Priscilla Presley chat with Katie Couric
during Elvis Week 2002 at Graceland about her life with
August 13, 2002. On the 25th anniversary of this death Elvis
is still larger than life.
A remixed version of an Elvis tune is currently climbing the
charts. Even the weekend wedding of his daughter Lisa Marie
marrying actor Nicolas Cage gets the attention accorded a
superstar. There's one person who knows better than anyone
else about the lasting impact of Elvis Presley's power and
personality. She shared his love, his wild life, his troubles,
and her memories. Priscilla Presley talked to Katie Couric
about her life with Elvis.
KC: His was a voice she'd heard since childhood - a voice she'd come to depend on, even live for. On August 16, 1977 that voice had been silenced forever. For Priscilla Presley, it was a phone call just around 2 p.m. (Los Angeles time) from a close friend.
Priscilla Presley: "I had a feeling that something was wrong. It was a very dreary day. And I walked out thinking, I don't even want to go out of the house today. And I went back into the house and that's when I heard. The telephone call revealed that Elvis was, in fact, in the hospital - or on his way - and that he had died. There was a void there that I never thought could be filled. There was an emptiness. I remember thinking, 'How in the world do I go on with my life knowing that he's not here?'"
KC: Elvis Presley - singer, actor, icon. He was the man she loved, but almost always shared with the rest of the world.
Priscilla Presley: I was not only taking care of the home, but I took care of him in every way possible. I catered to him. I nurtured him. I babied him. He was my life.
KC: The story of how a starry-eyed 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu won the rock-n-roll superstar's heart has become nearly legend itself. It began in 1959 in Germany, where her father, a career Air Force officer, was stationed. Elvis was already a singing sensation with 17 straight million-selling singles, and four hit movies on his resume. But it was Elvis' swinging pelvis on the "Milton Berle Show" that didn't fly with this Air Force captain.
KC: So your dad said, 'No more Elvis.'
Priscilla Presley: Yes. They're watching it. You know. So we can't watch this. Of course, I'm looking behind, you know, the door to make sure I got to glimpse and you know, it was fascinating."
But Elvis was in the Army now, also stationed in Germany, and a chance meeting at a family friend's dinner party was Priscilla's date with destiny.
KC: Were there instant sparks?
Priscilla Presley: Well, he started teasing me at first. And I did not like it because he was teasing me about my nose. My nose was turned up and at that time I was very insecure and very self-conscious of my nose. You know, he had a great charm about him and he was really paying a lot of attention to me. A lot.
KC: As early as age 24, Elvis had already developed a dependency on prescription drugs.
Priscilla Presley: Well, at that time, you have to remember, taking a pill and especially prescribed by a doctor, you know, wasn't bad. You know. It was like, 'Here's what you need. And this will help you.' And because it was prescribed by a doctor it was okay.
KC: After returning home from Germany, Elvis sought to slow down the rumors. At a press conference Elvis said: "There was a little girl I saw quite often over there... her father was in the Air Force. And there were pictures made of her. But there was no big romance. The stories came out, 'The Girl He Left Behind' and it wasn't like that. I have to be careful when I answer a question like that."
KC: He invited you to L.A. where he was filming a movie.
Priscilla Presley:That was probably the most difficult time, because having to convince my parents.
KC: But you were determined.
Priscilla Presley: Of course I was. I mean, you know, I was in love. And he was very charming and very forceful and very convincing.
KC: He was very good at schmoozing your parents, wasn't he?
PP: He was good at schmoozing anyone.
KC: It paid off. Priscilla's parents relented. And before long, Priscilla had moved into Elvis' Memphis mansion at Graceland, under the watchful eyes of his father and grandmother. There, Elvis would transform his teenage treasure.
Priscilla Presley: You know the black hair, the bouffant look, was almost like a little bad girl look.
KC: Kind of like Rizzo in Grease.
KC: Did you ever look in the mirror, Priscilla, and say, 'Who is this person?'
PP: I liked it.
KC: You liked it!?
PP: I liked it. Oh, my gosh! It was quite glamorous. It was really, 'I'm hot.'
KC: You thought your were hot?
PP: But hey, I was in… like the showgirls in Vegas.
KC: But he was sort of nit-picky wasn't he? Was he critical of your appearance?
