Priscilla Presley will forever be known for being Elvis’s other half, but she’s also a Hollywood icon in her own right. It wasn’t easy living in the shadow of music’s biggest star, and finding herself took some time—even after their divorce. To really get a sense of her experience—from her struggles to her achievements—you must understand her backstory. From her childhood to marriage to The King to life after leaving Graceland, this is Priscilla’s life in photos, so far.
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Priscilla Ann Wagner was born in Brooklyn on May 24, 1945. When she was six months old, her biological father, US Navy pilot James Wagner, died in a plane crash. After her mother remarried US Air Force officer Paul Beaulieu, she spent her childhood moving around to different bases. In 1956, she found herself in Germany, where she would meet Elvis just a few years later.
In 1959, Priscilla met Elvis at a party when she was just 14 years old. The singer was stationed in Germany during his time in the military, and threw a gathering at the house he was renting.
Priscilla’s mother and stepfather, Ann Wagner and Paul Beaulieu, didn’t like the idea of their daughter seeing someone 10 years her senior. “Whenever they tried to stop us from seeing each other, I pleaded and cried and made them and myself miserable,” she wrote in her book, Elvis and Me. “In retrospect, I don’t think anything could have stopped me from seeing Elvis.”
A policeman escorts a then-16-year-old Priscilla out of Frankfurt Airport. She was saying goodbye to Elvis, as he traveled back home to Graceland.
Even while apart, the pair stayed in touch over the phone. When she turned 17, her parents allowed her to move to America on one condition: Elvis agreed to marry her.
Learning to trust Elvis wasn’t easy for Priscilla, even after she joined him in the United States in 1962. “Women gravitated to him, so I would be nervous when he had to go places alone. I would even go with him to get his teeth cleaned! I always had an eye on him because everyone in the world was after him,” she told PEOPLE.
In December 1966, Elvis popped the question. He proposed with a three-and-a-half-carat diamond ring from jeweler Harry Levitch. “He surprised me with it. I had no idea whatsoever what it would look like, but he had great taste. And yeah, we went downstairs, and showed his grandmother and his father. And he was showing everybody my hand with the ring on it. So, it was a very happy occasion,” she once recalled to World Cafe.
On May 1, 1967, the couple tied the knot in an intimate Las Vegas ceremony. Priscilla’s younger sister, Michelle Beaulieu, stood beside her as her maid of honor.
Though they seemed happy, there were some problems that existed from the start. “The beginning [of the marriage] was very difficult, but I knew what I was in for because I saw it at a very young age,” she said while visiting an exhibit about the late musician in 2016.
After their nuptials, Priscilla found it difficult being in the public eye. But her husband was used to it—and had plenty of advice to share. “It was hard to get accepted. But he always told me, ‘Don’t pay attention… don’t even listen and don’t look at the tabloids,'” she revealed at the same exhibit in 2016.
On February 1, 1968—exactly nine months after their wedding—the couple welcomed daughter Lisa Marie Presley.
After Lisa Marie was born, their relationship took a turn for the worse. “[Elvis] had mentioned to me before we were married that he had never been able to make love to a woman who had a child,” Priscilla revealed in her 1985 autobiography, Elvis and Me.
The pair become more distant with time. “I [was] beginning to doubt my own sexuality as a woman. My physical and emotional needs were unfulfilled,” she wrote in Elvis and Me.
In an effort to save their relationship, Priscilla renewed her vows with Elvis just a few years after their marriage.
The couple chats with Tom Jones in Las Vegas. Elvis and Tom became great friends, even vacationing together in Hawaii—and Priscilla has stayed close with singer over the years. “She’s a very dear friend of mine, Priscilla. I mean, I met her in the ’60s, and she’s been a friend of mine ever since,” Tom told PEOPLE in 2021.
With growing troubles came infidelity—on both sides. Elvis had reportedly cheated long before they were married, while Priscilla admitted to having an affair with her karate instructor.
In 1973, the couple split for good. “I did not divorce him because I didn’t love him. He was the love of my life, but I had to find out about the world,” Priscilla shared on ITV’s Loose Women.
