The tragic real-life story of the Presley family

Elvis Presley left his mark on the world of rock 'n' roll — and America in general — serving as an icon for generations to come. There's no denying that the King is a pop-culture legend, a man who revolutionized the music industry with his hip gyrations and risqué stage presence — a stark contrast to those who came before (sorry, Bing Crosby).

In 1967, Elvis wed his only wife, Priscilla Presley, in a relatively private ceremony, as revealed by People. "It was a very innocent time," recalled Priscilla of their courtship. Don't be fooled, however, as that's where the tranquil imagery of the smiling couple ends. In the years that followed, even after Elvis' untimely death in 1977, the public was still fascinated with his life — and that of his family, too.

From Lisa Marie Presley's multiple failed marriages to Priscilla's experience with a plastic surgeon from hell, the Presley family has been through a lot — and that's just checking in to this Heartbreak Hotel. It's time to sullenly take off our blue suede shoes and take a seat for the Presley family's tragic real-life story.

Elvis Presley was born into poverty

Elvis Presley's upbringing was not the kind you would expect for the future King of Rock and Roll. According to Mississippi History Now, the future "Jailhouse Rock" crooner was born on January 8, 1935, "in a two-room shotgun house in East Tupelo." At the time, the neighborhood was sometimes referred to as the "roughest town in north Mississippi."

Although they didn't have much, Elvis' parents, Gladys and Vernon Presley, still gave their son an abundance of love. "My love for my son began even before he was born," Elvis' father shared with Good Housekeeping in 1978 (via All That's Interesting). "At that time there was almost nobody poorer than my wife Gladys and me. But we were thrilled and excited when we learned that we were going to be parents," he added.

Unfortunately for the happy couple and their baby boy, bliss didn't last long. By the time Elvis was three, his family home, which had been built by Elvis' father, uncle, and paternal grandfather, was taken away after Vernon landed in prison "for altering a four-dollar check." Although Vernon was gone for eight months, Elvis was surely affected after he and his mother had to move in with extended family in Tupelo. According to one of his cousins, "his father's imprisonment was traumatic" for the future star.

Elvis Presley's twin brother died right before he was born

Elvis Presley wasn't an only child. In fact, he actually had an identical twin brother. According to History.com, his brother, Jesse Garon, came into the world "about 35 minutes" before the future crooner, yet unfortunately, he was stillborn. As the outlet writes, "The next day, Jesse was buried in an unmarked grave in nearby Priceville Cemetery."

Elvis would go on to talk about his brother throughout his career, and as Peter Whitmer, author of the 1996 psychological biography The Inner Elvis explains (via the Billings Gazette), the singer's mother, Gladys Presley, always thought that Jesse's death was "the crucible that forged [Elvis'] 'destiny to do great things.'"

Nevertheless, losing Jesse still affected the King deeply. Elvis' close friend, Linda Thompson, quoted the singer on a bizarre dream that he told her about, wherein Thompson was Elvis' brother: "I came out first, and you smothered to death trying to save me." As Mississippi History Now explains, "losing a twin can deeply affect [...] the surviving twin. Elvis no doubt later yearned for a brother to help him through the rough spots of his life — of which there were many."

Elvis Presley was "near hysteria" after his mother passed away

Elvis Presley's mother, Gladys, gave birth to her son on January 8, 1935, shortly before dawn. According to Elvis Australia, earlier that morning, she delivered another boy, Jesse Garon, who was stillborn. As the outlet writes, by the time both mother and son returned home, "it was noticed by family members and friends that she was overprotective of her new born son," perhaps due to a paranoia that something awful would happen to him, as well. Although suffering such a loss can affect both mother and the remaining sibling, (via Mississippi History Now), Elvis and Gladys developed an incredibly strong bond. Gladys was seen as "a strong and supportive presence in [her son's] life," so you can imagine how traumatized the crooner was after she passed away at 46 due to a sudden heart attack.

Per People, the "Love Me Tender" singer had been drafted by the US Army five months earlier, but after Gladys fell ill, he was granted a seven-day leave to see her, two days before the heart attack claimed her. Of her passing, Elvis told the Associated Press (via People), "It broke my heart. She was always my best girl."

During Gladys' funeral on August 16, 1958, the AP reported that her son was "near hysteria" (via Elvis History Blog). Crying throughout the entire service, Elvis was later quoted as saying, "Oh God, everything I have is gone. I lived my life for you. I loved you so much."

Elvis' "official" cause of death was nowhere near the truth

Elvis Aron Presley passed away on August 16, 1977, in his sprawling Memphis property, Graceland, at the age of 42. According to Town & Country, he was found by his girlfriend, Ginger Alden, unconscious in his master suite bathroom. "The last thing that was said to me — I told him not to fall asleep in the bathroom and he said, 'I won't,'" Alden wrote years later in her book Elvis & Ginger (via ET). "He turned, gave me a little wave, walked into the bathroom and I found him a little while later. It was a devastating day."

