Karen S. Schneider
February 05, 1996 12:00 PM

IF THIS WERE TELEVISION—AND rest assured, it soon will be—Lisa Marie Presley would wake with a start, just as Pamela Ewing did a decade ago, and say, “Zowie! Was that a weird dream or what?” The fact is, we the people could have been pinching ourselves nonstop for nearly two years now: What was Elvis’s kid doing eating pizza with Michael Jackson and Michu the circus midget outside a castle in Hungary? Could that really be little Lisa Marie saying, “Yes, yes, yes!” when asked right there on prime-time TV if she was having sex with her husband?

Indeed, fans, it all happened. But take heart: it’s also all over. Last week, in a move that managed to be at once sensation-making and entirely unsurprising, Lisa Marie Presley-Jackson, who turns 28 on Feb. 1, filed for divorce from her superstar husband, asking L.A.’s Superior Court only for the restoration of her maiden name and the right to have Jackson, 37, foot her legal bills.

“This is a no-brainer,” says John Coale, Presley’s attorney. She will keep the estimated $100 million she has inherited from her father’s estate; Jackson will keep the $150-or-so million he has earned in a lifetime at the top of the music charts. “We wait six months. Then they’re divorced,” says Coale. “There’s really not that much to it.”

Tell that to Bubbles the chimp. The strange and complex relationship between the self-proclaimed King of Pop and the only heir to the King of Rock and Roll has been a source of curiosity since the couple secretly married in the Dominican Republic 20 months ago. What led two people from such exotic but distinct social planets to exchange intergalactic wedding vows? Was Presley, a devoted Scientologist, trying to recruit Jackson (not to mention his millions) for her controversial church, as has been reported by columnist Liz Smith? Was Jackson trying to salvage his battered image in the wake of the child-molestation suit he settled with a reported $20 million payoff in 1994? Or, even stranger, were the two actually in love?

Some claim, in fact, to have detected a certain chemistry when the couple got together. “There was a lot of teasing, a lot of kidding around, like any other newlywed couple,” says Jackson family friend and former publicist Steve Manning. Maybe in this age of sexy TV doctors, Presley was turned on by her husband’s habit of wearing a surgical mask. Or maybe not. When they took to the airwaves with Diane Sawyer to declare their mutual attraction before 60 million PrimeTime Live viewers last June, they were often living in separate residences. Instead of setting up housekeeping with Jackson at his 27,000-acre Santa Ynez (Calif.) Valley Neverland ranch, Presley settled into a rustic $2.6 million home 90 miles away in Hidden Hills, a community completely enclosed in gates and patrolled by armed guards.

Why did Presley keep her distance from Jackson? A reliable source close to Presley says, “There are a lot of shady characters around Michael who were upsetting to Lisa. She felt that in their minds she was part of a machinery to re-create his image.”

Jackson, for his part, saw the separation as a sad but far from shady turn of events. “They spent a lot of time away from each other, and both realized it wasn’t working out,” says a source close to him. Jackson had hoped to make a joint statement announcing the split in the near future, says the source, and is only upset “about Lisa Marie’s jumping the gun.”

But if either of them had doubts, they kept them to themselves. “I had no idea it was coming,” says Paul Bloch, longtime publicist for both Lisa Marie and her mother, Priscilla, 50. Nor did the Jackson family expect the split. In a phone conversation with a close family friend just two weeks ago, Jackson’s mother, Katherine, gave no indication that the couple were having major marital woes. She did say, though, that there were problems—notably, Presley’s frustration with the expensive toys Jackson showered on her children by first husband Danny Keough—Danielle, 6, and Benjamin, 3. Presley, according to Katherine, was concerned that Jackson would spoil her children. “She’s got a point,” says the family friend. “Michael just likes to see the kids smile. He’s a kid himself. He doesn’t get how much it annoys Lisa Marie.”

He does now. For Jackson, the divorce is merely the latest in a long run of problems he has had since 1993, when L.A. and Santa Barbara authorities began investigating allegations that he had molested a 13-year-old boy with whom he had traveled to Disney World. (Criminal charges were never filed, though the investigation involving Jackson remains open in Santa Barbara.) Since then, he has reportedly checked into the Charter Nightingale Clinic in London to battle an alleged addiction to prescription painkillers; faced disappointing U.S. sales of his hugely hyped 1995 double-album HIStory; and been forced to apologize for anti-Semitic lyrics in his song “They Don’t Care About Us.” Two months ago, perhaps showing the strain, he collapsed while rehearsing for an HBO concert in New York City.

It was during his subsequent five-day stay at Manhattan’s Beth Israel North hospital, Presley has said, that she told him she wanted out. The timing may say something about the blunt, unsentimental style of Lisa Marie, who, lest we forget, on Prime-Time Live told anyone who didn’t subscribe to her take on the marriage to “eat it.” At Beth Israel, suffering from severe flu-related dehydration, Jackson was hooked to an intravenous drip, unable to eat for three days. Family members (including his mother and sister Janet) and friends (including Diana Ross) rallied to his side. Some brought stuffed animals and posters to brighten his room and his spirits. Presley, seeming a bit more concerned with her own spirits, secured Jackson’s agreement to split.

Soon after being discharged, Jackson, along with the usual coterie of young friends, hopped the Concorde to Paris. He stayed in his usual Sleeping Beauty suite at Euro Disney’s Disneyland Hotel. He waved, as usual, from the balcony, swathed in a black scarf, flashing fans a V for victory. But what Jackson really felt, says J. Randy Taraborrelli, a Jackson confidant and author of the best-selling Michael Jackson; The Magic and the Madness, was resignation. “He is disappointed,” says Taraborrelli; and yet, adds another close associate, he’s ready to move on: “He’s happy that it’s over.”

