Lisa Marie Presley on the Business of Elvis, Taking a ‘Breather’ at Graceland: ‘It’s a Special Place’

Lisa Marie Presley Elvis Legacy
PERRY AYCOCK/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Lisa Marie Presley has ensured that the musical lineage in the family did not stop with her father, releasing three strong albums, the last of which to date was 2012’s T Bone Burnett-produced “Storm and Grace.” She’s been through a lot of both those qualities as his inheritor, literally as well as musically. Variety caught up with her on the eve of the 40th anniversary Elvis Week in Memphis, finding out how she maintains her own personal experience of Graceland amid the storm of tourists flooding her childhood home.

At the 35th anniversary concert during Elvis Week in Memphis, you did a duet with the video image of your father on “I Love You Because.” For the 40th anniversary this week, are you able to participate in Elvis Week at all, or have you got too much going on?
No, this time, I’ve had way too much going on. I sadly and unfortunately won’t get the chance to do anything upcoming. But that’s kind of going with the territory right now. I’m just sticking with what’s important on, and what I have to be focused on right now. (Presley is currently involved in divorce proceedings.) So I didn’t get a chance to do that, which I am really bummed out about, but it is what it is. I’m not part of it this week, but I will make an appearance again at some point.

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Years ago you were reported to have sold off 85% of the estate, while keeping veto power on key things, and you kept Graceland, separate from that deal. Do you like to participate in the business of things, or are you happy relegating that?
I am not involved in the day-to-day stuff, but the important decisions I’m definitely a part of. Not that the day-to-day is operation is not important. But major decisions, I’m there… [And] the fact that Graceland is still mine is still a factor. The expansion is something that we’ve been planning for quite a while, so it’s good to see that it’s actually happening. The hotel is something that we’ve been hoping for for a very long time. You know, we have to move along with the times here and go with expanding as much as possible. We are able to do that now, which is exciting.

As much as the public gets nearly free rein to explore at Graceland, there is the legendarily off-limits upstairs. That was your domain as a child, and we’re always told it’s relatively unchanged since the ’70s. Is that a place you’re able to actually sneak into and be nostalgic about?
Oh, yeah, of course. [Before moving back to Los Angeles] I lived in Nashville before last year, and I would frequently… well, not frequently, but sometimes I’d just go there and go upstairs and stay there for like three days and not come down. (Laughs.) I would stay up there when I was needing a breather sometimes. So yeah, I uphold that, in my mind, as this place where he would rejuvenate and sort of get his bearings, and I kind of started to go there for the same thing, at some point. It’s a special place. I’d lock the door and I was completely safe. There’s a feeling like that there that I could never get anywhere else… Fortunately I can re-create as much as I want to kind of that feeling — I mean, the vibe where I’m left alone, and I can kind of just roam around. For my little ones and my oldest children, we go there and I’ve made sure that they still have that. It’s important.

Do you have a favorite record or favorite movie of your father’s?
I love the ’70s era of music, mostly because I was there for that. And as far as the movies go, I’m very partial to “Love Me Tender” and “Jailhouse Rock.” I love those. I enjoy them all, but those are the ones I sort of feel he was really able to show his acting the way he wanted to at that time. I know those were kind of his favorites, too, for the same reasons, so I kind of feel the same way.

On your first album, you had songs like “Lights Out” and “Nobody Noticed It,” material that referred back to your lineage and commented in pretty interesting ways on your experience with family and people around the family. By the time you made your third album with T Bone Burnett, you weren’t referencing that so much. Any thoughts about making a fourth album any time soon, and if so, anything you might gravitate toward writing about?
Well, yes, I’m champing at the bit to get writing again. And as soon as I’m able to do that, I’m going to. Always when I write, inevitably, it’s autobiographical and whatever is on my mind — which is a lot right now! So, it’ll be interesting, that’s for sure. It won’t be boring.

Around the time your first album came out, you were quoted as saying, “That’s what he was to me as a child: this huge, electrifying powerful, grand, beautiful presence.” It was a beautiful thing to say. But do you relate to him the same way as an adult as you did as a child, when you have a lot more time to reflect? Does what you focus on about him change from year to year? Or does that childhood adoration of a grand, beautiful presence get locked in forever, and nothing can change that?
I think it gets locked in forever and nothing can change it. And then, on the other side, I’m going through what I’ve dealt with, and I know what he’s gone through, and the older I get, the more I can relate to the obstacles that he had and the trepidations that he had. I can relate to them more, way more. I understand more as I get older. He was quite young [when he passed away]. So I can’t say I knew a whole lot at 42, or that I know a whole lot now. But what I know is that I don’t know everything. I know that he went through a lot, and… I always have that sort of in my head. It’s always there.

So that empathy with the obstacles he faced has grown for you as you’ve faced similar things in your life?
Yeah. And then wishing… (Pauses.) I know that, if he were alive, some people would have 150 bullets between their eyes. (Laughs.) You know? And that’s this luxury that I lost, in terms of him being very protective with me. When I was little… I was at a friend’s house one time, and a neighbor said something to me mean about him, and I was so upset that when I went home, I told him. And literally he asked the address and got in the car and he drove to that woman’s house. I don’t know what he said; I don’t know what happened. But I know that he always had my back. And that sort of ceased; I never had that again. So, there are times, I will say, that I really do wish that he were around, because… You’re never not sort of vulnerable. And in trying moments, there are times where I just feel like whoever I’m referring to would have been dead a long time if it were up to him and if he were around, you know?

