Linda Thompson broke up with Elvis Presley just eight months before his shocking death

By Elizabeth Leonard and Lindsay Kimble
Updated October 04, 2016 07:40 PM
Credit: Courtesy © Jeanne LeMay

When Elvis Presley died in 1977, his ex-girlfriend Linda Thompson was painfully aware of the singer’s struggles with prescription pill abuse. But the news – and how it was delivered – broke her heart.

In Thompson’s new memoir, A Little Thing Called Life, excerpted exclusively in this week’s issue of PEOPLE, the actress and songwriter reveals that Presley’s then-9-year-old daughter, Lisa Marie, was the one who told her of the singer’s death, just eight months after their breakup.

Answering the phone at her Los Angeles apartment, Thompson heard a breathless Lisa Marie on the other end. ” ‘Linda!’ ” Thompson recalls Lisa Marie saying. ” ‘My daddy’s dead!’ ”

The star says she was “frozen by a dread of acknowledging the truth.” In shock, Thompson blindly rebutted Lisa Marie’s revelation, but the young girl insisted, ” ‘Yes, he is! He smothered in the carpet!’ ”

The 66-year-old says Lisa Marie told her she was the first person she called.

Presley died at 42 in his Graceland estate in Memphis, Tennessee. The cause of death was ruled as a heart attack by coroners, but there has long been a conspiracy that drugs played a role in his demise.

For more of Linda Thompson’s relationships with Elvis Presley and Caitlyn Jenner, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE

In her memoir, Thompson describes Presley’s change from “the greatest sex symbol in the world” when they first began dating in 1972, to a man dependent on prescription pills.

One night, not long before Thompson moved out of Presley’s home in late 1976, she found the singer facedown in a bowl of soup, so impaired by drugs he’d passed out. “As I held his head up by his hair, he had chicken soup and noodles all over his face,” she describes. “I started to clean his throat, literally pulling out chunks of food.”

Through it all, though, she says, Presley doted on his daughter, now 48. “He absolutely adored his little girl,” Thompson writes. “I did too.”