Presley, Lisa Marie
Lisa Marie Presley
Singer and songwriter
Born February 1, 1968, in Memphis, TN; daughter of Elvis (a rock 'n' roll star) and Priscilla (Beaulieu) Presley; married Danny Keough (a musician), 1988 (divorced, 1994); married Michael Jackson (a pop singer), May, 1994 (divorced, 1996); married Nicolas Cage (an actor), August 10, 2002 (divorced, 2002); children: Danielle, Benjamin (from first marriage). Religion: Scientology.
Began writing songs in her 20s; signed a deal with Capitol Records, 1998; released To Whom It May Concern, April, 2003; also manages estate of her late father, Elvis Presley, serving as president of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc.
As the only child of Elvis Presley, the undisputed king of rock 'n' roll, Lisa Marie Presley has been in the media spotlight since the day she was born. Naturally, music has always been a theme in her life. As a youngster, Presley performed for her father, standing on a coffee table singing and imitating his moves. After his death, however, her music fell silent and she spent years toying with the idea of producing her own album, although she was nervous about the comparisons that would be made. After a series of high–profile failed romances, including a 1994 marriage to pop singer Michael Jackson, Presley came into her own. In her mid–30s, she gathered the courage to follow in her fabled father's footsteps and released To Whom It May Concern. The album debuted at No. 5 on Billboard's Top 200 chart in April of 2003 amid mostly positive reviews. It went on to sell more than 500,000 copies and was certified gold. The album even generated enough attention to land Presley on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Presley was born February 1, 1968, to Elvis and Priscilla Presley, who separated when she was four. As a child, Presley split her time between her mother's Los Angeles, California, home and her father's sprawling 14–acre Graceland estate in Memphis, Tennessee. Elvis adored and spoiled his daughter, outfitting her with jewels and pint–sized fur coats. Once, he took her aboard his private jet and flew her to Idaho so she could play in the snow. Likewise, Presley adored her father and liked to entertain him by playing songs on the piano. Other times, she grabbed a microphone and entertained herself in front of a mirror. "My dad would catch me," she told Rolling Stone's Chris Heath. "I'm sure he got a kick out of it. He'd put me up on the coffee table in front of everybody and make me sing."
Life at Graceland was lax, full of freedom and luxury. Because of his tours and night concert schedule, Elvis often slept during the day, while Lisa Marie ran free. She spent a lot of time driving around the estate on a golf cart. Her father's fame afforded her a lot of fun but also a certain amount of fear. Fans and curiosity–seekers continually climbed over the front gate and rushed the estate. Frequently, Presley found strangers hiding among the trees in the woods that surrounded the home. Presley may have been scared at times, but she was also mischievous. "I was awful," she told Heath in Rolling Stone. "People would give me cameras to go and take pictures, and I'd take money and I'd say I was going to take a picture of my dad, and then I'd throw the camera somewhere."
Life away from Graceland was starkly different. Whereas Elvis was an easy–going parent, Priscilla, the daughter of a military officer, was strict and demanding. Lisa Marie struggled to make sense of these two worlds. One habit she developed as a child was the practice of keeping her watch perpetually set to Tennessee time, even when she was in California, where that left her two hours behind.
Presley's life changed on August 16, 1977, when Elvis Presley died of heart failure, the result of drug use. Nine–year–old Presley was at Graceland at the time of his death and has always refused to talk about that night. According to People, reports at the time said Lisa Marie Presley screamed, "What's wrong with my daddy?" as he lay slumped on the bathroom floor. The period following her father's death was a scary time for Presley. Thousands of fans flocked to Graceland and came through the house to catch one last glimpse of "the king" before he was buried. It was not until a few weeks later, at summer camp, that Presley finally broke down and began grieving.
After her father's death, Presley lived in California full–time, residing in Beverly Hills with her mother and her mother's new love, Marco Garibaldi. She became a brooding, lonely child. Speaking to Newsweek writer Lorraine Ali, Presley summed her life up this way: "I feel like I've lived four lives in one. I dealt with death early on. It wasn't just my father, it was my grandma, my grandpa, my great–grandfather, my aunts—all in a two–year period. I didn't have much of a runway into life. I was, like, a deep, dark kid who was always melancholy."
When she was young, Presley's mother joined the controversial Church of Scientology and by the time Presley was eleven, she attended the Scientology–run Apple School. By 13, Presley was using drugs and rebelled by dressing like a punk rocker. She said the albums Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall by rock group Pink Floyd became her bibles.
Presley also attended the exclusive Los Angeles–based Westlake School for Girls, although she dropped out in eleventh grade and fell deeper into drugs. At 18, however, Presley came to a crossroads one morning when she awoke to find a bunch of drugged–out people on her floor, including a cocaine dealer. "I was on a 72–hour bender," she told Paper magazine's Peter Davis. "Cocaine, sedatives, pot, and drinking—all at the same time." Something inside Presley snapped. She told everyone to get out, then drove to a local Church of Scientology and asked for help. As she told Paper, "They jumped in, not in a rehab way. It wasn't that. It was like, 'Help me I want to stop. I want to know what I'm doing here. I want to know why I'm here. What's wrong with me? I want answers to all these questions.'" Presley credits Scientology for helping her find the answers and become a better person. Soon after her breakdown, Presley took up residence in the Scientologists' Celebrity Center on Sunset Boulevard. There, she met aspiring rocker Danny Keough. Married in 1988, the couple have two children, Danielle and Benjamin. They divorced in 1994, but remain friends, sharing custody of their children. In recent years, Presley has lived in the gated community of Hidden Hills, located near Los Angeles, and Keough has lived nearby.