Many observers, of course, are still dumbfounded it ever began in the first place. It was Presley who first offered her friendship to Jackson—at the height of the child-molestation scandal in 1993. While the world was heaping scorn on the star, Presley came on strong. Though she had met Jackson only briefly as a child, at a Jackson 5 concert in Las Vegas, she began showering him with notes, balloons and gifts. “Lisa Marie wanted to help Michael with his life,” says the Presley source. “She fell in love with him.”

Jackson was reportedly slow to respond. But as pressure mounted—culminating in the cancellation of his world tour in November 1993 and his subsequent admission to drug rehab—he came to welcome Presley’s support. “That kind of thing,” says Taraborrelli, “bonds people together.”

In January 1994, Jackson settled the child-molestation civil suit, and the foils lowing month he and Presley began publicly dating. In April, Presley announced plans to divorce her husband of six years (they had been separated for several months), and on May 6 she and Keough flew to the Dominican Republic to finalize the split. On May 26, Presley returned to the island—to wed Jackson. Though rumors began swirling almost at once, it wasn’t until two months later that the couple made the news official. “I am very much in love with Michael,” Lisa Marie said. “I dedicate my life to being his wife.”

Presley moved in with her new husband to a $110,000-a-month penthouse in Manhattan’s Trump Tower—and began a life that at first involved nothing more than taking care of her kids and waiting for Jackson to come home from the recording studio. “I’ve never seen her look so happy,” her former manager and lifelong friend Jerry Schilling told PEOPLE at the time. “They have fun together.” Eventually, though, the honeymoon ended. Between photo-ops in Budapest (where the two distributed toys at two children’s hospitals), trips to Paris (including the requisite stop at Euro Disney), and the occasional professional collaboration (the steamy “You Are Not Alone” video they shot last July for the HIStory album), reality set in; apart from celebrity childhoods, troubled fathers and a penchant for chewing gum, Presley and Jackson had almost nothing in common.

Presley, for instance, has found a spiritual and social center in Scientology. The confessional therapies and self-awareness teachings of the religion, founded in the early 1950s by the late science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, have attracted numerous celebrities, including Tom Cruise and his wife, Nicole Kidman, John Travolta and his wife, Kelly Preston, and Kirstie Alley. Many of Presley’s friends and colleagues belong to the church, including her mother, her ex-husband, her divorce attorney, Coale, and his wife, Greta Van Susteren, the O.J. commentator for CNN, which broke the split story. Since joining the religion as a teenager, Presley has sometimes lived at the church’s Hollywood Celebrity Centre; and over the years she has brought her children to their retreat in Clearwater, Fla. As she told PEOPLE in 1993: “It’s the best thing I’ve ever been involved in.”

But was she, as has been suggested in published reports, on a mission to lure Jackson into her church? A source close to Presley says no. “Jackson had just been accused of being a pedophile,” this source says. “He’s not going to help any organization, whether it’s the church or the Kiwanis Club. I’d have a harder argument if Kevin Costner were the guy. You could say a lot about Scientologists, but they ain’t stupid.”

Jackson himself has followed no particular religion since dissolving his long association with the Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1987. Still, before recording HIStory, the singer, at his wife’s urging, went to Hollywood’s Scientology center to take some initial tests. “She thought it would be helpful for him,” says Taraborrelli, “because he had a lot of anger in him.” Jackson, however, never became more seriously involved with Scientology.

They differed sharply on other things too, such as Jackson’s passion for playing with children. While he happily spent hours pushing her kids and his nephews on swings, and Rollerblading with them across Neverland’s grounds, Presley, when she was around at all, often chose to sit it out. By the time Jackson fell ill in December, Presley felt enough was enough. “Once she makes up her mind,” says a friend, “she doesn’t look back.”

Presley, of course, has been through tough times before. Linda Thompson, her father’s live-in lover from 1972 to 1976, told PEOPLE in 1993 that she would never forget how 9-year-old Lisa Marie phoned her with the news of Elvis’s death. “My daddy’s dead, and nobody knows,” the little girl said, sobbing. But as upset as Lisa Marie was, says Thompson, “I’ll always remember how this child had the presence of mind and the love to pick up the phone and call me.”

For the moment, Presley’s spirits, friends say, are good. “She’s disappointed,” says the close source, “but she’s not crying in her soup.” Instead, she is “focusing on being a good mother,” says Paul Bloch—which may, according to Liz Smith, mean reuniting with her children’s father. But Presley’s camp denies she still has a romantic interest in Keough. “He played no part in the breakup,” says the source. Still, the two have remained close—vacationing together, as friends, sources say, at Hawaii’s Mauna Lani hotel last June.

Beyond the divorce proceeding, what lies ahead for Jackson is unclear. “Michael is still an icon,” says Vernon Slaughter, an Atlanta-based entertainment attorney who was a vice president for CBS Records in 1982 when Jackson’s Thriller was released. “The real question is, can he become bigger than he is? The game plan for him should be back to basics. Let’s strip away all the King of Pop stuff and get to the core of what he’s about.”

Just what that is, Jackson himself may be wondering. While the world was learning of the end of his marriage, he was home in California. From there, Jackson flew to Manhattan, where he stayed in the presidential suite in the Four Seasons Hotel. On Jan. 16, he toured New York City’s Fashion Cafe, reportedly because of his interest in investing in theme restaurants. Last week he also worked with filmmaker Spike Lee on a music video for the History song “They Don’t Care About Us.” The hectic schedule has left him little time to figure out what went wrong with his marriage. But Presley’s lawyer could put it to him in two words. “Irreconcilable differences,” says Coale. “Which means nothing—and everything.”



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