Do you feel lie you’ve been able to return that kind of protectiveness that he had for you, by being one of the keepers of his estate and legacy, making sure his image is handled the right way?
Oh, of course, yes. But mostly I feel like: Don’t look at me. Just look over there at him.

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  1. mary says:

    I WISH LISA WOULD EXPLORE ELVIS’ LOVE OF OLD GOSPEL SONGS. I WOULD LOVE TO HEAR
    HER AND BEN DO A WHOLE ALBUM OF THAT TYPE OF MUSIC. IT’S WHAT ELVIS WAS MADE FROM. IT ALSO HAS A HEALING QUALITY TO IT. I ALWAYS WANTED ELVIS TO DO A GOSPEL TOUR. MAYBE LISA COULD DO THAT FOR HER DAD

  2. Kristen says:

    Luv this family. Lisa ur such a talent in ur own rights. Excited about new music to come. It was a bummer this year no duet but been thinking in well now less than 2yr at the 42nd anniversary it would be a special yr for a duet. Why that yr.? Well thinking 42yrs old and 42yrs since hes been gone? My thoughts? Bless u and ur family and rest Elvis Presley.

  3. Bruce Sinkoe says:

    she has been through hell and stood up and handled it. Great Job! keep fighting and never give up. Cant wait for her to get back in the studio and put some new beats out there.

  4. Monica Therese Cousins says:

    I commend what Lisamarie has done she has been through so much and too see her walk down the driveway with the internal flame with Ben and Finley and Harper i was really happy Lisamarie your dad would be so proud of you no matter what you can hold your head high just keep being you.

  5. Hayley says:

    I bet Lisa gets tired of people assuming that they know what she is thinking and feeling…

    • Ann W. says:

      Hayley, isn’t that exactly what you have done with your own comment? “Assuming she is tired of…?” She probably is but at least I used quotes from this article and others from reputable sources to form my own response. She took the time to be interviewed and share for Variety. She obviously has some message she wants to get across. You seem to have just pulled your response out of your a$$. Bless your heart.

  6. Ann W. says:

    Lisa is always raw in her honesty. Such a rare and wonderful trait. It’s clear that she doesn’t feel her mother is protective or has her back “that sort of ceased and I never had that again.” Of course, her mother sent her to summer camp immediately after Elvis’s death where she was left to grieve for weeks alone. That pretty much speaks volumes about the course of their experiences together.

    • Ann W. says:

      Hayley, isn’t that exactly what you have done with your own comment? “Assuming she is tired of…?” She probably is but at least I used quotes from this article and others from reputable sources to form my own response. She took the time to be interviewed and share for Variety. She obviously has some message she wants to get across. You seem to have just pulled your response out of your a$$. Bless your heart.

  7. Patsy A Unger says:

    This was an awesome interview by Lisa Marie. I am so proud of her. Lisa Marie has had a lot to deal with in the last while and she has become that strong woman that I so much admire.

  8. Terri Larson says:

    This is so insightful by Lisa & It’s now one of the best interviews I have read, by Lisa. Great Job Variety! I loved it!

  9. Angie Stevens says:

    Lisa, your Daddy would be so proud of you and the way you handle yourself and Graceland, he would also be so proud to be Grandad to your beautiful children, well done girl, your a credit to your daddy, keep up the good work at Graceland, take care, & Thank you.😊 xx

  10. Carl P Simion says:

    DO YOU THINK YOU WILL DO ANOTHER ONE OF YOU OR YOUR DADS SONGS WITH HIM COMPUTER GENERATED?

  11. IdahoMountainMan says:

    My 72 year old mother frequently mentions the time she was waiting outside the old Boston Garden after an Elvis concert and as he was getting into a car she was knocked to the ground and her mouth hit his knee. He looked right down at her and asked if she was alright.

  12. refrock says:

    May Elvis be at Peace with loved ones, and may God Bless you, Lisa Marie. He was a very special human being, who touched many lives with his personality and his talent.

  13. Ange Beckwith says:

    Nice piece, sad day for her, i was 6 yrs old and remember my mom being so sad her birthday is tomorrow and she has never forgotten, he was her favorite and it’s obvious why, sorry bout your loose.

  14. Gj Ubar says:

    Wow, Variety is knocking it out of the park with the last couple of Elvis articles they’ve posted. That Chris Morris piece from yesterday made me think back to August 16, 1977, and now this interview with Lisa. She’s one of the few people surrounding Elvis who I really not just like, but respect. She and Elvis’ musicians are about the only ones I actually like. I hope she gets her troubles straightened out and keeps honoring Elvis’ legacy in the best way she can. I also wouldn’t mind another album from her. Thanks for another great Elvis piece, Variety.

    • Vicki S says:

      Her last album was really well written. The 4th one is gonna be good if its autobiographic like she said. Can’t wait.

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