So, what happened? According to People in 1980, Elvis' death certificate stated that his death was caused by "hypertensive cardiovascular disease associated with atherosclerotic heart disease." Simply put, a heart attack. Some fans (and one ABC-TV news producer), didn't believe the sudden tragedy, claiming his death was related to "a lethal combination of powerful prescription drugs." It was Tennessee's chief medical examiner Jerry Francisco who brushed off those claims.

Only days after the King's sudden passing, Francisco stated to the American Medical News (via People), "Elvis Presley died of heart disease, and prescription drugs found in his blood were not a contributing factor. Had these drugs not been there, he still would have died."

The reason for Elvis Presley's actual death was a deadly cocktail

While Elvis Presley's official death certificate claimed he died of a heart attack, the real truth is a lot messier. After the King's cause of death was released to the public, many pathologists criticized Tennessee's chief medical examiner Jerry Francisco, who issued the official death certificate. According to Town & Country, "Multiple doctors involved reportedly argued that the musician's cause of death should have been attributed to a toxic combination of pharmaceuticals."

As it turned out, like many other stars of his time, Elvis heavily abused a variety of prescription medications. In fact, when the toxicology report came back several weeks after Elvis' passing, his blood "reportedly contained high dosages of, among other things, the opiates Dilaudid, Percodan, and Demerol, as well as Quaaludes and codeine." Considering that the Presley family requested a private autopsy, the details surrounding Elvis' cause of death were sealed afterward.

It was only later that two other pathologists involved would admit to the "official" cause of death being a cover-up. As PBS so perfectly put it, "After all, how would it look if the rock star who President Richard Nixon awarded a special badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs had died of a drug overdose?"

Elvis' personal physician never received any jail time for his deadly prescriptions

While it has been common knowledge for decades now that Elvis Presley died of a drug overdose, things weren't so clear back in 1977 when he passed away. Thanks to the family requesting a private autopsy, the public had to rely on word of mouth for any information. "I have never seen a human being in my life abuse drugs like Elvis," recalled the crooner's stepbrother, David Stanley, to People in 1980. "I am talking about prescribed drugs. Some of the doctors were out for the almighty buck."

One doctor, in particular, was the biggest culprit. Remarkably, Elvis' physician, Dr. George Nichopoulos, got away with prescribing the star with "more than 5,000 narcotics capsules and pills alone" in only the last seven months before he died. In 1980, in front of a state trial, Nichopoulos finally faced charges for Elvis' case, along with 19 other overprescribed patients. Per People, "the most startling charge [was] that he prescribed 12,000 pills for Elvis in the 20 months before his death." Shockingly enough, by 1981, he was acquitted of all charges, per The New York Times.

Decades later, in 2018, Priscilla Presley spoke out about her husband's drug addiction in Elvis Presley: The Searcher (via the Toronto Sun), claiming that it was actually during Elvis' time in the Army that he developed a drug addiction. "They gave [drugs] to the soldiers over there to keep them awake," Priscilla explained, adding, "that's how he started."

Lisa Marie Presley lost her dad at the age of nine

"I had a harsh introduction to death early on," Elvis Presley's daughter, Lisa Marie, mused on Larry King Weekend in 2002. Sure enough, the King's only child couldn't have put it better: She was only nine years old when her father died. From there, Elvis' longtime ex-girlfriend, Linda Thompson, recalls getting a call from the child. "[Lisa Marie] used to call me from time to time because we were very close," she recalled to Larry King. "She had this, you know, desperate tone in her voice [...] She said, 'My daddy's dead. My daddy's dead.'"

The tragedy of her father's death clearly affected Lisa Marie for years to come. She brushed off describing the night of Elvis' passing to Larry King, explaining, "I don't usually go into this, the night of the death thing and all that." While the starlet is known to keep the details of the fateful night under wraps, there's no denying she went on to battle her own demons well into adulthood.

In 2003, Lisa Marie admitted to Paper (via the Daily News), "[I used] cocaine, sedatives, pot and drinking — all at the same time. I just couldn't be sober." The years that followed didn't get any easier, as 2009 saw the death of her ex-husband, Michael Jackson, while in 2020, Lisa Marie's son, Benjamin Keough, heartbreakingly committed suicide at the age of 27.

There are some disturbing similarities between Michael Jackson and Elvis

It was only fitting that Lisa Marie Presley married the King of Pop. After all, she was a part of music royalty herself as Elvis Presley's only daughter. So, in 1994, Lisa Marie and Michael Jackson tied the knot, yet their fairy tale abruptly ended in 1996, "barely 20 months" after the couple had wed (via CNN).

Jackson and Presley's marriage was in the tabloids incessantly. Per The Washington Post, speculation among the masses even began that the relationship "was a publicity stunt designed to save the damaged image of Jackson, who was facing allegations of [child abuse]." It didn't help that the pair "reportedly lived apart in their respective mansions," either.

Out of all the gossip, however, what perhaps may be the most haunting piece of information was the "Beat It" singer eerily foreshadowing his own death — by relating it to his former father-in-law. As Presley revealed on her MySpace blog after Jackson's death in 2009, "Years ago Michael and I were having a deep conversation about life in general [...] he may have been questioning me about the circumstances of my father's death" (via The Telegraph). According to the starlet, he then calmly delivered the following: "I am afraid that I am going to end up like him, the way he did." 

