Graceland was Lisa Marie Presley’s home. The mansion has a wild history.


Lisa Marie Presley was at Graceland on Sunday for the annual ceremony honoring the birthday of her father, Elvis Presley. There was a multitiered birthday cake topped with a crown, and a spirited crowd to welcome her.

She spoke briefly, her voice quiet and raspy and her eyes covered with dark sunglasses. “It’s been while. I missed you,” she said to cheers. “It’s just so moving how every year you come from all over the world.”

Not far away lay the graves of her father, who died in 1977 at 42 years old, and her son, Benjamin Keough, who died at 27 in 2020.

On Thursday, just a few days after that visit to Graceland, Presley died suddenly at 54, leaving behind three daughters, her mother — and ownership of one of the most famous homes in the world.

Lisa Marie Presley, singer and daughter of Elvis Presley, died at 54

More than 20 million tourists have visited Graceland since it opened to the public in 1981, making it one of the most-visited homes in the United States. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places and has been designated a National Historical Landmark. Paul Simon and Phoebe Bridgers have written songs about it. Sitting presidents — American and otherwise — have visited, as have princes (Harry and William) and Queens (of the Stone Age). During the peak season in July, more than 4,000 people visit per day, according to the Graceland website, and interest has only increased since the release of Baz Luhrmann’s biopic “Elvis” last summer.

But make no mistake: Graceland was Lisa Marie Presley’s house. She lived there until her parents’ marriage ended and visited frequently after their divorce. She was there the night her father died, and as his heir, she maintained sole ownership of the house and its contents. With her passing, the mansion will go into a trust to benefit her three daughters, but nothing will change in its daily operations, a spokesman for Graceland said in an email.

Lisa Marie Presley, the only child of Elvis and Priscilla Presley, died Jan. 12 after a brief hospitalization. She was 54 years old. (Video: Allie Caren, Julie Yoon/The Washington Post)

Despite its plantation-style appearance, Graceland is less than a century old, built in 1939 for Ruth Brown Moore and Thomas Moore, on property Ruth had inherited; the Grace in “Graceland” was Ruth’s beloved aunt. The mansion was blessed with music long before Elvis arrived, as the Moores’ daughter became an accomplished harpist, and “[c]lassical recitals in the front formal rooms were common,” according to the website.

Elvis took over in 1957, at age 22. Before then, he had purchased a home in Memphis off his early “Heartbreak Hotel” earnings, but neighbors were complaining about the growing crowds swarming the streets all day and night. While on tour and with his star still rising, he asked his parents to find another house farther out of town and on a larger property that could be walled off. They found Graceland, and Presley purchased it for $102,000 — about $1 million today.

The place was already huge — more than 10,000 square feet — but over the years, Presley expanded it to a 17,000-square-foot wonderland. There was a pool room, a TV room, a music room, crystal chandeliers and gold frames everywhere. The Jungle Room featured green shag carpeting, top-of-the-line wood paneling and an indoor waterfall. There was a racquetball building, a trophy building, a shooting range and a stable full of horses.

His girlfriend, Priscilla Beaulieu, moved in in the 1960s, after living for years with Elvis’s father and stepmother a few blocks away — a requirement of her out-of-state parents. The couple married in 1967, and their daughter was born exactly nine months later, on Feb. 1, 1968.

Presley showered Lisa Marie in the trappings of wealth with the same indulgence with which he had expanded Graceland. As a baby, she slept in a custom canopy-style crib; birthday gifts included a slot machine, a mink coat and a diamond ring. He also named one of his two private jets after her; it is now parked on the Graceland property.

As the 1970s rolled on and Elvis and Priscilla separated, he fell further into the grip of drug abuse and often slept all day and stayed up all night, even when his daughter visited. In 2003, she told Rolling Stone that when she was seven or eight, she told him she was afraid he would die. “I just had a feeling. He wasn’t doing well,” she said. He died in 1977, when she was nine. She was visiting Graceland at the time.

Presley had named his father, grandmother and Lisa Marie as his heirs; by 1980, she was the only one left. There wasn’t much inheritance left either, spurring her mother and others administering the family trust to open Graceland to tourism. The Graceland complex now includes the mansion, a shopping center with gift shops and restaurants, a museum, a car museum and a luxury hotel.

When Lisa Marie Presley gained control in 1993 when she turned 25, it was worth $100 million. In 2005, she sold a controlling stake in the company that maintains the complex, Elvis Presley Enterprises, but maintained control of the house and all of her father’s belongings.

One of Elvis’s favorite places at Graceland was his meditation garden, so it was natural that he be laid to rest there. Over the years, his grave has been joined by the graves of his grandmother, parents and grandson, plus a memorial dedicated to the twin brother who died during their birth.

In a 2003 Playboy interview, Lisa Marie said, “All the graves are lined up and there’s a spot there, waiting for me, right next to my grandmother.” The Graceland spokesman confirmed that she would be laid to rest there.

This story has been updated.

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