The Stunning Transformation Of Priscilla Presley

While Priscilla Presley is perhaps best known as the former wife of the late king of rock 'n' roll, Elvis Presley, she's a formidable figure in her own right. Born as Priscilla Ann Wagner on May 24, 1945, her name was later changed to Priscilla Beaulieu after her mother's marriage to Paul Beaulieu in 1948.

While Priscilla's early years were lived out of the public eye, she's spent most of her life as a famous person thanks to her marriage to Elvis Presley in her early 20s. For years, Priscilla lived in her husband's shadow, the media following her every move. After their split, though, Priscilla proved to the world that she is a force to be reckoned with, and she's still making waves decades later.

From her childhood as a military brat to her status as the guardian of one of the biggest musical legacies in history, Priscilla Presley has changed a lot over the years and her transformation is a fascinating one.

She moved around a lot growing up

Priscilla Presley's father, navy pilot James Wagner, died when she was a baby. She was raised by her stepfather, Paul Beaulieu, whom she believed to be her biological father for years. Due to her adoptive father's job in the Air Force, she had to move around a lot as a kid, which led to an isolated childhood. "I didn't stay in one school long enough to make close friends," she told The Wall Street Journal of her upbringing.

Moving a lot was bad enough, but Priscilla described herself as "quite shy" as a kid. When she was 11 years old, the family relocated to Austin, Texas, and for the first time, Priscilla was able to put down some roots. "I made close friends and listened to music on my radio," she told WSJ. Throughout her tumultuous upbringing, Priscilla clung to a core belief. "I always knew that something extraordinary was going to happen to me," she told People back in 1978.

She was just 14 when she met Elvis

In June 1959, when Priscilla was 14 years old, she and her family moved to Wiesbaden, Germany. The teenager was reluctant to leave her friends, and would spend a lot of time at a nearby club where she'd write to them. While there, she made friends with an airman in his 20s. "I guess he had seen me at the club writing letters and felt sorry for me," Priscilla told The Wall Street Journal. "He asked if I wanted to meet Elvis at a party. I said I did. My father knew his commanding officer and felt comfortable, so he let me go with them."

At the time, 24-year-old Elvis Presley was serving overseas with the 1st Medium Tank Battalion, 32d Armor, according to the U.S. Army Center of Military History. And, as it happened, Elvis was living not too far from the teenager and her family. During their first meeting, they spoke and he played the piano and sang for her. "Everything was very proper and sweet," she told The Wall Street Journal.

In an interview with The Guardian, Priscilla revealed that the two grew close through mutual loneliness. The teenager was young and missing her friends, while Elvis' mother had recently died. "He was still grieving and our relationship was based on bonding through his sorrow; bonding through his fears of what it was going to be like when he went back to the States and whether he would be accepted or not," she explained, adding that she "encouraged him" through his doubts. They kept seeing each other for the next few months, until Elvis' overseas service ended in March 1960. Priscilla and her family remained in Germany, but she and Elvis wrote and called each other during their separation.

She moved in with Elvis while still in high school

Priscilla Presley insists that her relationship with Elvis remained chaste in those early years. "Something in his Southern upbringing had taught him that the 'right' girl was to be saved for marriage," she told People. "I was that girl."

In 1963, she moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where she lived with Elvis' father and stepmother as she finished high school, eventually moving to Graceland to be with Elvis. Although her parents were reluctant at first, they finally agreed to let her go after Elvis promised the teenager would "always be chaperoned" and "intimating that one day we'd marry" (via People).

While Priscilla wasn't certain if she and Elvis would end up married, she did have faith in the singer. "I believed that he cared for me, and that he wouldn't have taken the responsibility of pulling me out of school and putting me into another if he wasn't making some commitment," she told Ladies' Home Journal (via Elvis Australia). "Anyway, he's not the kind of person to take advantage of anybody. So I felt very secure." In the years she lived with Elvis as a teenager she said he spoiled her, constantly giving her gifts, including several cars.

She and Elvis got married in Las Vegas

Once she graduated from high school, Priscilla and Elvis Presley continued to date for a few years. Then, in 1966, Elvis asked her to marry him. There was no lavish proposal; Priscilla told Ladies' Home Journal (via Elvis Australia) that Elvis "showed me the ring and simply asked me to marry him."

Biography suggests that there was a less romantic, more pragmatic reason for their nuptials, saying that Elvis' manager, Colonel Tom Parker, "was worried about the potential fallout if they didn't marry" as the press had been scrutinizing their relationship for years, calling Priscilla the singer's "live-in Lolita."