Michael Jackson passed away at the age of 50 from cardiac arrest, after having been given the drug propofol by his doctor.

Priscilla Presley spoke out about her unhappy marriage

Elvis and Priscilla Presley were together for a remarkable 18 years — having met in 1959 when the crooner was 24 and Priscilla a mere 14 years old. According to People, the King enjoyed his innocent romance — one that wasn't consummated until their marriage in 1967. As Priscilla told Barbara Walters in 1985, it was her "inexperience" that attracted the superstar: "When you're young [...] I listened to him and I did what he said."

Sure enough, as the starlet wrote in a piece penned for People, she was "molded" into being his perfect woman. "I wore the clothes, hairstyle and makeup of his careful choosing," Priscilla explained. Per Biography.com, the actress would go on to describe herself as Elvis' "living doll," with "her hair was dyed black like his, placed in an updo that matched his pompadour."

However, although she was suddenly surrounded by glitz and glam, Elvis and Priscilla grew apart due to his touring, growing pill addiction, and casual encounters with other women while on the road. As Priscilla told People in 1978, "He had to be happy. My problems were secondary. I want[ed] to grow." She asked for a divorce in 1972 and finalized it a year later at the age of 28. The pair remained friends, and as Priscilla recalled to Closer Weekly of his passing in 1977, "It's like the world stood still. I just couldn't believe my ears. Not him. It's still hard."

Has the Elvis curse gone away?

There's no denying that the Presley family has suffered a large amount of tragedy. Along with the most obvious, Elvis Presley's death, the rest of the brood's dirty laundry and turmoil have been splashed upon countless tabloid covers, so much so, in fact, that in 2004, Priscilla Presley declared (via the Irish Examiner) that she wouldn't "live through [the] Elvis curse again" after her son, Navarone Garibaldi, was found by the police in possession of illegal drugs.

Her daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, has seen her own share of misfortune, from losing her son, Benjamin Keough, to her four failed marriages (including one to Michael Jackson and her startlingly short 108-day union with Nicolas Cage), to her own struggles with addiction. "We're all going to screw up," Elvis' only daughter wisely told Marie Claire in 2007. "The important thing is, do you learn from it and not do it again? [...] Can you change? Because, Lord knows, I've f*cked up many, many times."

It's not just the Presleys who believe in the curse, however. Insiders and fans alike have speculated about the cause of all the family's suffering. As one source succinctly summarized to American tabloid the Globe, "It's history tragically repeating itself."

Priscilla Presley saved the family from a mountain of debt

Elvis Presley wasn't exactly known to be stingy with his money. As Forbes notes, "Estimates place his lifetime earnings anywhere from $100 million up to one billion dollars." While you'd think the King would have set up his family for a life of opulence after his passing, that wasn't the case. 

According to the Los Angeles Times, his estate was worth $4.9 million, while "the cost of maintaining Graceland was about $480,000 a year — most of it going to taxes, insurance and 24-hour security for Elvis' gravesite." If that wasn't enough, most of the royalties from Elvis' songs went to RCA, not his estate. Bluntly put, without Elvis being alive to tour, make appearances, or star in movies, the family found themselves in trouble. Thankfully for the Presleys, the singer's ex-wife, Priscilla, stepped in, turning Graceland into a tourist attraction, and the property was worth over $75 million by 1989. 

Per Forbes, in 1993, Priscilla's daughter, Lisa Marie, turned 25, at which point she became eligible to directly inherit the money, per Elvis' will. Money woes plagued the starlet, however, and within ten years, she claimed $100 million was gone. Instead, she had a mere $14,000 in cash and owed millions in back taxes and credit card debt, according to Forbes. Yet again, Priscilla came to the rescue, selling her own Los Angeles mansion to help her daughter with her crippling debt.

The untimely passing of Elvis' grandson Benjamin Keough

Lisa Marie Presley's eldest child, Benjamin Keough, lived a life relatively under the radar — considering that he came from such a high-profile family. Not much information is out there about Keough, yet Elvis' grandson suddenly found himself going viral in June 2019 after his mother shared a photo of herself and her children on Twitter. As fans clambered to comment about the striking resemblance between Keough and the late King, it begs the question: Was the sudden spotlight too much to handle?

On July 12, 2020, TMZ broke the news that Benjamin Keough was found dead from an apparent suicide at the young age of 27. As Lisa Marie's manager, Roger Widynowski, told the tab, "She is completely heartbroken, inconsolable and beyond devastated but trying to stay strong for her 11 year old twins and her oldest daughter Riley. She adored that boy. He was the love of her life."

Keough's friend, musician Brandon Howard, spoke to People about the tragedy, citing the Presley family's legendary pop culture legacy as a source of Keough's struggles. "That kind of pressure is definitely a part of what happened," he explained, adding, "It's almost like you're pressured into having to be a musician, having to be an actor [...] You never know what triggers it. You never know ... It's so random."

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.