It happens every year about this time, around the anniversary of the day the King of Rock 'n' Roll died, Aug. 16, 1977. The stories start coming—"malicious, untrue, upsetting stories," says Priscilla Presley, 41, Elvis' ex-wife and the mother of his only child, Lisa Marie, 18. Perhaps because of Lisa Marie's great financial and symbolic legacy from Elvis (she already has his eyes and mouth; she will get his multimillion-dollar estate when she is 25) and perhaps because of the secrecy with which Priscilla tried to protect her, Lisa Marie's young life has been speculated about feverishly ever since her father's death when she was 9 years old.
Until now, Priscilla has done nothing to refute such stories. In her best-selling 1985 autobiography, Elvis and Me, she made few references to her daughter. But this year things are different. This year the stories have been retailing "fabrications" that Priscilla feels she can no longer leave unchallenged: that Lisa Marie has thrown a small fortune away on a cult, that she is obsessed by the memory of her father and overprotected by her mother. Too old now to be kept ignorant of her press clippings (she just graduated from the Westlake School for Girls in L.A.), Lisa Marie has been so upset by such reports that she blurted to Priscilla recently, "Mom, I can't take this."
Neither, anymore, can Priscilla. Last week, taking time off from shooting her fourth season on CBS' Dallas, she sat down with PEOPLE'S national correspondent to set the record straight.
They say Lisa is brainwashed. If that means getting along with your mother, family and friends, then everybody should be brainwashed. We are two very normal happy people.
They say Lisa lives in an apartment run by a Scientology sect. She's still living at home and has never threatened to leave. In fact, she keeps saying she'll never leave me. I told her, "Believe me, one day some guy will come into your life and you're going to say, 'Mom, guess what?...' "
They say Lisa and I are tools of a cult. Scientology is not a cult. It teaches you to confront issues, talk things out, face yourself. We've been following Scientology for eight years and it's been working for us. I don't try to push Scientology on people, and neither does she.
They say that Lisa is giving a fortune to Scientology. That, again, is ludicrous. They don't charge Lisa any more for courses than the person who comes off the street. Lessons cost $10 and up but nothing like the figures suggested in the tabloids. Besides, Lisa doesn't even get her inheritance until she's 25.
They say she's obsessed with her father and wears his faded-jeans jacket. Elvis never owned a jeans jacket. He never even wore jeans. Of course she is a fan of his. I don't know any child who doesn't idolize his or her father, whether it's Elvis Presley or not. A father is a father. But she doesn't sit in her room all day listening to his old records. We talk about him from time to time—his memory is definitely there—but it's not deep, gushing talk. We have happy memories, and life does go on, thank God. It's true that time heals wounds.
They say she's this poor lost child that I'm keeping sheltered. Well, it's not just my choice. That's how she wants it too. When Lisa reached 18, I changed her curfew from midnight to 1 a.m. But she was already having a good time. There really isn't anything to do in L.A. after one o'clock. Of course we don't go to places that are celebrated or where paparazzi hang out. Look at poor Princess Stephanie. Every time she goes to a beach or a club or dates someone, it's news. That girl doesn't have a life. I do not want that for my daughter. I want her to be able to come and go as she pleases without worrying who's behind the bushes or lurking between the trees. What a horrible way to live! We come out of restaurants prepared to cover our faces. One time when Lisa was 15 we left a clothing store and out of the blue, here they come, flashes going off everywhere. It was such a shock. After a few experiences like that Lisa said, "My God, I can't live like this."
They say I choose her wardrobe. Forget it. Did you ever try to tell an 18-year-old what to wear? I have. It doesn't work. I do not choose her clothes. She may ask my opinion, and if I don't think something looks good on her, I tell her. Actually she has good taste. Lisa is also price conscious. For her, $200 is way too much for a dress.
They say she hated my book on Elvis. She loved the book. She was proud of me. She got very emotional about it. She's even written letters to fans defending me. Lisa would write and say, "You don't know what my mother's been through." She's a fighter. She knows that the image fans have of Elvis—as a man who could do no wrong—is not real. To her he was just a dad. He had his faults.
They say we're always fighting. We are the best of friends. We really do communicate. But if you had asked me when she was 14...