Whatever the true reasons for making things official, the two finally tied the knot in Las Vegas on May 1, 1967. The 21-year-old bride also slept with Elvis for the first time, she said. "The desire and lust that had built up in me throughout the years exploded in a frenzy of passion," Priscilla wrote in her memoir, "Elvis and Me" (via Entertainment Weekly).

She was 'devastated' when she became pregnant at 21

Not long after Priscilla and Elvis tied the knot, she found herself expecting a baby. What should have been a happy occasion for the young bride was marred by Priscilla's concerns over her appearance. "Initially I was devastated. I thought, 'Oh my gosh, here I am married and now I'm pregnant and I'm not going to look attractive any more,'" she later admitted to The Guardian. Priscilla added that her husband was worried about how becoming a father would impact his popularity with his fans.

On February 1, 1968, exactly nine months after their wedding, Priscilla gave birth to the couple's daughter whom they named Lisa Marie Presley. Priscilla threw herself into motherhood but she had little support from her husband. Still, she told The Guardian that having a child made them stronger as a couple. "The moment you have the child, everything changes," she said. "It is terrifying and it is beautiful and it changed my life and it brought Elvis and me closer together." Priscilla revealed that she was the one who did most of the parenting, admitting that she was "the disciplinarian" of the two.

Her married life wasn't exactly a fairy tale

By Priscilla Presley's own admission, Elvis was a demanding partner who dictated everything from her appearance to how she spent her time, saying on the show "Loose Women" that she "followed" her husband at the cost of her own autonomy. "I mean, you lived his life," she explained. "You saw the movies he wanted to see," she added. "You listened to the music he wanted to listen to, and you go to places that he would go." Priscilla admitted that she "lost" herself in her marriage to Elvis.

Priscilla also told The Guardian that the control started long before they got married. She said Elvis would tell her not to wear certain colors, wouldn't let her get a job, and even demanded she have dental caries filled. Priscilla told People that Elvis had "molded me into his woman," adding, "I wore the clothes, hairstyle and makeup of his careful choosing."

She divorced Elvis to assert her independence

Tired of living in her husband's shadow and wanting to live her own life, Priscilla Presley left Elvis six years into their marriage. "Over the years, he became my father, husband, and very nearly God," she wrote in her memoir "Elvis and Me" (via Geo News). According to Priscilla, she left him not because the romance ended but because she "had to find out about the world." Their divorce was finalized on October 9, 1973.

However, the two remained close after their split, with Priscilla writing in her memoir that her ex remained "an essential part of my life" (via Express). Even after Elvis became engaged to Ginger Alden, he and Priscilla remained on friendly terms, with Priscilla once advising Alden to make sure the rockstar "eats right and gets plenty of rest," as Alden recounted in her memoir "Elvis and Ginger."

In spite of everything, Priscilla maintains that she always loved Elvis. "People will say 'well if you didn't stop loving him why did you divorce him?'" she told The Sydney Morning Herald. "It wasn't really him, it was the lifestyle. The lifestyle was very difficult."

She fled to Italy after Elvis died

Elvis Presley died on August 16, 1977 at the age of 42. He and Priscilla had been divorced for nearly four years by that point, but she was nevertheless shattered by the loss of her former husband and the father of her child. "I wanted to die," she wrote in her memoir, "Elvis and Me" (via Biography).

Priscilla had spoken to Elvis just days before, recalling on "The Jonathan Ross Show" that she was worried he was pushing himself too hard and not looking after his health (via HuffPost UK). "He wasn't someone who you could just say, 'You need to really take care of yourself,'" she said, admitting, "It was hard for anyone to do anything because ultimately it was his decision and he felt he was fine."

Elvis' death sent the media into a frenzy, especially as there were rumors of a coverup. While his cause of death was reported as a heart attack, noted HuffPost, many suspected he died of a drug overdose or even murder, and conspiracy theories persist until today. To get away from it all, Priscilla fled to Italy with her daughter. "It was an extraordinary situation and I don't know too many other families that have gone through what we have gone through," she told The Guardian.

