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Rock and roll is no stranger to darker motifs: why else would the phrase be “Sex, Drugs, and Rock n Roll?” However, with any genre of superstar, there are good eggs, and not-so-good eggs — and sadly, rock and roll is no different. If you know rock, you know Elvis Presley. And if you know Elvis, you know of his iconic wife Priscilla Presley. However, what many thought was a fairytale wedding that personified the 1960s was much darker than even the biggest fans may have realized. Even those who already casually know that Priscilla was quite young when she met Elvis — 14 years old to Elvis’ 24 years old — the details of their courtship may not be front-of-mind. Written in Priscilla Presley’s own words for People in 1985, the specific story of how the King of Rock and Roll met and wooed his only wife may be hard for some fans to stomach.
Priscilla and Elvis met back in 1959. As an Air Force brat, she was constantly moving around, but at that point, she and her family settled in a small town in Germany. Elvis and Priscilla met soon after at a party, where Priscilla was invited by a family friend.
When she and Elvis met, she immediately told him she was in ninth grade, to which he reportedly said: “Why you’re just a baby,” in her 1985 article for People. But then he took that baby up to his room a few nights later, because as Priscilla recalled, he said: “I want to be alone with you, Priscilla. Will you come upstairs to my room?”
They’d spend all night together, seeing each other for months, but, per Priscilla, they never made love. Priscilla writes that he repeated time and time again: “We have plenty of time, Little One.” Soon, they’d spend every night together, which proved to be too much for the student. Her grades started slipping, and she got rightfully tired — and so he gave her drugs to stay awake.
Before you see Austin Butler's portrayal of the iconic singer in his new film, #ELVIS, check out Kurt Russell, Michael Shannon, and more actors who played the King of Rock and Roll. https://t.co/ZLE180VMRu
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“My parents became confused and bewildered by our relationship. We tried to make them believe that it was proper and platonic, and they wanted to believe me,” Priscilla writes of that time. “We had a nightly ritual. At about 10 or 11, Elvis would glance at me and look toward the stairs. Then, naively assuming that nobody knew where I was headed, I’d casually proceed to his bedroom, where I’d lie on his bed, waiting for him to appear. ‘Sweetness,’ he would say, putting his arms around me. ‘You’re so pretty, Honey.’ And then we’d kiss long, deep passionate kisses.”
Soon, Elvis was primping her into the image he wanted: buying her revealing clothes and pounding on the makeup she didn’t want: “He applied makeup so heavily that you couldn’t tell if my eyes were black, blue, or black and blue. That was what Elvis wanted.”
Elvis also repeatedly pressed her on the fact that she had to remain a virgin for him: “‘I want you back the way you are now,’ he whispered just before dawn. “‘And remember, I’ll always know.'”
She was devoted to him, but he was anything but.
According to biographer Peter Guralnick in Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley, Elvis was also dating a 19-year-old named Elisabeth Stefaniak at the same time he was with Priscilla. She claimed they refrained from having sex because of Elvis’ fear of pregnancy. But like his relationship with Priscilla, that didn’t stop him from sleeping with Stefaniak every night for some time and “fooling around.”
Along with that, he had an affair with his co-star Ann-Margret, who he was reportedly crazy about — all during this same time period.
Years later, Priscilla moved in with Elvis in Graceland at his request. The two got engaged just before Christmas in 1966, when she was 21 and he was almost 32. On May 1, 1967, they wed in a private ceremony in Las Vegas and jetted off to Palm Springs for their honeymoon. According to Priscilla’s autobiography, Elvis and Me, they had sex for the first time that night.
Exactly nine months later, on Feb. 1, 1968, they had a daughter named Lisa Marie Presley.
The turbulent relationship continued for six years until Priscilla left him for the last time. In her autobiography, she said her “feelings of neglect and loneliness” drove her to have an affair with their karate instructor Mike Stone. She told Elvis when she left that she was “finding myself for the first time.”
They separated in 1972, with the divorce finalizing the following year. According to the biography Down at the End of Lonely Street, they left the courtroom amicably, holding hands as they left.
To this day, Priscilla speaks positively of Elvis and has praised the new Baz Luhrmann film starring Austin Butler coming out this week. Nonetheless, some of the actions she describes from Elvis are not defensible. As Elvis comes out in theaters, it’s vital to know all the facts about the man so many idolize.
Before you go, click here to see Elvis & Priscilla’s family in photos.