Priscilla, the new film written, directed and produced by Sofia Coppola is now in theaters. Critics have praised the film based on the memoir by Priscilla Presley, who was the wife of Elvis Presley, for showing a “clear-eyed look at the often toxic blend created by mixing first love and fame”, while Priscilla herself said to The New York Times that “Sofia did an amazing job”.
“It’s very difficult to sit and watch a film about you and about your life and about your love”, she added. However, the movie only covers her relationship with Elvis from a modern perspective and leaves out some important elements from her life, like her acting career, her own problem with drugs and the legacy she has built beyond the acclaimed singer. Here’s a few keys to understanding the life of Priscilla Presley.
The age gap
On September 13, 1959, Priscilla Beaulieu (born in 1945 in Brooklyn, New York) met Elvis Presley at a party at his home in Bad Nauheim, Germany. While he was 24 years old at the time, she was only 14. Elvis was stationed there during his military service with the U.S. Army and Priscilla was living in Germany with her family as her stepfather was in the Air Force. She was invited to the party by a mutual friend.
Both started a relationship, which she said wasn’t sexual until she was older. According to her memoir, Priscilla said Elvis opened up to her and developed a strong intimacy with her. Priscilla recently told Rolling Stone Magazine: “Elvis would pour his heart out to me every way in Germany — his fears, his hopes, the loss of his mother, which he never, ever got over — and I was the person who really, really sat there to listen, and to comfort him [...] He also respected the fact that I was 14 years old. We were more mind and thought, and that was our relationship”.
In recent years, commentators have highlighted the age gap between the couple, with some saying that, under the current political climate, it seems like Elvis groomed Priscilla into a relationship. She recently said in an interview with Piers Morgan: “I mean, you know Elvis was, like I said, he was very unique, but he was… I don’t know about grooming me, I didn’t take it at that, I never heard the word”.
However, her daughter Lisa Marie Presley was worried about Elvis’ portrayal in Sofia Coppola’s film after reading a script in which it seemed more clear that the singer was grooming the young girl when she met her. “I am worried that my mother isn’t seeing the nuance here or realizing the way in which Elvis will be perceived when this movie comes out,” Lisa Marie Presley wrote in emails to Coppola. “I feel protective over my mother who has spent her whole life elevating my father’s legacy. I am worried she doesn’t understand the intentions behind this film or the outcome it will have.”
Priscilla’s first encounter with drugs was during a trip with Elvis to Las Vegas. She said that she started taking amphetamines and sleeping pills to keep up with the singer’s frantic lifestyle. This was in 1963, before they started living together in Graceland. She was 18 years old. However, there are no reports of her developing an addiction during that time.
In her memoir, she opened up about struggles with prescription drug addiction following her divorce from Elvis in 1973. According to her, this was a difficult period marked by feelings of loneliness and the challenge of finding her identity outside of being married to the legendary singer. During this time, she turned to prescription drugs, which eventually led to dependency and addiction issues. She later sought professional help and stopped consuming.
Presley has been open about her personal struggles with addiction and has also spoken up about Elvis’ and their daughter Lisa Marie’s substance abuse and how it affected them. “Throughout my life, I’ve had the heartbreaking experiences of family and friends falling victim to alcohol and drugs”, she said in a 2003 interview.
Elvis Presley died after years of prescription drug abuse and unhealthy eating habits, which compromised his health. He was 42. Lisa Marie also struggled with substance abuse throughout her life. She died this year at 54 from a cardiac arrest.
Her acting career
Although Priscilla had shown interest in modeling and dancing, Elvis didn’t want her to have her own career and told her: “A woman’s place is in the home looking after the man”, a then-popular saying. However, after their divorce in 1973, she pursued a career in movies and television.
She made her TV debut as co-host of the program Those Amazing Animals in 1980 and in 1983 she got her first professional acting role in the TV show The Fall Guy. One of her most recognized roles was her portrayal of Jenna Wade on the popular TV series Dallas. She joined the cast in 1983 and became a recurring character until 1988, when she left the show. Presley is perhaps best known for her involvement in the Naked Gun film series. Her role as the leading lady opposite Leslie Nielsen in these comedy films showcased her comedic timing and acting abilities.
While her acting career may not be as extensive as her contributions to preserving the legacy of Elvis Presley, Priscilla’s performances in these well-known productions have left a mark on the world of film and television.
As the former wife of Elvis Presley, Priscilla played a vital role in preserving Elvis’s legacy and Graceland. Following Elvis’s death in 1977, she became the executor of his estate and, along with other family members, was involved in managing and overseeing Graceland. Priscilla contributed to turning the land into a museum and a major tourist attraction, ensuring that it remained a place where fans could experience the life and legacy of Elvis Presley.
Under her guidance, Graceland became not just a private estate but a cultural destination, drawing thousands of visitors annually. Priscilla’s involvement in the preservation and promotion of Elvis’s legacy has had a significant impact on the tourism and cultural landscape of Memphis, as Graceland remains a focal point for fans and enthusiasts of Elvis Presley’s music and legacy.
On April 27, 2012, she was named godmother of the largest river steamboat ever built at its home port in Memphis. On July 22, 2022, Theatre Memphis honored her contributions to Memphis art and tourism with a gala, “Honoring Priscilla Presley: The Artist, The Woman”, which included a live musical tribute.
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