Lisa Marie Presley, who was born into the celebrity spotlight as the only child of Elvis Presley and his wife, Priscilla, and went on to a career as a singer and songwriter with her own headline-grabbing moments, including marriages to pop star Michael Jackson and actor Nicolas Cage, died Thursday. She was 54.
The death was announced in a statement by her mother just hours after Presley was taken to a hospital from her home in Calabasas, Calif.
“It is with a heavy heart that I must share the devastating news that my beautiful daughter Lisa Marie has left us,” Priscilla Presley said in a statement. “She was the most passionate, strong and loving woman I have ever known.”
Throughout her life, Presley noted the feeling of being pulled in two directions. Like many children of superstars, she felt the weight of the past through comparisons with her father and the mythology built by fans.
With Elvis, the aura burned extra bright; he was one of the most celebrated performers in pop music history and his style changed American music with a mix of blues, rock and country. Many fans often pointed out Presley’s resemblance to her father, including the same full lips and hangdog eyes.
At the same time, Presley as a musician felt the pressure to distinguish herself with her own brand. The mix of past and present became a running theme. It was often reflected in her songs and what she described as the legacy of the Presley name: how her personal successes and struggles were amplified by the attention.
“When the first record came out, I don’t think [the tabloids] liked that it did well, and when I did my first tour, they started a whole campaign to picture that I was losing it, that I was gaining weight, that I was miserable, that I was drinking myself into these hysteric fits of eating because of bad ticket sales,” she said in 2005.
“They tried to make it like I was losing, when it was the opposite, and I realised that ultimately they were trying to make me look like what became of my dad.”
As she grew as a performer, however, Presley developed a bluesy and smoky style that drew praise from critics and knowing nods from Elvis fans for many songs that explored the intensity of the public eye and her memories of her father, who died when she was 9.
“Someone turned the lights out there in Memphis,” she sang in “Lights Out” (2003). “That’s where my family’s buried and gone.” In another 2003 song, “Nobody Noticed it,” she wonders whether her father’s old entourage did enough to try to save “the king” from drugs and other abuses to his health in his final, tragic years.
In August 2007, on the 30th anniversary of her father’s death, Presley released a “duet” with his 1969 single “In the Ghetto,” in which she adds her vocals over the original track. She said she had rarely cried over memories of her father, but recounted that she just “lost it” when she heard their two voices together.
“Presley has faced down the demon of great expectations with grace,” Washington Post reviewer Richard Harrington wrote in 2003.
Her life outside music, however, often carried a sense of relentless searching. She married four times, including two years with Jackson from 1994 to 1996. He had recently reached an out-of-court settlement over claims of child abuse in a deal that his lawyers said did not acknowledge any guilt. “I wanted to save him,” she said. “I felt I could do that.”
A 1999 headline in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution called Presley the “princess of the strange but true.”
Lisa Marie's privileged existence:
Lisa Marie Presley was born February 1, 1968, in Memphis - exactly nine months after her parents wed.
From the beginning, Presley’s gilded childhood began an extension of the Elvis legend of Graceland as kind of Xanadu of the Delta. Her father did not disappoint the fans. As Priscilla Presley recounted in her 1985 memoir, “Elvis and Me,” by the time Presley was 4 she was already an expert at manipulating the staff.
“‘I’m gonna tell daddy and you’re going to get fired,’” Priscilla Presley quoted her daughter as saying.
For her 5th birthday, her father bought her a slot machine. At 8, she received a mink coat and a diamond ring, the memoir says.
She once mentioned to her father that she had never seen snow. They hopped in a jet and flew to Idaho for a half-hour of playing in the snow and flew home.
“I just knew that he adored me,” Presley said. “I wasn’t thinking, ‘Oooh, I get to fly,’ or anything like that. I never thought that it was weird or unusual. I just knew he was crazy about me, and that was just him showing his love for me. He was just doing what was in his heart.”
In November 1975, her father named one of his private aircraft, a converted Convair 880 jet, The Lisa Marie, to use while on tour.
After her parents divorced, Presley lived in Los Angeles with her mother but made frequent visits to Graceland. Presley was at the estate when her father died in 1977. She recalled him kissing her good-night hours before he collapsed.
“I just had a feeling,” she told Rolling Stone in 2003. “He wasn’t doing well. All I know is I had it (a feeling), and it happened. I was obsessed with death at a very early age.”
With her father’s death, Presley became a joint heiress of his estate along with her grandfather and great-grandmother. In 1993, she inherited it all, estimated at $100 million.
She sold off most of the estate in 2004, but she maintained an Elvis Presley Charitable Foundation and helped in other relief programs including raising money for people in New Orleans displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
In 1988, when she was 20, she married musician Danny Keough and, less than a month after their divorce in 1994, she married Jackson in a private ceremony in the Dominican Republic. She filed for divorce in 1996, but later said she and Jackson considered reconciling for years after their marriage ended.
In 2000, she met the actor Cage at a party and married two years later; the marriage soon fell apart. In January 2006, she married guitarist Michael Lockwood in Japan. Her first husband, Keough, served as best man. In 2016, Presley filed for divorce.
“That’s part of the problem with my love life,” she once said. “I’m looking for someone similar to him, and nobody could ever compare. He was so extraordinary a presence - not even as an entertainer, just as a person. Yes, he sang well, and, yes, the songs were great, but that was him coming through the music. He was bigger than life - and he still is.”
Presley is survived by a daughter from her marriage to Keough and twin daughters from her marriage to Lockwood. A son, Benjamin Storm Keough, died in 2020 in Calabasas, Calif., of a gunshot wound that the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner’s Office listed as a suicide.
“I’ve dealt with death, grief and loss since the age of 9 years old. I’ve had more than anyone’s fair share of it in my lifetime and somehow, I’ve made it this far,” she wrote in an essay shared with People magazine.
Lisa Marie Presley is a former Scientologist, but later broke with the group.
On Jan. 10, Presley attended the Golden Globes, where Austin Butler’s best actor award for playing her father in “Elvis.”
“I really didn’t know what to do with myself after I saw it,” she told ET. “I had to take, like, five days to process it because it was so incredible and so spot on and just so authentic that, yeah, I can’t even describe what it meant.”
A few days earlier, she was at Graceland to mark her father’s birth anniversary on Jan. 8.
Some of Presley’s songs can appear to take jabs at her troubled relationships such as “Sinking in” (2003) and “Indifferent’ (2003). In others, she took aim at the unforgiving gaze of celebrity-focused media. In 2005, she did a cover of Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry” with its refrain: “Kick ‘em when they’re up/Kick ‘em when they’re down.”
“The song is not just an attack on the tabloids, to be honest,” she said. “It’s like, what is our entertainment? Our entertainment is - whether it be reality shows or people’s demise or having cameras in people’s faces - when there’s something tragic happening.”