When Elvis Presley’s bloated, drug-ravaged body was found on a bathroom floor in Graceand 20 years ago, Aug. 16, 1977, it seemed hard to believe that he was the same singing heartthrob whose come-hither hips once launched a million female fantasies. When Elvis called, more than a few women answered, usually without regret. Blonde, redhead or brunette-he wasn’t fussy. Now, in the following pages, his loves recount their time with Elvis. Some encounters were brief and passionate; others lasted till his death.
Priscilla & Lisa Marie
Elvis used to rhapsodize to his beloved mother, Gladys, about the ideal woman to bear his children. He found her in Germany in 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu, married her on May 1, 1967, and was elated when his darling ‘Cilia gave birth exactly nine months later. “Until the last six weeks [of my pregnancy],” she would write, “we had made love passionately…he was always loving and sensitive to my needs.”
Joyous though it was, the birth of his only child, Lisa Marie, on Feb. 1, 1968, changed things between Elvis and his mate, who later recalled that “he had never been able to make love to a woman who’d had a child.” Priscilla felt increasingly neglected as Elvis lavished affection upon his little “Buttonhead,” once buying her a tiny mink coat and leaving a $100 bill under her pillow when she lost a tooth. After Priscilla moved out in 1972—they divorced the next year—Lisa Marie continued to visit Graceland, where she and her dad shot off firecrackers, drove golf carts and went sledding on the steep drive. Of his pill-popping ways, “all the bad things never changed my love for him,” Lisa Marie told LIFE in 1989.
Life after Elvis has been a bit rocky for Lisa Marie, now 29 and preparing to inherit the King’s monarchy on her 30th birthday. Twice divorced—from musician Danny Keough, the father of Elvis’s grandkids Benjamin, 4, and Danielle, 8; and, more publicly, from Michael Jackson—she lives near a Scientology community in Florida. Her attempts to start a musical career have met with little success. By contrast, Priscilla, 52, an actress (Naked Gun), film producer (the upcoming The Road to Graceland) and trustee (she resuscitated Elvis’s teetering estate), lives in L.A. with her man of 13 years, Marco Garibaldi, and their son Navarone, 10. As for her ex: “He was, and remains,” Priscilla wrote in ’85’s Elvis and Me, “the greatest influence in my life.”
“Where to, pretty girl?” Elvis asked June Juanico Taranto, whom he’d spotted in a break between sets during a one-night stand in 1955 at the Airman’s Club in Biloxi, Miss. “Elvis reached through the crowd and took me by the arm—I was trembling,” Taranto, then 17, recalls of the spring night she met the young, and still largely unknown, singer. After the show she waited in his car outside his motel room while he showered, then took him on a tour of her Gulf coast hometown. “What are you in the mood for?” June asked before they set out. “I can’t answer that,” he said with a playful smile. “You’d slap my face.”
That night they necked and drove and necked some more until the sun finally rose. Her mother was properly riled but, over time, Elvis won Mom over too. “She thought he was charming,” says Taranto, now a grandmother in Biloxi with two grown children. “He was a yes-ma’am, no-sir, thank-you type of person.”
In her newly published memoir, Elvis: In the Twilight of Memory, Taranto insists Elvis fully intended to marry her and failed to do so only because his manager, Col. Tom Parker, insisted he remain single to keep up his sex-idol image. For Taranto the all-too-public parade of his conquests finally became too much, and she broke off with Elvis in March 1957. Even so, for years afterward she’d get “an achy feeling” whenever she thought of him. Married for 34 years to Biloxi businessman Fabian Taranto (they divorced in 1991), she says, “I hope [Elvis] had a hard time getting over me too. I hope it broke his heart.”
L.A. dancer Susan Schutte (then Henning) hadn’t seen Elvis since she played a mermaid in his 1968 movie Live a Little, Love a Little three months earlier, so she was surprised to hear from him. But she was astonished by what he was proposing over the phone. By then married to Priscilla for little more than a year, Elvis wanted to send his Learjet to pick up Schutte for a romantic rendezvous in Arizona, where he was vacationing. Engaged to be married herself, she hesitated, but only for a moment. “I told my fiancé I wanted to date Elvis and have a relationship with him,” she recalls. “I said, ‘If it doesn’t work out, I’ll come back to you.’ ” The fiancé was gone when Schutte, now 50, returned after three days, but she has no regrets. “I believe the Lord has a plan,” she says. “He takes his velvet two-by-four and nudges you down the path.” For Schutte, the path led to a ranch near Sacramento, where today, with third husband Edgar Schutte, she breeds show horses.
Having met on and off for a few years, Schutte and Elvis rarely left the bedroom, where they talked into the wee hours—about everything except Priscilla. “I don’t think he ever brought her name up,” says Schutte. She recalls Elvis liked to recite the Lord’s Prayer but concedes he was no saint. “I’m not a worshipper of Elvis,” she says. But, “I loved our time together.”
A classically trained vocalist who spent a season with New York City’s Metropolitan Opera road company, Kathy Westmoreland found singing backup on “Hound Dog” and other Elvis classics “terrifying but challenging” when she joined his tour in 1970. Westmoreland, 52, says her boss’s tendency to wing it without a score was liberating. “I was coming from a background where everything had to be done exactly as written. He was saying, sing from your heart. Express your emotions.”
Just five weeks into the tour, Westmoreland says, she and Elvis became clandestine lovers, sharing intimacies whenever Priscilla, to whom he’d then been married for three years, or later, Linda Thompson and Ginger Alden, his publicly acknowledged girlfriends, were not around. “He was like a long-lost soul I had missed and found,” says the divorced mom, who now lives near L.A. with her 11-year-old daughter Lindsey and performs on the Elvis fan club circuit.
