The woman behind The King of Rock and Roll

We revisit the early life - and great love - of Priscilla Beaulieu Presley.

In 1956, 11-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu was given a record she had little reason to suspect would reshape her world – and start the Elvis and Priscilla story: Blue Suede Shoes.

“I liked Elvis but not as fanatically as many of my girlfriends,” she would later write in her 1985 biography Elvis and Me. Yet three years later, when her father, Air Force officer Paul Beaulieu, took the family to a posting in West Germany, she joked to her friends that she was going there to meet the singer, who had just drafted to the same area.

Priscilla Beaulieu, Elvis Presley's "girl back home," plays a record album by the teen idol. Elvis was serving in the US Army in Germany. The couple were married in 1967 and divorced in 1973.

Priscilla was an army brat; her mother, Anna, a former photographer’s model. Her birth father, James Wagner, had been killed in a car crash when she was just six months old. Priscilla herself would know nothing of his existence until she unexpectedly stumbled across an old photograph titled “Mommy, Daddy and Priscilla”, a strange man holding her as a baby. Confronted, Anna explained that the man she called Dad was actually her stepfather, having raised her since she was three.

Pretty, yet shy, she’d always been popular in her previous schools, even being named Queen of Del Valley Junior High.

Yet arriving in Bad Nauheim, Priscilla found it tough. For the first time in her life, she felt like an outsider; friends far and few on the ground. She was lonely. That was until she was introduced to Elvis.

How old was Priscilla when she met Elvis?

It’s unthinkable today that a 14-year-old girl’s parents would allow their daughter to have dinner with the world’s most famous rock star, 10 years her senior, at his home. Yet that is what happened after a chance meeting with an army buddy of the star’s saw Priscilla gain a coveted invite.

Arriving through a gate thronged with female fans hoping for an autograph, “I spotted Elvis immediately,” she would write in the book, which is now the basis of a new biopic of the woman who would become his wife 10 years later.

Elvis Presley poses for the camera during his military service at a US base in Germany. (Photo by Vittoriano Rastelli/Corbis via Getty Images)

“He was more handsome than he appeared in films, younger and more vulnerable looking with his GI haircut.”

Despite the seeming power imbalance, it was Elvis who worked hard for Priscilla’s attention that night; his eyes following her around the room as he sang his hit songs at the piano, she recalled. And when he asked for a second date, her parents begrudgingly agreed.

This time, Elvis opened up to her. He poured his heart out about the recent death of his mother, Gladys, who had been the centre of his world and died aged just 46.

“She thought he was going off to war; that was her interpretation of being in the military,” Priscilla told The Weekly in 2022 of Gladys’ death.

“So, she worried about him, her health got worse and of course, now we all know, she passed. He never really got over the loss of his mom. They went through a lot together when he was young. She used to walk him to school every day, fearful he’d get lost. She just idolised him.”

Singer Elvis Presley kisses his mother, Gladys, on the eve of his induction into the Army. At left is his father, Vernon.

But when Elvis finally met Priscilla’s strict father, Mr Beaulieu was won over by what seemed to be the genuine connection the two shared, as well as the promise the relationship would remain chaste. Her father even gave Priscilla $35 to buy her beau a gift for the first Christmas the couple shared together in 1959.

“And what could I get? He had everything,” she recalled to The Weekly of her hunt for the perfect present: A set of bongo drums.

When did Priscilla move to Graceland?

When Elvis was discharged from the army in 1960, Priscilla was distraught. Surely, she reasoned, he would forget all about her. But two years later he sent for her, flying Priscilla to Graceland and beginning her makeover from schoolgirl to siren.

It was at this time, she writes in Elvis and Me, that she saw a new side to the former GI she’d fallen in love with. One who was incredibly controlling; going on to dictate the clothes she could wear and even the colour of her hair. One who had a temper (later manifesting into lashing out at her physically). One who was far from faithful. And one who was playing a dangerous balancing act with amphetamines and sleeping pills.

HD33DN Newlyweds ELVIS PRESLEY and PRISCILLA PRESLEY toast each other after the ceremony, 1967

This first trip lasted two weeks. A year later – again with her parents’ blessing – she returned to live there full-time, finishing high school while dating the most famous man on the planet, whose work took him to LA and Las Vegas as his star only grew. And also, to her growing dismay, taking him away from Graceland for longer periods of time.

“[Graceland] was where he felt comfortable, that was his playing ground,” she told The Weekly. “We went motorcycle riding, horseback riding. Just free, easy, not around people and just passing the time away. And he would tell me stories about what had happened in his life … what he’d gone through. The stories were captivating but there was also, how can I say, a loneliness as well. And I think that has a lot to do
with the passing of his mother.”

How old was Priscilla when she married Elvis?

Priscilla was 21 when the duo wed. She bought her dress off the rack.

“We wanted it to be personal and private and not have fanfare, the paparazzi or reporters there,” Priscilla told us of their Las Vegas ceremony on May 1, 1967.

“Frank Sinatra allowed us to use his private plane for the escape. It was three o’clock in the morning when we got our licence and then we went back to the hotel to chill a little bit before it was time [for the
ceremony]. We were both nervous. I think anyone who has a wedding is nervous because you want it to be perfect, you want to look good and of course, in our case, wanting to keep it very private, which we did. It was a very small gathering, just people who were very close to us and it made it very special.”

Elvis Presley and his wife, Priscilla, prepare to leave the hospital with their new daughter, Lisa Marie. Memphis, Tennessee, February 5, 1968.

How long were Elvis and Priscilla married?

The arrival of Lisa Marie would complete their little family. Yet Elvis’ demons played havoc in their marriage. Add to that the seclusion Priscilla felt and the influence of the outside world and it’s not surprising that six years later they filed for divorce. Despite this, they would remain friends, even entering the courthouse hand in hand.

 Entertainer Elvis Presley leaves Santa Monica California Superior Court after being granted a divorce from his wife Priscilla. The couple had been married six years and in spite of the October 9 divorce proceedings, they appeared very amicable as they left the courtroom. Source: Getty Images

So why would she lay bare the dark secrets of their relationship?

“Well, I’m not lying!” she laughed when The Weekly posed this question in 2022. “I have no reason to make up things. It’s the life that I lived.

“I loved him very, very much. He cared for me and loved me very, very much. But to live the life of someone that famous is not easy. I don’t know of too many people who could live that life. And … it’s difficult to share someone that is so famous.

“I don’t know too many people that do make it. Because it’s a very different world and you’re always trying to find a place of solace and to get away to learn and grow and be who you are searching for.”

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