Elvis Presley was 24 when he first met Priscilla Beaulieu, then 14 years old, in 1959. Their age difference wasn’t a problem for Elvis, who thought he could mold Priscilla into his ideal woman. At first, Priscilla accepted Elvis’ influences, but as she grew older, she began to seek more control over her own life. This was something their relationship couldn’t survive, and after six years of marriage, they divorced in 1973.
Despite this, Priscilla still holds fond memories of her legendary ex-husband, who died in 1977. She wrote a memoir, Elvis and Me, in 1985 about their courtship and marriage, and the book is the basis for the upcoming biopic Priscilla—starring Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi as the famous couple. The movie, directed by Sofia Coppola, premieres at the Venice Film Festival next week and releases in theaters on October 27. Hollywood being what it is, here’s the true story of their tumultuous yet loving relationship.
Elvis and Priscilla met when she was in ninth grade
Six months into his stint in the U.S. Army, Elvis was stationed in West Germany in fall 1958. He was still there in 1959 when Priscilla arrived in the country; the Air Force had transferred her stepfather, Paul, there. While she was out with her younger brother, a service member approached Priscilla and asked if she’d like to accompany him and his wife to meet Elvis. Paul, after checking in with the man’s commanding officer, gave his approval for a visit.
On a November night in 1959, Priscilla wore a navy-and-white sailor dress and traveled to Elvis’ temporary home in Bad Nauheim. She immediately captured the star’s attention, even when she admitted she was a ninth-grader. He played several songs to impress her, including “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” But when she left that night, she assumed the evening wasn’t going to be repeated.
The singer liked that Priscilla was young and inexperienced
Elvis saw a resemblance between Priscilla and his recently deceased mother, Gladys, whose death had hit the singer hard. He also told his friend Rex Mansfield that Priscilla was “young enough that I can train her any way I want.” Elvis wanted Priscilla to visit again. The second time they met, he invited her to his room, where they kissed.
After Priscilla had been on four “dates” with Elvis, her parents insisted on an in-person meeting. When they got together, Paul asked why a star was interested in his teenage daughter. Elvis responded, “Well, sir, I happen to be very fond of her. She’s a lot more mature than her age, and I enjoy her company.” The Beaulieus were apprently charmed enough to allow Priscilla to keep seeing Elvis.
Priscilla had already made her mind up anyway, telling The Hollywood Reporter in an August 2023 interview she would have run away if her parents disapproved. “I basically threatened them and told them, ‘If you don’t let me go, I’ll find my way.’” For the remainder of Elvis’ stay in Germany, he was the center of her world. She continued to go to school but fell behind—though she didn’t take the pills Elvis offered when he noticed her fatigue. “I want you to take these; they’ll help you stay awake during the day,” he told her. Priscilla’s age meant they couldn’t go out in public, but they still saw each other often. The only thing they didn’t do was consummate their relationship. As his time in the Army came to a close, Priscilla wanted to do so, but Elvis told her, “Someday we will, Priscilla, but not now. You’re just too young.”
Elvis and Priscilla reconnected two years after he was discharged
In March 1960, Elvis had finished his enlistment and left Germany. Priscilla sent letters, using pink envelopes to make them easy to locate among Elvis’ fan mail. Her parents cautioned her that the King of Rock ’n’ Roll would likely forget her and that the relationship was over—but then he called her. And in 1962, he asked her to visit and worked to convince her parents to let their teenager travel to Los Angeles. After Priscilla arrived, Elvis added Las Vegas to the trip’s itinerary. During their time there, Priscilla began taking amphetamines and sleeping pills to keep up with Elvis’ nocturnal schedule. She also started wearing new, more adult outfits, which Elvis had purchased for her. In addition, the singer had Priscilla’s hair and makeup adjusted to suit his preferences, telling her, “I like a lot of makeup.”
Priscilla also visited Graceland for Christmas that year. Next, Elvis asked her to finish high school in Memphis, Tennessee, which she was desperate to do. Her parents initially rejected the idea, but Priscilla continued to press the issue as Elvis tried to convince them that their daughter would be safely living with his father, Vernon, and stepmother, Dee. He also implied he wanted to marry Priscilla.
Priscilla became ‘Elvis’ living doll’
In the end, the Beaulieus agreed to send their daughter to Memphis, and Priscilla enrolled at Immaculate Conception High School. Although she stayed with Vernon and Dee at first, she was soon living at Graceland. Before graduating in May 1963, she took pills that Elvis provided so she could go to classes during the day while being available for him at other times.