In the driveway of her ranch-style home sits her most prized possession: a white 1977 Lincoln Continental with an emerald green interior. Given to her in his last year, it was a typical Elvis extravagance. “I’ve got 300 people working for me, and their families depend on me,” she recalls him saying before the Pontiac, Mich., concert date he never kept. “He once told me, ‘I’m going to sing until the day I die,’ ” she adds. “That’s just what he did.”
Then a 25-year-old House Armed Services Committee aide, Joyce Bova got the call the day that Elvis was to be photographed—famously, it turned out—shaking hands with President Nixon in 1970. She had been summoned not by the President but by the King. “He was a gentle, considerate lover,” says Bova, who had met Elvis a year earlier in Las Vegas. “He was almost shy,” she adds. “He was like a little boy.”
Retired since 1995, Bova, 52, never married; she lives in suburban Virginia with her twin sister, Janice. In 1994’s Don’t Ask Forever: My Love Affair with Elvis, she wrote that she aborted Elvis’s child and that she left him because of his drug problems. As he slept one night, she placed a diamond ring he had given her on the nightstand, thinking, “I love you too much to watch you kill yourself.”
“We slept all day and stayed up all night,” says songwriter Linda Thompson of Graceland life in the post-Priscilla ’70s. Now 46 and living in Malibu with her husband of six years, record producer David Foster, Thompson met Elvis in 1972 when his handlers invited some Memphis girls to a Bruce Lee flick. “He was like Prince Charming,” she says. “I don’t think I left his side again for a year.” At one point she thought they might last even longer. “Elvis wanted a little boy,” she recalls, “but our lives didn’t unfold that way.”
It was after 8 a.m., Aug. 16th, 1977, and despite taking sleeping pills, playing a predawn game of racquetball and pouring over a turgid text about psychic energy, Elvis had yet to sleep. “Precious,” he said to 20-year-old Ginger Alden, “I’m gonna go in the bathroom and read for a while.” “Okay,” she replied, “but don’t fall asleep.” Elvis smiled. “I won’t,” he assured her. “He seemed happy and ready to start anew,” says Alden. “He wanted to work on new films, new concerts, redecorate his home and, to quote him, ‘make Graceland come alive again.’ ” Alden found his body in the bathroom later that afternoon. Memphis’s former Miss Traffic Safety, Alden was engaged to marry Elvis four months later on Christmas Day. Now 40 and living in Sag Harbor, N.Y., with Ron Leyser, a TV commercial director and her husband of six years, and their son Hunter, 2, the model turned homemaker still vividly recalls the day she met Elvis at a Memphis fairground. She was 5 years old, and “he patted me on the head.” They began to date in 1976 when she was 19 and bore a striking resemblance to Elvis’s then ex-wife Priscilla. More than a lover, Elvis became her mentor, says Alden, who claims stories of his drug use were exaggerated. “He taught me a great deal, emotionally and spiritually,” she says. “He said he felt we were soul mates. I felt the same.”
Martindale’s dad phoned one night in 1960 from his Hollywood nightclub with a surprise: he put Elvis on the line. But she gave the King, 25, the cold shoulder. “I’ve got to go to sleep, it’s like 9:30,” the 14-year-old school girl said. A few weeks later the two were dancing and making out (nothing more). “In school the next day I’d be embarrassed because my face would be so raw,” says Martindale, 52, married since 1975 to TV quiz host and Elvis pal Wink Martindale. “But when he would hold me in his arms, it was like, ‘If I died now, it would be okay.’ “
Called the female Elvis Presley for her heartbreak looks, Ann-Margret hit it off with her costar the instant they met on the set of 1964’s Viva Las Vegas. “It was fun, joy, admiration and love in its purest form,” she later wrote in My Story. They wheeled around L.A. on their Harleys and pedaled through Bel Air on a bicycle built for double takes. But Elvis’s intended, Priscilla, was back home in Memphis, and “both of us knew that no matter how much we loved each other,” wrote Ann-Margret, 56, who has been married to producer Roger Smith since 1967, “we weren’t going to last.”
2 Natalie Woos
When Elvis arrived in Hollywood in 1956 to star in Love Me Tender, the first of his 31 movies, he dated 18-year-old Natalie Wood, an Oscar nominee for 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause. Dressed in white, the pair turned heads as they cruised in his white Cadillac convertible. But Wood, who died in a freak 1981 boating accident, cut short a Memphis visit when Elvis made it clear there would be no tender loving while his mama was home. “He can sing,” Wood told her sister, “but he can’t do much else.”
3 Connie Stevens
From the moment she first laid eyes on Elvis—he asked her out after seeing her on the ABC series Hawaiian Eye in 1962—she was smitten. “I knew,” says the then 24-year-old starlet, “this was a fellow who could break your heart.” Stevens, 59, the producer of A Healing, a Vietnam documentary, and star of fall’s UPN sitcom I Head over Heels, says Elvis “was the best kisser ever.” But to be his girl, 5 adds the mother of two children with o former husband Eddie Fisher, “you had r to follow the crowd. I got tired of going 5 out with 11 guys for dinner.”
4 Cybill Shepherd
Elvis wooed Memphis model and starlet Cybill Shepherd in 1972 with a movie and a supper of chicken-fried steak at Graceland. Sparks flew, but the King wasn’t the fireman she thought he’d be. “There were a few things that, you know, Elvis didn’t know,” she said coyly on Oprah last March. But, she added, “he was a willing pupil.” Throughout their brief tryst, the Cybill star, now 47 and engaged to musician Robert Martin (she is twice divorced with three kids), had to sneak to meet the singer. “I cheated on Peter Bogdanovich to be with Elvis,” she said of her director beau. “It was some consolation to Peter that I was with the King.”