Taking over Elvis' estate unleashed her inner businesswoman

Priscilla Presley's divorce helped her find her footing as an independent woman, but she truly came into her own after Elvis' death. She became determined to preserve his legacy, becoming the sole trustee of his estate after Elvis' father died in 1979. The estate had been poorly managed and, without Priscilla's hard work, there might have been nothing left for their daughter to inherit. The high school graduate transformed the nearly-bankrupt estate into one of the most lucrative musical legacies in history, much to her own surprise. "I did not go to college, I didn't go to a business school, it was against all odds," she told The Sydney Morning Herald. "And I mean all odds. I just had to roll my sleeves up and go 'I cannot let this house go. I can't let this go."

Priscilla founded Elvis Presley Enterprises, which turned her ex's $1 million estate into one worth $100 million (via CheatSheet). She did this through lucrative moves, including turning Elvis' home, Graceland, into a popular tourist attraction. In fact, Elvis' estate made $23 million in 2020, putting him at number five on Forbes' list of highest-paid dead celebrities.

She finally embarked on a career of her own

Priscilla Presley hasn't only used her formidable skills to manage Elvis' estate. She's also embarked on a career of her own, making her screen debut in the 1983 TV movie "Love Is Forever." Over the years, she's appeared in more than a dozen films and TV shows including "Dallas," "The Naked Gun" series, "Melrose Place," "Touched by an Angel," and "Breakfast with Einstein."

In her memoir, "Elvis and Me," she explained that she hadn't started a career earlier — despite an interest in the arts — because she was too focused on Elvis. "I had no real goals after graduation," she wrote (via Express). "But I did sometimes dream of becoming a dancer or possibly enrolling in an art academy. Now I realize that I was deeply influenced by Elvis's casual attitude toward continued schooling."

She once landed a modeling job, but quit when her husband gave her an ultimatum. "'It's either me or a career, Baby. Because when I call you, I need you to be there," she recalled him saying (via CheatSheet).

She has a son with Marco Garibaldi

Elvis may just remain the great love of Priscilla Presley's life, and she has never remarried. However, she has had several relationships over the years — the most notable of which is a decades-long relationship with screenwriter-turned-computer programmer Marco Garibaldi. The two were together from 1984 to 2006 and share a son, Navarone Garibaldi (via PopCulture).

The relationship appeared to be a happy one, with Priscilla telling McCall's in 1995 that she brought "stability" to the relationship (via The Spokesman-Review). Friends, meanwhile, said that Priscilla was enjoying being with someone who lived life out of the spotlight after her tumultuous relationship with Elvis.

The two never seemed to consider marriage, and Priscilla explained that she was reluctant to walk down the aisle again. "I'm speaking just for me — I'm not advocating that people not get married," she told the outlet. "I've been married; Marco's been married. I don't take him for granted, and he doesn't take me for granted."

She believes Elvis' spirit communicates with her

Priscilla Presley told The Guardian that one of Elvis' great fears was that he wouldn't have a lasting impact on the world. "He said, 'you know, once I pass nobody will remember me' and that really stuck with me ... [throughout his fame] he was always asking, 'How long will this last?'" she recalled.

Thanks in large part to Priscilla, fans all over the world will never forget the king of rock 'n' roll, though his biggest impact may be the one he had on her. For better or worse, Priscilla's life has been shaped by Elvis. The couple had their ups and downs, but Priscilla has never forgotten the special connection that they shared. In fact, she claims it persists even in death.

In a separate interview with The Guardian, she revealed that she feels "his spirit is communicating to me." She spoke of visiting Graceland and all of the memories it holds for her. "I can walk in that door and see him walking down the stairs, I can hear laughter, I can hear the music playing in the music room," she said. "It's a very surreal feeling. But it's not scary, it's beautiful."

She's a fan of the Elvis biopic

While some people might be wary of seeing themselves or their loved ones portrayed on screen, Priscilla Presley is happy with Baz Luhrmann's take on The King in the simply titled film, "Elvis." "I'm sitting there watching this movie and going 'god, I wish he could see this,'" she said on "Good Morning America" of the 2022 biopic. "It was perfection." The film features Austin Butler in the title role; Tom Hanks as Elvis' manager, Colonel Tom Parker; and Olivia DeJonge as Priscilla. Priscilla said she "was pleasantly surprised" by DeJong's portrayal of her.

Priscilla also sang the film's praise on Instagram, posting a trailer for the film with an enthusiastic caption, saying her daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, also "loved the film" and knew her granddaughter, Riley Keough, would as well. "I relived every moment in this film. It took me a few days to overcome the emotions as it did with Lisa. Beautifully done Baz, Tom, Austin and Olivia," she wrote.