The Presley Inheritance
THE FEATURES ARE EERILY FAMILIAR—the no-guff gaze, the studied posturing, the full lips whose pout ripens just short of a sneer. Take one look at Lisa Marie Presley and the spirit of her famous father seems almost tangible, even now, 15 years after his death on that August day in Memphis.
Through many of his 42 years, of course, Elvis Presley seemed to inhabit an otherworldly realm of his own. Rich with royalties, he passed out Caddies like corn chips, turned wretched excess into an art form and squandered untold riches on bad business deals and a traveling circus of flunkies and sycophants. By the time he died, in 1977, his fortune had dwindled to $5 million, left in trust to his only child.
This month, on Feb. 1, her 25th birthday, Lisa Marie Presley finally inherited that estate, which, thanks largely to the stewardship of her mother, Priscilla, has grown to an estimated $100 million. She divvied up a cake with a few close friends, but mostly, she says of that milestone day, “I tried to ignore it.” In fact, there is little of the daughter—apart from her looks—that mirrors her famous father. A reclusive wife and mother, she has come to her legacy with a steady, un-Elvis-like calm. “I think it’s time,” she says simply. “I do [have new responsibilities], but it’s not like a major new thing, except maybe for people who didn’t know my role.”
To those who know her, that role has been one of an heiress-in-training. For the past several years she has been attending the board meetings of Elvis Presley Enterprises, the Memphis-based management group formed by her mother that turned the teetering Elvis estate into a financial Gibraltar (see page 70). Content with her income from the trust and seeing no need to tamper with success, she has decided to keep the operation intact. “Everything remains the same,” she says, “except I’m on the management team now.
But if the affairs of estate remain unaltered, what has changed is Lisa Marie herself. “I think marriage and motherhood have made her a responsible person,” says Jerry Schilling, a longtime Elvis confidant and until recently Lisa Marie’s manager. “I have seen her grow so much.”
Schilling, who first became friends with Elvis in 1954, drove the singer and Priscilla to the hospital when Lisa Marie was born and has remained close to the family ever since. “If [the inheritance] had happened five years ago,” he says, “it potentially could haw affected her. But I think I Lisa has prepared herself.”
One stabilizing influence in her life has been her marriage since 1988 to bass player and Scientology soulmate Danny Keough, 28, a Chicago native who grew up mostly in Oregon, where his mother and stepfather cofounded a Scientology school. The couple, who met at the Scientology Celebrity Center in L.A., have two children, Danielle, 3, and Benjamin Storm, 4 months. In the backyard of their four-bedroom home in Los Angeles, swings and playthings dot the landscape. Inside, there are few visible mementos of her father and none of the gaudy indulgences she had known as a child at Graceland. “Lisa’s tastes,” says her grandfather Paul Beaulieu, “run to the modern and contemporary.”
Her feelings about home and family, on The other hand. are clearly traditional. She breast-feeds her newborn son, reads to her daughter each night and cooks up meals of “vegetables, fruits. pasta, chicken—[but] no red meat—the standard health-food stuff.” As a parent, she says, “I tend to be more the mother, and Danny’s much more charming and fun. He’s the playful one, and I’m, ‘OK, it’s time to go take a bath now’ or ‘You’re not supposed to have that.’ ”
Lisa Marie’s own childhood, of which she says she has many happy memories, was far less predictable and tranquil. The family saga began, of course, when Army Specialist 4th Class Elvis Presley first spotted 14-year-old Air Force brat Priscilla Beaulieu while he was stationed in Germany. She moved hack to Memphis with him at 16, married him at 21, gave birth to Lisa Marie exactly nine months later and was divorced at 28.
Lisa Marie moved with her mother to L.A. after the split but often visited her father, who tended to treat her with awestruck extravagance. When she wanted to see a movie, he rented the theater. When she wanted to ride a carousel, he look over the amusement park. When she complained once on the phone from L.A. that she had never seen snow, Elvis fired up his jet, the Lisa Marie, sent it to L.A. to pick her up and flew her to Utah, where she romped in the powder for 20 minutes. Cost of the brief encounter with winter: more than $3000.
But there were troubling times as well. Lisa Marie watched her father’s descent into drug-dependent excess and suffered through an unsettled, occasionally melancholy adolescence. She went through a siring of private schools before dropping out in the 11th grade. By 14, an obsession with boys and a flirtation with drugs had created problems between her and Priscilla. “I was just in that rebellious stage, and drugs were a part of that,” she has said. “A lot of people would ask, ‘Why did you do that if your father died from drugs?’ But at that age I didn’t look at it like that. I have to learn things by myself.”
The drugs long since abandoned and her differences with Priscilla mended, Lisa Marie and her mother now live a short drive apart, talk daily on the phone and even baby-sit for each other. (She was in the delivery room when Priscilla, who lives with writer-director Marco Garibaldi, gave birth to their son, Navarone, six years ago.) “She’s done an astounding job,” Lisa Marie says of Priscilla’s custodianship of her riches. “She’s incredible, and I have huge admiration and respect for what she’s accomplished.”
Lisa Marie’s own lifestyle is quiet by Hollywood standards; there are no beefy bodyguards, no limos and few of the flamboyant trappings of serious showbiz wealth. She drives a black BMW with tinted windows, goes shopping, and attends Scientology classes. She sometimes jogs with her husband, and brags, “I worked out every day when I was pregnant. I’m sort of lagging a bit lately, but I’m getting back into it.”
She is also making tentative moves toward a singing career. She leans toward rock and R&B. and one friend likens her voice to that of a black Bonnie Raitt. “I’ve always had an ear for it, and I’ve always fell music,” Lisa Marie says. “I’ve been around it all my life. I definitely have it in me.” Although she has recorded four demo tapes, produced by Danny, who is also her song-writing partner, she insists that any serious work is on hold until the baby gets a little older.
If there is an area of controversy in her life, it is the question of how she reached this state of adjustment. Lisa Marie credits the much maligned Church of Scientology, to which she was introduced as a teenager by her mother. Founded by the late L. Ron Hubbard, a science-fiction writer with a messianic mission, the church employs various confessional therapies to treat its members. Its detractors, and there are many, charge that the church is only after her money and the Presley name.
Lisa Marie is adamant that both she and the church are treated unfairly. “I’m pretty levelheaded, and I see it as the most incredible thing I’ve ever been involved in,” she says. “I was never quite happy. I always had a lot of questions, and living and existing didn’t answer them but only upset me more. And Scientology has answered those questions.
“Lisa’s been through a lot,” says lyricist Linda Thompson, who lived with Elvis from 1972 through 1976 and has seen Lisa Marie sporadically over the years. “She’s had to understand a lot about life, about people and about fame.” And now there is more, of course: the weight of newfound wealth, of parenting and, if her singing career lakes hold one day, of judging how much of her success is a reflection of her father’s indelible legend. One lesson she has already learned, though, is to know what is important to her.
“Having kids gave me a new lease on life,” says Lisa Marie, who plans to have more later on. “It’s like you’re in a situation where you could have a lot and you’re still never complete, never happy. That’s what my children do for me—they give me stability and the sense of being complete.”
Is there anything missing right now? She answers almost before the question is finished. “No,” she says, with that unmistakable inherited smile. “There’s absolutely nothing.”
LOIS ARMSTRONG, NANCY MATSUMOTO, VICKI SHEFF-CHAN and LYNDON STAMBLER in Los Angeles and JANE SANDERSON in Memphis