Elvis and Priscilla ready to go home with new baby Lisa Marie.Photo credit: Keystone/Getty Images
BY LORI ACKEN
Next to Elvis’ mama, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley was the woman who knew him best, falling for Elvis at age 14, marrying him at 21, then maintaining their intense connection long after the union fell apart. Though she crafted a wide-ranging business empire of her own, Priscilla’s devotion to Elvis’ well-being and legacy has never wavered, as evidenced in Elvis Presley: The Searcher, a stirring, three-hour deep-dive into the King’s musical journey that Priscilla executive produces. “When you see the story, it’s pretty simple: He’s a man who loved music, and he was an artist, first and foremost,” Presley says of the documentary. She tells us more here:
The Searcher lays bare what a student of the human condition Elvis was — human movement, expression, emotion.
Priscilla Presley: People got sidetracked on his jumpsuits. They’re embellished! Or his movies. They weren’t the best movies, and he knew that. But they never really got the depths of him as an artist. That his choice of music, even from a very young age, was way beyond his years. He sang a song from the feeling that he got from that music. How about that the first song that he sang in public was “Old Shep”? At that age, who sings “Old Shep,” which is a heart-wrenching story? Elvis. Because that’s how deep he was into music, feelings.
So gospel music was his lifelong lifeline.
Gospel was his connection to hope. To faith. To his Maker. Sometimes I think, “What, who did he have to confide in — to really expose himself?” It was gospel music. He would go to church with his parents, and it was freedom for him because of the movement. The “holy rollers” would blackout, not just listening to music, but from spirituality. He had that, too, but he was made fun of for moving with the music. He could not believe he was being criticized because he moved.
You truly had a front-row seat to his musical evolution.
I feel so fortunate. He taught me so much in that time period about music and where his roots were and what he gravitated to and the feelings that he had for songs. A lot of those songs that he played were connected to things that he felt. Being in the Army. Not having a mother. Being over there alone in Germany on maneuvers. He’d never been out of the United States, he was never really alone in his life, and now he’s taken out of the pop culture, taken out of his music at the top of his career.
Did losing his mom set him up to become a commodity to the folks who surrounded him?
He was already a commodity while he was in Germany, because they were working to keep his records coming out. They were successful, but he was very nervous about going back to the States. He didn’t know if his fans would still be there, if offers would still be there for him, because his fans were growing up. He had matured over there, and his choice of songs had matured, as well.
The film also examines how the musical renaissance that Elvis ushered in passed him by while he was making movies. You wonder who he might have become had he been allowed to exist musically alongside those artists.
He was still doing movies when the Beatles, the British Invasion, exploded, and he would say he just didn’t know what to do — because suddenly he’s the only solo singer. He’s going, “Where do I go? What do I do from here? Do I just give it all up and just be an actor?” What [the ’68 special] did was it gave him confidence … to do what he loved to do, which is perform in front of an audience.
He had a magnetism like none other.
Listen, I’ve been around the greats, from Muhammad Ali to Sammy Davis Jr. to Frank Sinatra, and I’ve never felt it — not like when Elvis walked into a room. It’s electrifying. You can feel it before he walks in. … I saw him perform in the ’68 special, but that was staged. He was really good, but I’d seen him do that at home, jamming. When I saw him in Vegas that first night, I was blown away. It was like slow motion, watching at the end as everybody is standing up. Cary Grant, Sophia Loren, Raquel Welch, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, all standing up. I’m watching, going, “Oh my God.” And here I was married to him!
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