For years, Presley toyed with the idea of creating an album. Though she had a recording studio in every house she lived in, she kept her singing to herself because she was scared of not being able to live up to her father's legacy. By 21, Presley began writing songs and Sony wanted to sign her to a record deal. However, she got pregnant with her second child and decided it was not the right time to go public with her songs.
Throughout her adult years, Presley continually made headlines for her disastrous marriages. In May of 1994, when she was 26, Presley married pop singer Michael Jackson in a secret ceremony in the Dominican Republic. The two had been friends for years, but critics suggested the marriage was a publicity stunt by Jackson, who at the time faced allegations of sexual misconduct with a 13–year–old boy. They divorced in 1996. Presley later called the marriage a mistake, but insisted her intentions were genuine. "I actually did fall in love with him, but I don't know what was on his menu," she told Ali in Newsweek. "I can't say what his intentions were with me.… My mother was like, 'Timing—hello! Wakey, wakey!' But I rebelled against my mom, of course, and tried really hard not to think like that, not to believe that."
Her relationship troubles continued when she got involved with actor Nicolas Cage. They dated in 2001 and separated at the start of 2002. They got back together, then married on August 10, 2002. However, by November 25 of that year, Cage had filed divorce papers. Presley later called this marriage a big mistake.
While her relationships played out in public, Presley kept her songwriting and singing abilities quietly to herself. But as the 20th anniversary of her father's death approached in 1997, Presley felt pulled toward making her voice public. A memorial event was in the works and Presley wanted to do more than just walk around and shake hands. She recorded some vocals and had them mixed with her father's hit song, "Don't Cry Daddy." On the 20th anniversary of his death, about 9,000 fans heard the re–mixed soundtrack, which accompanied a video that superimposed the father–daughter duo. Afterward, producer David Foster, who put the video together, encouraged Presley to start making records.
Through Foster, Presley met producer Glen Ballard, best known for his work with Alanis Morissette. Foster signed Presley to his Java Records label at Capitol Records in 1998. The two worked together at first, but Presley eventually turned to other producers and spent several years fine–tuning the songs. "I needed to do it that way," Presley told Tamara Conniff of the Chicago Sun–Times. "I needed to do it under the radar. Just because I'd signed the record deal didn't mean I was anywhere near ready to put a record out. It just gave me the time to sort of find my way. I think the songs changed quite a bit. They all had face–lifts."
After nearly five years of work, Presley released the album, To Whom It May Concern, in April of 2003. Foster described the album this way to People, "Her music is a little on the dark side. She's gritty, edgy, moody." The songs resonated with audiences and received fair radio play, debuting at No. 5 on Billboard's Top 200 chart. Later, the album was certified gold for selling more than 500,000 copies. Presley told the Seattle Times she is proud of her accomplishment: "I was this tabloid phantom prior, this sensationalistic image. And then when they hear you are going to do a record, they think, 'Oh, some celebrity kid trying to do a record.' I think they expected something far from what I delivered. They didn't have a clue to what it was about."
Listening to the songs, it becomes clear the country–rock album is largely autobiographical. In the song "So Lovely," Presley mentions her kids and in "Lights Out," she alludes to Graceland and keeping a watch two hours behind. In "Nobody Noticed It," she scolds the media for its scathing reports of her father's last days. Speaking to Paper magazine, Presley called making the album "enormously cathartic and therapeutic. Each song represents something. I pull from something and purge it out, and, oddly enough, it goes away when I'm done."
Despite the positive album reviews, Presley's first tour, where she opened for Chris Isaak, was less than riveting. For starters, she had never performed in front of anyone until she made the album. She did not have the luxury of most artists, who can perfect their skills over time under less scrutiny. For Presley, there were evaluations every night from reviewers looking into her dark eyes, high cheekbones, and twitchy mouth hoping to see more than a mere resemblance to the king. Also, Presley was ill with stomach problems—and the critics were waiting. "It was like a crucifixion to some degree," Presley told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Dave Tianen. "I was on the frying pan. Every reviewer was there every night. That's not going to happen with the normal opening act."
Besides songwriting, Presley keeps busy as president of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Inc. As the only heir to her late father's estate, her worth is estimated at more than $150 million. Once in awhile, she returns to Graceland. Presley's upstairs room—along with her father's—has not been touched and remains the same as it was when she was a child. Though public tours of Graceland are offered, the upstairs has never been open. Speaking to Rolling Stone, Presley said her visits bring "a beautiful sadness. It's either really painful or it's very comforting—it goes either way."
While Presley acknowledges some mistakes in her past, waiting three decades to produce an album is not one of them. This album is about her, not her birthright. It is also about finding her place in the world. "I didn't want to do anything just based on who I am," she said in a biography posted on the William Morris Agency's website. "The stuff I've been offered in my life is insane and I didn't do any of it because I didn't care. 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."
To Whom It May Concern, Capitol Records, 2003.
Chicago Sun–Times, September 29, 2003, p. 41.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Wisconsin), September 25, 2003, p. 1E.
Newsweek, April 7, 2003, pp. 60–62.
Paper, June/July 2003, pp. 52–57.
People, May 5, 2003, pp. 81–86.
Rolling Stone, April 17, 2003, p. 52.
Seattle Times, September 19, 2003, p. H4.
"Lisa Marie Presley," William Morris Agency, http://wma.com/lisa_marie_presley/Bio/LISA_MARIE_PRESLEY.pdf (February 7, 2004).