For Elvis Presley, 1968 couldn’t look any brighter. The leather-clad singer returned to the hip-shaking spotlight with his comeback special on NBC. And, 44 years ago this month, he became a father to Lisa Marie.
A new Graceland exhibit showcases that relationship, marking the 35th anniversary of Elvis’ death. “Elvis … Through His Daughter’s Eyes,” which opened Feb. 1 for a two-year run as part of Graceland’s VIP tour ($70), consists of 201 items that chart Lisa Marie’s life from birth to celebrity.
Although Presley helped curate the exhibit, she wondered whether anyone would really care to see knickknacks from her past.
“I thought it was an amusing notion, but I didn’t really see how other people would find it interesting,” says Presley, calling from Graceland in Memphis after flying in from her home in England. “It’s all so personal and subjective. But it turned out well.”
Among the more touching personal effects – laid out in an annex that used to be a four-car garage – are a blue record player that spun her first 45s, her footprints stamped on a hospital birth record, and a re-creation of Presley’s nursery.
“When I walked in and saw that, I gasped,” says Presley, who in 2008 gave birth to twin girls. “I was going between laughter and wanting to break down in tears.”
More than six months in the making, the exhibit combines items in Graceland’s vaults – including Elvis’ clothes and jewelry – with those loaned by the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s only heir.
“We wanted to show how, later in life, Lisa Marie took on some of the things that Elvis loved, from performing to charity,” says Angie Marchese, director of archives at Elvis Presley Enterprises. “We’ve got checks Elvis and Lisa Marie have given out, as well as outfits that they wore as entertainers. We wanted to show how much of a connection there really is between them.”
Marchese says Presley shared stories of that bond. “She told me about how she’d wait to say her prayers with him, and how he was the only one who could get her to take a bath.”
Presley isn’t surprised that fans still visit this Memphis mecca, which averages 600,000 visitors a year. “We live in an insta-celebrity world now, but my dad’s success was based on hard work,” she says. “And he was real – real enough to last.”
The Elvis that Lisa Marie remembers was real playful, too. “We’d sled down the driveway, shoot firecrackers off. Lots of fun and trouble,” she says with a giggle.
Presley admits she doesn’t get back to her childhood home often, even less so now that she and fourth husband Michael Lockwood split their time between Los Angeles and England. “I like being overseas as an option, as a place to seek refuge and a place for my kids to have different experiences,” she says.
But coming to Tennessee for the opening of Elvis … Through His Daughter’s Eyes was a no-brainer.
“I have many fond memories,” she says, noting that two particular items from the exhibit catapulted her back in time.
One is a worn golf cart key. “That key was my life,” she says of the days she spent at Graceland, full time until her father and Priscilla Presley split in 1972, and part time until his passing. “It was the key to my freedom, and to my showing off.”
She’s particularly taken with one item in the exhibit: a photo in a man’s wallet, which shows Lisa Marie in Elvis’ embrace. But for the cane and numerous rings, the photo might pass for any father’s keepsake.
“I’d never seen that before,” she says softly. “I’d keep it, but if I didn’t have my head attached to my shoulders, I’d lose that. So it’s best if it stays in Graceland.”
Gannett News Service