Graceland and then moved to Neverland; her mother wanted her to get some real-life experience first. Presley has also said that she'd always had her doubts for other reasons, too. "You know, I just didn't know if it was authentic or not. I just worried about if she was doing the right thing. I worried about ... his agendas."

She had a hard time watching some parts of 'Elvis'

It's something a relatively small number of people will ever get to experience, and that's seeing their lives reenacted on the big screen. Intimidating? It must be, but when "Good Morning America" sat down with both Priscilla Presley and actress Olivia DeJonge, she had nothing but good things to say.

"So I'm sitting there watching this movie, thinking, 'My God, I wish he could see this." But it wasn't all good, and she also said there were some scenes that were difficult for her to watch — especially when her on-screen counterpart asked Elvis to get treatment for his rapidly-evolving addictions.

She spoke more with "Today" as well, saying that other hard scenes to watch and ultimately relive were the conversations Elvis had with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks). She explained that it had been heartbreaking, living with Elvis as he struggled to shake off the pop culture, heartthrob-on-the-beach vibe — which he was never allowed to do. "I lived the arguments that they had, I lived Elvis trying to explain he didn't want to do the movies with all the girls and the beaches and everything, that he really wanted to do serious things. So living with that, with him, and watching the movie, it brought back a lot of memories."