PP: At times he could be very critical. He didn't like prints on me. He didn't like stripes. He didn't like boldness. He said I was petite and that was taking away from my looks."
KC: He sounds very controlling.
PP: Well, I mean, he was, but you know, as controlling as he was, he was very, very charming.
In her 1985 autobiography, "Elvis & Me," Priscilla revealed how Elvis' daily dose of fame and fortune conflicted with his strong Pentecostal values. Amidst pervasive rumors of sexual encounters with sultry Hollywood starlets, Elvis was adamant Priscilla remained a virgin until their wedding night.
KC: But having said that, you all had a lot of fun together didn't you?
PP: We did...
KC: In other ways. In fact, you write in your book, Priscilla, 'Instead of consummating our love in a usual way, he began teaching me other ways of pleasing him. We had a strong connection, much of it sexual. The two of us created some exciting and wild times.
PP: Now I'm really embarrassed...
KC: I'm sorry. My goal is to make you blush at least once.
Finally, at age 21, Priscilla officially shed the nickname "Live-in Lolita" and became known as Mrs. Elvis Presley. Then on February 1, 1968, nine months to the day of their marriage, their only daughter Lisa Marie was born. They were happy times. Elvis had a perfect little girl and Priscilla, his perfect little wife. Almost.
PP: I couldn’t even cook!
KC: I guess not from the story you tell about your lasagna.
KC: It would be Priscilla's first and last attempt at cooking and she invited Elvis' entire entourage to Graceland for an Italian candlelight dinner she'd been preparing for days. It was her mother’s recipe - a meal fit for a king. Not!
PP: When Elvis started to eat the lasagna and he had a really hard time. He asked for a steak knife to cut it…
And I'm going, you know, I thought he was joking me. And he finally got into it and it broke… because I had forgotten to cook the lasagna. I just laid it down and put the sauce on top of it…It was so embarrassing.
KC: The laughs didn't last long. By the early 1970s, years of reading bad movie scripts and singing what he thought were tired old songs were beginning to take their toll on Elvis.
PP: He was very unhappy with his career at that time. And when Elvis was unhappy, believe me, everyone was unhappy.
KC: Elvis had become an absentee husband and father. In seven years, he'd performed 1,094 shows in 130 cities. Finally, even his devoted Priscilla strayed from their six-year marriage. They divorced on October 9, 1973.
KC: When you think back about why it ultimately fell apart, what would you say was the main reason?
PP: It was more that his career was going down again and he was tired of the songs. He was tired of the routine. And there was a point where he just kind of gave up. He couldn't face being 40. And he resorted to stimulants. There's a dark side there, a really dark side.
KC: Was it scary?
PP: It was scary because I also had a daughter to raise and it was a lifestyle that really wasn't conducive to a family.
KC: Where did you find the self-confidence to go forward and say, 'Hey! You know, I'm going to do some things with my life too. It's not all about Elvis.
PP: I used to think it was all about Elvis. I really didn't have any confidence at all. I think the answer to that is I just threw myself into it. I didn't even question doing it. I just had to do it.
After Elvis, Priscilla transformed herself. She started her own clothing boutique. Then she had a five-year run on the primetime juggernaut "Dallas." She even took a tumble on the big screen, co-starring in the "Naked Gun" trilogy. But arguably her greatest professional achievement was truly personal. Priscilla was determined to save Elvis' legacy - and her daughter' s inheritance.
KC: Priscilla, when Elvis died, he didn't leave much money, did he?
KC: And Graceland was almost lost.
PP: It was a shock to all of us.
KC: How could that be?
PP: Well, he was very extravagant. He spent everything, really, that he had. And he really, he splurged. It's as simple as that.
KC: So using her savvy sensibilities as a businesswoman, Priscilla made the decision to open Graceland to tourism in 1982. On the verge of bankruptcy then, today, Graceland reportedly earns the Presley estate $15 million every year.
KC: Do you find it at all ironic that you are the person really responsible for saving Graceland and preserving Elvis' memory?
PP: Do you know I don't really look at it that way? I just look at it, as it's something that I had to do. I had this vision that really, Graceland is suited for a king and it is his castle. And people really should see it, as he loved it.
On August 16, 2002 at Graceland is where Priscilla and Lisa Marie will spend the 25th anniversary of Elvis' death - the place where she believes Elvis’s presence will always be felt and that unforgettable voice will always be heard.