Here, the exes leave the divorce courtroom hand in hand. Just moments later, Elvis serenaded Priscilla with Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.”
Just weeks after their divorce, Elvis recorded his hit song “Always on My Mind.” The emotional ballad was written for Priscilla, and detailed his regrets in their marriage. “[The song] meant a lot,” she said in the 2013 UK documentary The Nation’s Favourite Elvis Song. “Those were private moments for us. We were working things out and it was hard on both of us.”
Shortly after her divorce, Priscilla moved on by opening a store in Beverly Hills called Bis & Beau Boutique, pictured here.
Priscilla gained more independence as the years went on. “He was very opinionated on what he wanted: ‘I don’t like you in that color. Brown isn’t good for you. Green looks horrible. It’s a dull color with no spark to it,'” she shared with The Guardian. “I was a young kid, 16 years old, so I thought: ‘Oh, OK!’ It wasn’t until I got a little older that I started developing things that I liked.”
Priscilla poses inside her Beverly Hills home. Following her divorce, she became a star in her own right—after putting her modeling career on hold during her marriage because of Elvis. She claims in her memoir he told her: “It’s either me or a career, Baby. Because when I call you, I need you to be there.”
In one of her final public outings before Elvis’s death, Priscilla takes their daughter to the premiere of Raggedy Ann & Andy. “I wanted to die,” she revealed in her memoir after learning of her ex-husband’s unexpected passing just months later.
After being surprised with a horse by Elvis for Christmas in 1967, Priscilla fell in love with the animals. She has since been a longtime animal advocate, even lobbying in Congress for legislation that would ban cruelty against horses.
Priscilla found love once again with actor Michael Edwards. Their romance lasted from 1977 to 1984.
As the chairwoman of Elvis Presley Enterprises, Priscilla took the star’s fortune at the time of his death from $1 million to $100 million by 1993. One of the major ways she did this was by opening Graceland to the public in 1982.
“It’s 45 years since his passing, and I still can’t believe it,” Priscilla told fans outside Graceland in 2022. “His spirit is communicating to me. When I go to Graceland, my gosh, I can walk in that door and see him walking down the stairs. I can hear laughter and music playing in the music room. It’s a very surreal feeling. But it’s not scary. It’s beautiful.”
In 1983, Priscilla met and started dating film producer Marco Garibaldi. To prevent similar drama from her previous relationship, she reportedly had Marco sign an agreement that he wouldn’t write a book about her if they broke up.
Priscilla’s acting career began taking off in the late ’80s. In 1988, she starred in one of her most famous roles to date: Jane Spencer in The Naked Gun trilogy. Here, she stops for a snack while on set.
Priscilla gave birth to her second child, son Navarone Garibaldi, in 1987. Here she is with a 3-year-old Navarone at the Los Angeles International Airport.
The actress dances with her Naked Gun costar, Leslie Nielsen, in the U.K. the same year the third and final installment premiered.
For Priscilla and her family, 2006 was a big year, as it marked Graceland officially being named a National Historic Landmark. Here, she and daughter Lisa Marie greet President Bush, First Lady Laura Bush, and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi outside the estate to celebrate the occasion.
In 2012, the actress took her talents to the theater, performing in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the New Wimbledon Theatre in London.
Even years later, Priscilla still holds onto the love she always had for the King of Rock and Roll. Here, she poses for a photo at the Elvis on Tour exhibition at the O2 Arena in London. “I want to make sure these young ones learning about him now will take the torch and keep it going,” she told PEOPLE. “He has a phenomenal legacy, and I will always cherish my moments with him.”
Priscilla attended a photo call for Elvis during the 75th annual Cannes Film Festival. By her side is the actress who portrayed her in the biopic, Olivia DeJonge. “I relived every moment in this film,” she shared on Instagram. “It took me a few days to overcome the emotions as it did with Lisa.”
Here, Priscilla attends the 2022 Met Gala with Austin Butler, the actor who brought the late singer to life in Elvis. She has since called his performance “mesmerizing.”
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