Elvis valued what he saw as Priscilla’s purity, so their relationship remained sexless (however, throughout his relationship with Priscilla, Elvis was with other women, ranging from girl-next-door types to Hollywood co-stars). But they were intimate in other ways. One favorite pastime was using Polaroids to document sexual games such as the seduction of a student by his teacher.
Elvis also continued to remake Priscilla, who later described herself as “Elvis’ living doll, to fashion as he pleased.” He had porcelain caps placed on her teeth and demanded she improve her posture. He was also molding her in his own image: her hair was dyed black like his, placed in an updo that matched his pompadour, and her clothes needed to be in similar colors to his.
“It was a different time,” Priscilla told The Hollywood Reporter. “I lived in his world. I wanted to please him. I wanted to fit in. I wanted to have fun with him. I wanted to see what it was that he liked.” Priscilla also began to understand the spotlight that would constantly be on her as Elvis’ love interest. In the same interview, she described an occasion when she heard onlookers at a Beverly Hills boutique gossiping as she tried on clothes. “I heard the girl saying, ‘You know who that is? That’s the girl Elvis is dating, and they’re getting married. She’s pregnant,’” recalled Priscilla, who wasn’t actually pregnant. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s what’s being said?’”
Elvis and Priscilla didn’t have sex until their wedding night
Over the years, Priscilla, who’d often been left at Graceland while Elvis went off to make movies, had also been referred to as a “live-in Lolita.” Elvis’ controlling manager, Colonel Tom Parker, was worried about the potential fallout if they didn’t marry. Likely due at least in part to Parker’s prodding, before Christmas in 1966, Elvis proposed. And though the singer felt pressure about the whole arrangement, on May 1, 1967, they were married in Las Vegas. He was 32, and she was three weeks away from her 22nd birthday.
Their wedding night was the first time the couple had sex. Priscilla got pregnant right away, which made Elvis worry about how fatherhood would affect his career. When Priscilla was seven months pregnant, he asked for a trial separation, though they were only apart for a short time. Their daughter, Lisa Marie, was born on February 1, 1968—nine months after her parents’ wedding.
Despite their divorce, Priscilla ‘wanted to die’ when Elvis passed
Priscilla discovered that Elvis was reluctant to sleep with her after she’d gone through childbirth. He told her he wanted her to have time to recover, but, as Priscilla later wrote, “He had mentioned before we were married that he had never been able to make love to a woman who’d had a child.” As he had before they were married, Elvis slept with other women. But Priscilla was no longer willing to simply wait for him to come home.
Priscilla had a short-lived liaison with the owner of a dance school. And despite renewing vows in Hawaii, she continued to experience the limitations of her marriage. “My life was his life,” she said to People magazine in 1978. “My problems were secondary.” Still unfulfilled, she had an affair with her karate instructor, Mike Stone. In 1972, she told Elvis she was leaving him. When he found out about her affair, he wanted to hire a hitman to kill her partner but was convinced not to.
Their divorce, which was finalized on October 9, 1973, was an amicable one. Priscilla said in a 2016 interview, “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.” They shared custody of Lisa Marie and regularly saw each other. After learning that Elvis had died on August 16, 1977, Priscilla was devastated. She wrote in her memoir, “I wanted to die.”
Priscilla showcases their love from her point of view
For the upcoming movie, director Sofia Coppola pulled stories from Priscilla’s book and uncovered more examples of the myriad ways she tried to please Elvis. That included applying her fake eyelashes when she went into labor. And there was the time she selected a gun that matched her outfit when the couple went target shooting.
The film won’t shy away from showing some of the uglier moments of their relationship, as according to The Hollywood Reporter it includes a scene where Elvis loses his temper during a pillow fight and gives Priscilla a black eye. She wrote about the incident in Elvis and Me.
Ultimately, though, Priscilla told the outlet she wanted the film to showcase “that love was there, that the care was there.” Cailee Spaeny met with her to prepare for the lead role, asking for any advice that would help the actor give an authentic performance. “Just be sensitive to him,” Priscilla said, referencing co-star Jacob Elordi.
According to TMZ, anonymous officials from the Elvis Presley Estate have condemned the film, saying it was made without their consent and “feels like a college movie.” Priscilla is adamant that Coppola has crafted a beautiful film but still worries about how viewers will react. “I’m so nervous because it’s my life,” she said. “The people who are watching, they’re living it with you, and you hope and pray that they get it.”