Between 14 and 17 was the worst. It's not easy raising a daughter by yourself as a single parent. Especially in Los Angeles, where there's a lot of peer pressure. I'm not going to say she hasn't tried alcohol and drugs. She's gone through everything every other teenager does. But she's never been to any rehabilitation center, and right now Lisa isn't on drugs. The only thing I wish I'd done differently would be to raise her in a smaller town. Lisa says, "Well, I've gone through what I have at a young age and I won't have to go through it later." But a lot depends on whom your child hangs out with. I didn't care for the persons she was associating with. I have literally shown up at her friends' houses in L.A. and taken her home. She knows that I wouldn't let her just go and do these things. I backed up what I said. Getting her into sports, keeping her productive—that seemed to help. You can't be a naive parent today. You have to think one step ahead. I've seen kids who were high and the parents had no idea what was going on. Not knowing is a sorry excuse. Now Lisa is glad I was there for her. But then...
Boys are a big influence, and Lisa was used badly. Everything I had fought for her privacy and protection backfired with one guy who used her for publicity. He had a friend take pictures of Lisa in the park and sold them to the press. He was having a terrible influence on her life. That was in 1983. The experience set Lisa back a couple of years. She was hurt by it and I was hurt by it. But that's the kind of thing you have to overcome: Whom do you trust?
Has she ever brought it up to me about dating Elvis when I was 14? Only once, when she wanted to date someone a couple of years older. I didn't want to lose her by saying, "Absolutely not." I know what it's like to be emotionally involved. I know what I did at that age, what I put my parents through. Another of those hindsight lessons.
Lisa has never dated an actor. She's not very impressed with people in the business, which I'm real happy about. Today she is very much involved with a boyfriend who's about 20. It's a relief having her with someone who is nice and out of the limelight. He's in the restaurant business, and they've been going together for a year and a half and have a very happy relationship.
Right now she is tossing around plans to go to college. At school she was average—I can't say she was brilliant. The two of us are the same in that way. We're more for the fun. She might eventually go to school overseas, but we're still thinking about that.
They say she's signed a contract to record an album. I can guarantee you that is totally out. It's never happened. It's never been discussed. I've told her there are lots of people out there ready to sign her for anything with no experience at all. I've explained that if she decides to do anything, she'd better get some training. There are going to be a lot of expectations out there.
She understands that. Lisa is much more of an adult now. She's so much easier to talk to. We really do have a wonderful life together. Thank goodness she is just crazy about the man in my life [writer and MTV producer Marco Garibaldi, 30, who's been living with Priscilla and Lisa for more than a year]. Marco and I have no plans to marry right away. We're afraid marriage might ruin a wonderful relationship. Isn't that an awful thing to say? But it's frightening, a major step. Maybe someday...
Since we've been living together, Marco has changed my life. I don't take things so seriously. I find myself laughing a lot. I'm a one-man woman. I don't like a fly-by-night involvement.
Lisa and I have led a pretty decent life, and then to read these things about ourselves...The tabloids have created a Priscilla Presley I don't even know. They had me dating Burt Reynolds and I've never been introduced to the man. Then they said I was dating Julio Iglesias' doctor. Marco called the doctor, pretending to be a Brazilian reporter checking out the story. The doctor told him, "I never even met her." Marco has a lot of sympathy. For the first time in a long time I think I've found someone who is a good person. Still, these stories are damaging.
Lisa and Marco have helped me through some of the hard times. Lisa is very perceptive and compassionate. If she knows I'm going through something, she'll say, "C'mon, Mom, what is it?" Basically we lead a simple life. When I'm not working we have close friends and family in for dinner and rent movies. On weekends we get together and play baseball, tennis and volleyball. My friends are her friends. And they are all family oriented.
The press doesn't print that. They fabricate horrible things. I guess it's because we've been so private. Because any time you create a mystery, people want to know. And when you don't want people to know a lot of things, they create their own stories. Our closeness is our only weapon against that.
Lisa says, "Mom, I know I put you through a lot, but now it's all over," and thank God it's true. Now we can relax and be friends with each other. I think Elvis would be proud of us today. If he were to look at his daughter, he would be very proud of her. She's everything a father would want his daughter to be. Did I do the right thing? You never know how you were as a parent until your child grows up.
- Lois Armstrong.