Five Noteworthy Facts You Might Not Know About Priscilla Presley

To mark the release of Sofia Coppola's 'Priscilla,' we're examining the fascinating life of Elvis's ex-wife

Photo courtesy of Elevation Pictures

BY Rachel HoPublished Oct 30, 2023

Premiering November 3, Sofia Coppola's latest film, Priscilla — an adaptation of Priscilla Beaulieu Presley's's 1985 memoir Elvis and Me — explores a young girl's journey living in Elvis Presley's shadow. Priscilla begins and ends with Elvis and Priscilla's relationship as she goes from her father's house to Graceland without much understanding of who she is or who she wants to be. 

Priscilla Beaulieu Presley has gone from the envy of teenage girls around the world to the suffering wife of a rock star to the ex-wife of a legend. Now 78 years old, she has been in the public conscience for over half a century with much written and said about her — but how much do we actually know about her? 

Before settling into the world of '50s Americana and '60s eyeliner, here are five facts about Priscilla Presley that you might not know.

Priscilla's biological father tragically died in a plane crash when she was just six months old.

In Elvis and Me, Priscilla recalls a moment in her childhood when she was going through old family mementos and discovered a folded American flag along with a photo that read, "Mommy, Daddy, Priscilla" on the back. After confronting her mother with these items, Ann Beaulieu admitted to her then-13-year-old daughter that Captain Joseph Paul Beaulieu, the man Priscilla knew to be her father, was Ann's second husband who had adopted Priscilla as a toddler.

Navy pilot Lieutenant James "Jimmy" Wagner married Ann (née Iverson) in August 1944 and the two lived in newlywed bliss as they awaited the arrival of baby Priscilla. A few months after they became a family of three, Lt. Wagner received his orders to report for duty on the USS Roosevelt. Deciding to fly home before shipping out, Jimmy and his copilot flew into bad weather and sadly crashed near the Berkshire Mountains. 

Ann Beaulieu presented Priscilla with a gold locket Jimmy had gifted Ann and suggested to Priscilla that she keep this information from her siblings as to not cause any potential rifts within their close-knit family, which Priscilla dutifully did for many years. 

She co-owned a Beverly Hills boutique, Bis & Beau, that counted Natalie Wood, Diana Ross and Mary Tyler Moore as customers.

In the early '70s, Priscilla became acquainted with Olivia Bis, a designer with a shop in Beverly Hills that caught Priscilla's eye. The two became friendly, and in the autumn of 1972, after Priscilla and Elvis negotiated their first financial settlement following their separation, Priscilla offered to use some of the money to buy into Olivia's boutique, which was suffering financially due to problems with the IRS. 

Olivia and Priscilla began 1973 as partners in a new boutique, Bis & Beau — a name derived from Olivia's last name and a nickname given to Priscilla by Mike Stone, Priscilla's partner from 1972 to 1974. The boutique was a success, with the likes of Natalie Wood, Diana Ross, Mary Tyler Moore, Barbra Streisand and Carol Burnett frequenting the shop, with some comparing the Bis & Beau's aesthetic to London's iconic Mary Quant.

Priscilla sold her interest in Bis & Beau in April 1976 and decided to travel the world. While her time as a boutique owner was brief, it represented her first attempt to live a life beyond being Elvis's ex-wife.

Priscilla was an actress in the '80s and '90s co-starring in the TV show Dallas and the Naked Gun series starring Leslie Nielsen.

After the birth of their daughter Lisa Marie, Elvis busied himself with his upcoming television special (what would eventually be known as The '68 Comeback Special) while Priscilla began pursuing her own interests. She enrolled in karate lessons, as well as dance and acting classes with New York stage dancer Steve Peck, all of which proved to help Priscilla break out of her apparent shell.

It wouldn't be until a few years after her divorce from Elvis that Priscilla decided to pursue an acting career in earnest; however, following Elvis's death, she decided to put her ambitions on hold, and it wouldn't be until 1978 that she signed with the William Morris Agency. Fuelled by the desire to achieve fame in her own right, Priscilla would eventually experience success becoming a series regular on the 1980s television classic Dallas and playing opposite Leslie Nielsen in the Naked Gun trilogy.

Priscilla decided to return the dining and living rooms of Graceland back to its pre-1970s glory. 

In 1974, Elvis asked his girlfriend Linda Thompson to help him redecorate a few rooms inside Graceland; notably, the famed "Jungle Room" — complete with shag carpeting on the ceiling — was created during this time. According to Linda, Elvis wanted the living room and dining room to be redone all in red with touches of black. The result was essentially a bordello. 

When the decision was made for Graceland to open its doors for tours, Priscilla, who developed a keen interest in interior design during the '60s, opted to restore those two rooms to their original design of white walls and furniture with blue curtains. While a far more elegant welcome for visitors, this decision has divided Elvis fans. Some would rather see Graceland as Elvis left it, and others believe Priscilla to have acted correctly in showing a more sophisticated image of Elvis, true to his look in the '60s, reflected in his home.

She assisted in the opening of Graceland to the public and co-founded Elvis Presley Enterprises after Elvis's death, serving as a trustee until 2023.

Many assumed at the time of Elvis's passing in 1977 that he had left an estate fit for a king and his princess. The reality, though, was that Elvis's contract with Tom Parker (which granted the manager half his earnings), lavish spending, his divorce settlement with Priscilla and his generosity towards friends and family members left his estate with "only" $7 million in assets.

Elvis's will was simple: his father, grandmother and daughter (just nine years old at the time of his death) were the only named beneficiaries. Priscilla's involvement with the estate came from being Lisa Marie's legal guardian and being named in Elvis's father's will as a co-executor/co-trustee to succeed him. Alongside her co-executors and co-trustees, they founded Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE) in an effort to conduct business and manage the estate's assets. 

Since his death, Elvis's estate has grown to over $500 million, in large part because Priscilla avoided a key pitfall that beset her ex-husband by hiring a team of savvy business people best suited to the job. She appointed Jack Soden as President and CEO, and he proposed the idea of opening Graceland to the public. Together, they brought EPE into the 21st century with souvenir licensing, touring exhibitions (featuring Elvis's jumpsuits, cars and other personal effects), collaborations with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and more. 

Riley Keough, Priscilla's eldest granddaughter, became the sole trustee of Graceland and her family's interest in EPE upon Lisa Marie's death in early 2023. A legal challenge was filed by Priscilla, disputing an amendment in Lisa Marie's will that removed her as a trustee; after Riley settled this claim, paying her grandmother a reported $1 million, Priscilla resigned as trustee, ending her involvement with EPE and Graceland after nearly 45 years of stewardship.

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