Lisa Marie Presley Was Born With a Job: Be Famous, Kid.
Sometime around 1951, country and gospel singer Martha Carson wrote a song titled “Satisfied.” Faster paced than a lot of church songs, with a propulsive rhythm that foreshadowed rock ’n’ roll, it caught on fast and was recorded by more than a hundred artists, including the Blackwood Brothers.
The Blackwood Brothers quartet was a particular passion of the young Elvis Presley, and after he got to Sun Records in 1954, he recorded “Satisfied.”
Sun owner Sam Phillips wasn’t about to start releasing gospel music by his budding pop star, however, so “Satisfied” apparently sat in a tape box until Phillips sold Presley’s contract and music to RCA.
RCA, unfortunately, seems to have discarded it, along with tapes of other Presley recordings, in a routine housecleaning to save space in its tape vaults. So the Presley recording has never been heard.
Still, we have those hundred other renditions, and when the sad and stunning news circulated Thursday that Elvis’s daughter Lisa Marie had died of cardiac arrest, the Blackwood Brothers came to mind:
“You ask me if I’m happy
If I have that peace within
If I’m worried about tomorrow
When I reach my journey’s end.”
With some famous people, you get a sense of the answer to that question. You have some facts, some writings, some recordings, some interviews and a body of work that can be swirled together into a context that enables you to make a reasonably informed guess.
Lisa Marie Presley left all those clues behind — and it feels impossible to even speculate how much of her 58 years she would have called happy.
This much seems inarguable: Being the only child of Elvis, the original one-name rock ’n’ roll star, shaped her life. While she didn’t need to work a day for money, she was born with the 24/7 job of being famous.
She eventually became a singer, like her Dad, releasing her first album at the age of 35. She started writing and recording for that album when she was 18, she told Rolling Stone in 2003, but kept hesitating to pull the trigger and release it because of what she wryly called “the comparison. That.”
Successful artists are often compared to their own earlier work. Lisa Marie Presley, like Frank Sinatra Jr., knew that from the first note, her frame of reference would be her father.
She inherited more than his love of music. She inherited those deep eyes, which she surrounded with the same dark shadows. She could have been the daughter of no one else, and that seemed to be all right with her. She spent much of her life dodging the world, but almost none of it dodging the family connection.
The facts of her life, like the facts of many lives, can be tweaked to fit different narratives.
Troubled Rich Girl Haunted by Fame
She was married four times, and not to just anybody. She married musician Danny Keogh in 1988 and divorced him in 1994. Twenty days later she married Michael Jackson. Two years later they divorced and in 2002 she married Nicolas Cage. One hundred and seven days later he filed for divorce. She married Michael Lockwood in 2006 and they were married for almost 15 years before their divorce was finalized in 2021. That one might sound like it had a decent run except that in 2017 Lisa Marie and their twin daughters went into protective custody after she found what she said were “hundreds” of child pornography images on Lockwood’s computer.
Long before she married Lockwood, Rolling Stone asked her about her taste in men.
“If you lined up all the men I’ve been with in a row,” she replied, “you’d think that I was completely psychotic.”
She told Rolling Stone that she was fully in love with Jackson, compounded by the sense she could help save him from the bizarre caricature she saw him becoming. Normal marital relations were “a part of it, at first,” she said, “then at the end it got really ugly.”
She declined to speculate whether the self-titled King of Pop thought it would be the ultimate coup to land the daughter of the King of Rock ’n’ Roll. He may have loved her “as much as he was capable of,” she told Rolling Stone, but by the end she saw him defined entirely by “calculation.”
Marrying Cage, she said, was just “a big mistake.”
She became a Scientologist after conversations with John Travolta. She spent four of her teenage years, 13 to 17, doing drugs. During those years she told Playboy she was also sexually abused by the man her mother was dating. Before that, she described herself as a lonely child who lived much of her life through an army of Barbies and Snoopys. She also worried about her father, who was surrounded by men who gave her the creeps and who often seemed troubled and unwell. She asked him when she was 8 if he were going to die. He assured he wasn’t going anywhere. He died when she was 9, and she watched the medics carry his body out. She responded by going out in the yard and driving her golf cart in circles.
There are other discomforting details, which Lisa Marie told Rolling Stone and Playboy do not add up to the perpetually troubled life the tabloid press portrayed.
The Strong Woman Who Did Her Best
Lisa Marie eventually released three albums, which drew respectable reviews and modest sales. She recorded several duets with her father’s tracks, notably “In The Ghetto” and “Don’t Cry Daddy” (“You’ve still got / Me and little Tommy / Together we’ll find / A brand new Mommy”).
She inherited her father’s estate in 1993, when she turned 25, and continued her mother Priscilla’s brilliant strategy of turning their Graceland house into a shrine and the rest of the Elvis legacy into a cash machine. She seemed to genuinely miss her father and appreciate his music.
She had four children, two with Keogh and the twins with Lockwood. Her first, Ben Keogh, committed suicide in 2020, and Lisa Marie went public with messages of grief support for other parents who had lost children. You do not, she wrote, ever “get over it.”
Riley Keogh became a model and actress. When Riley starred in the fairly graphic TV series The Girlfriend Experience, Riley said she was “a little worried how Mom would react, but she was cool with it.”
Lisa Marie eventually sold 85% of the Elvis estate to the businesspeople who run it, and redirected more of her own time to charity work. This included the Elvis Presley Charitable Foundation, whose projects include Presley Place, which provides homeless families with temporary shelter for up to a year. She worked with Oprah Winfrey’s Angel Network, which was active helping displaced families in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. She became a patron of the Dream Factory, which grants wishes to seriously ill children.
She said her relationship with Danny Keogh was the best of her life, and she maintained a strong bond with him — proving that not all her male associations were train wrecks.
In the end it may be harder than it looks to say whether Lisa Marie Presley enjoyed her life — or perhaps, whether she overcame what she saw as the curse of fame.
“You get into this world where nothing you do is wrong,” she told Rolling Stone when she talked about the death of her father. “I don’t think any artist has really done that well with it — they usually end up destroying themselves. Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison . . . he wasn’t the only one. It’s like you have no basis anymore. No foundation. And I think he was one of the first ones to go through it. It was very lonely there, where he was.”
Maybe you can’t answer Martha Carson’s question yourself.