On Sunday January 22nd, 2023, at Graceland in Memphis Tennessee, Lisa Marie Presley was laid to rest. It is a sad moment not just for the family but for many fans of her late father Elvis Presley. I never met the Presley family nor her famous father. I am the author of a soon-to-be released book. Elvis: The King of Rock and Roll: Book 1: The Crowning of a King. However, I feel I knew her, like a long-lost cousin. I am as sad as anyone can be for someone they do not know, as if someone in my own family was passing away at such a young age.
I would never intrude on this famous family, but I wanted to make my feelings known; I am totally heartbroken! There are no words for me to say to anyone about her untimely death. The only solace: she is together with her father, her son Benjamin Keough who died two years ago, and grandparents. She leaves behind three beautiful daughters.
It is a mere two weeks after Lisa Marie celebrated her father Elvis’ 88th birthday. On January 8th, 2023 she was at the celebration for her father, at the Graceland mansion. Fourteen days after her appearance, she will be laid to rest beside her famous father, her grandmother, and son Benjamin. It is a sad moment not just for the family but for the many fans of her father. She requested any memorial for her be a celebration of her life, like her father.
Saying a Final Goodbye to Someone We Don’t Quite Know.
The entire Elvis Presley universe has gone into mourning for her untimely death last week. Similarly, like her father Elvis and grandmother Gladys, Lisa Marie also died young, of a heart attack. This brings back many memories of the heartbreak. Memories of losing her father, Elvis, in 1977 at the young age of 42. It also places us back in that moment: August 16, 1977.
Like the death of John F. Kennedy in November 1963, almost every Elvis fan alive at that time could tell you where they were on that day- how heartbroken we were, and still are, about his untimely death. Images of the funeral procession, the throngs of fans turning out to pay their respects, will never be forgotten. It has become tradition to celebrate his life rather than his death, something that is celebrated each August during Elvis Week at Graceland. The celebration has been held each year, for the past forty-five years. Lisa Marie’s memorial also became a celebration of her life, while not as grand, almost fifty years later. Over 30,000 people came from all over the world, including Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, paying tribute. Any doubts that Elvis Presley was a King, are now shattered.
Images From The Past
Lisa Marie was only nine years old when her father passed away on that hot August night of 1977. Stories were she awoke the next morning looking for her father. She found him collapsed on the floor unconscious (she was visiting with Elvis at the Graceland mansion that week). The thought of someone that young losing their parent cannot be minimized. We felt for her, and her losses were ours as well. Many of us watched her grow from a small child into a woman, celebrating her triumphs (marriages, births, hit records, and dubbed duets with her father). We felt like she was our kin, or cousin.
We also mourned with her for her losses (divorces, financial woes, the death of her son Benjamin), supporting her in any way we could, like a member of our own family. At this moment, the entire Elvis world is trying to come to terms with her death. This moment should have been the start of a great comeback, reuniting with her former husband and the success of the biopic about her father- things were starting to come together for Lisa Marie.
For the last twenty years we heard interviews with Lisa Marie on Elvis Radio. Bantering with DJs Big Jim Sykes and Arlo. We reminisced with her about her father when she shared the microphone and those private family moments. Who could forget her talks with Elvis’ Oral Biographer George Klein (GK) on SIRIUS XM Elvis Radio? GK, (who died in 2018), passing on his wonderful tales about Elvis and his family as if they were candy to Elvis fans.
There Seemed Like a Hope for the Future
We recently heard her comments at his birthday celebration at Graceland only a few days prior to her passing last week, on January 10th, at the Golden Globe Awards. Lisa Marie had glowing comments about the newly released Baz Luhrmann Biopic “Elvis”. She expressed her pride in the actor Austin Butler’s portrayal of her father, and the entire movie production. She spoke with pride about the production from top to bottom. Elvis fans shared her pride, only to be shocked to reality two days later when we heard she had died. Just this week the film was nominated for an OSCAR for Best Picture and BEST ACTOR.
I was looking forward to sharing my new book with her, to get her impressions of the section of his career which was only glossed over in the film. The years 1954 to 1956 contained his rise from nowhere to become the most notable person of the twentieth century and the reason he was crowned The King of Rock and Roll.
Why do people mourn for the children of those we barely know?
A friend of mine said he had a similar reaction to the death of John F. Kennedy Jr., in 1999. Kennedy Jr. was a young toddler when his famous father passed. The sight of him at the funeral procession saluting the passing casket, was something many of us growing up would never forget. His passing in 1999 seemed so surreal because he and I are approximately the same age. When he passed at the young age of thirty-nine, it put life into perspective for me.
Lisa Marie was not front and center as John F. Kennedy Jr. was when his father passed in 1963. Thank you to Priscilla for sheltering Lisa Marie from the paparazzi. We know you will be helping with your twin granddaughters, who are at the moment just fourteen years old. All of us within Elvis World will support your choices. As we did when Lisa Marie was growing up forty-five years ago.
We feel a sense of familiarity with famous people. They influence our lives so profoundly, because we know so much about them, so much more than we know about many others outside our immediate family. This familiarity makes us feel like they are part of our family. It is hard for us to understand that these people are no more than strangers. Nonetheless, we feel as if they are close to us. As Dutchess Sarah Ferguson quoted Queen Elizabeth: “Grief is the price we pay for love”.
Support for the Presley Family
When Lisa Marie Presley lost her son Benjamin Keough to suicide the entire Elvis Presley spectrum of fans reached out to support her. During her time of loss, they were there, as with the death of her father Elvis. Hopefully she found this a comfort, and not an intrusion.
Those of us with children of our own will tell you, we feel the pain of our children more than our own, more than anyone could know. Nonetheless, I could not imagine her pain from the loss of Benjamin. As rumor has it, Benjamin’s death left a gaping hole in Lisa Marie’s heart, something that could never be filled. How much that pain contributed to her heart attack, no one can say.
Elvis fans like me, all reach out at this moment to the family with our condolences and prayers. We know that Lisa Marie will Rest in Peace in the Meditation Garden alongside her father, son and grandparents. Anyone who has been to Graceland will know how special that place was to Elvis. How special it has become to Elvis fans the world over. I wish I could have attended the service, but since I do not personally know the Presley family, I mourned privately in silence like millions of others, watching online and listening on SIRIUS XM Elvis Radio.
A Final Goodbye
Saturday, January 21st, Elvis Radio DJ, Big Jim Sykes, told us: we would, like her father, have many of her records to help pass the loneliness. Yes, it will help. But also like her father, it is a remembrance. Sadly, it forces us into a reality that our world will never be the same, not without them. None of the contributions they made to all of us will end. We can never wait for the next statement, song, or discussion; they will remain memories for all of us.
Many years ago, I wrote the following line in a poem to a very special friend:
“Now and then I think of our memories of the past. Only to realize that memories are truly the only things that last.”
Rest in Peace Lisa Marie – and thank you for sharing yourself and your father’s legacy with us. Thank you for your generosity, your life with us. We are sad to have lost you so soon.
We will always have our memories of the both of you to cherish forever. To quote your father’s song, Memories:
Quiet thought come floating down
And settle softly to the ground
Like golden autumn leaves around my feet
I touched them and they burst apart with sweet memories…. Sweet memories.
Farewell Lisa Marie, Rest in Peace.
Frank R. D’Onofrio