Elvis was no deadbeat dad.
By all accounts, his biggest struggle as a father was balancing a high-powered, high-profile career with the dad life.
Regardless of Elvis’ tortuous ambition, fame, and massive fortune, his daughter, the late Lisa Marie Presley, was, without a doubt, the light of his chaotic life.
Through Presley’s parlays with women, sex-symbol status, separation in 1971, and divorce in 1973, the love Elvis had for his daughter was rock solid.
Speaking with The Guardian in 2012, Priscilla Presley spoke with fondness about the music icon’s desire to keep close to Lisa Marie.
“Lisa was four when Elvis and I divorced, and we were very civil and we really wanted him to stay in her life, and they spent plenty of time together. Elvis and I didn’t suddenly not like each other.”
He wasn’t “a hands-on dad,” she said. “I knew I could not domesticate Elvis.” However, the birth of Lisa Marie changed their lives for good, “bringing the two closer together.”
Lisa Marie was one of the reasons why the Presley divorce was so civil.
For Elvis, learning to adapt to married life and fatherhood didn’t gel with the bachelor lifestyle so well rewarded by Hollywood, tabloids, and the music industry.
Priscilla told The Guardian that at home, “I was the disciplinarian.”
“[Elvis] didn’t really have that much to do with the practical stuff, and there were times when Lisa didn’t like it, but you can’t live life without boundaries.”
In a 1978 article written for Good Housekeeping, Elvis’ father, Vernon, spoke of why the family broke down: “Elvis didn’t really want to be married.”
Elvis’ professional life was so intense, there was little real room for family life.
“When he was travelling,” Vernon recalled, “it wasn’t practical for Priscilla to go along all the time, especially after Lisa was born. These separations put a strain on their relationship.”
He then took pains to emphasise how seriously Elvis took his role as a father,
“I want to emphasise that although he had to leave her often, Elvis was crazy about his little girl Lisa, and she adored her daddy. When Lisa wasn’t in school, and he wasn’t on the road, she’d come to Memphis and they’d play together in his home, Graceland, for hours.”
Bolstering Vernon’s assessment, family friend and Imperials pianist Joe Moscheo wrote in his book The Gospel Side of Elvis,
‘Four months after the birth of Lisa Marie, Elvis began preparation for his return to performing live.’
This would become known as the “’68 Comeback Special.”
‘As it does in so many marriages, the pressure of career concerns began to erode Elvis and Priscilla’s relationship. The constant travelling, and media exposure would have been difficult enough, but Elvis’s need to perform and record, and constant searching for new and better means of musical expression, only added to the conflict between them.’
Consequently, Priscilla left with Lisa Marie.
Adding to his eyewitness rundown, Moscheo said,
‘Elvis was publicly gracious about the separation and divorce, asserting to one audience that he bore the blame for the split, due to the pressures of his career.’
Privately, Moscheo explained, Elvis never really got over it.
People Magazine added other reasons, including, ‘frequent alleged [and highly disputed] infidelities on Elvis’s part, and an affair of Priscilla’s own with karate instructor Mike Stone.’
Critics would be hard-pressed to label Priscilla a better mother than Elvis was a father. Lisa Marie was 9 years old when her father died.
Comparing the two’s parenting styles would be a baseless and futile exercise.
All there is to measure Elvis as a dad is Lisa’s memory of her father, and how this informs the “as-normal-as-possible” upbringing she tried to give her own children.
Context is everything.
Elvis, as Moscheo framed it, was boxed in by his ridiculous fame.
There was little Elvis could do with his daughter outside the grounds of Graceland.
This was explained well by Joe Moscheo, who recalled Elvis taking a keen interest in the 1970s Jesus Movement.
Flame of Faith
Elvis knew he could only ever be a spectator. If he were to attend a church, or Christian event, his attendance would make him the main attraction.
This is why Lisa Marie’s dad, a devoted son and music revolutionary, held the Gospel quartet, The Imperials, close to him.
Despite his popularity, Elvis tended to reserve the title “king” for the God he struggled to emulate, but passionately adored — a fact evidenced by his love affair with Gospel music.
In the end, Elvis had been reduced to advertising space, the dad-life stifled by his promoter’s Presley profile.
This sheds light on why Elvis Presley took so endearingly to the words of Hank Williams, declaring on stage in 1970,
“You’ve never walked in that man’s shoes or saw things through his eyes, or stood and watched with helpless hands while the heart inside you dies. Some were poor, some were kings and some were masters of the arts. But in their shame, they’re all the same, these men with broken hearts. So, help your brother along the road, no matter where he starts. For the same God that made you, made them too. These men with broken hearts!”
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
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