Elvis Presley was a 24-year-old soldier stationed in Germany when he started dating Priscilla Beaulieu, who was a freshman in high school at the time.
When Priscilla Beaulieu was 11 years old, her stepfather came home and gave her a record as a gift. “I don’t know what this Elvis guy is all about,” he told her, “but he must be something special. I stood in line with half the armed forces at the PX to get this for you; everybody wants it.”
Priscilla put on the record. In her home at Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin, Texas, she listened to “Blue Suede Shoes” for the first time. And just three years later, she met the man behind the music: Elvis Presley.
Their paths crossed in West Germany, where Elvis was serving in the U.S. Army and Priscilla was stationed with her family at an Air Force base. He was 24; she was 14. Elvis was one of the world’s biggest rock stars; Priscilla was still in the ninth grade. When Elvis and Priscilla met for the first time at a fateful party in 1959, he chuckled upon learning her age and remarked: “Why, you’re just a baby.”
Despite the age difference between Elvis and Priscilla — and despite the fact that their relationship “confused and bewildered” Priscilla’s parents — the 14-year-old and the rock star started seeing each other regularly. Priscilla spent her days in high school and her nights at Elvis’ house, attending parties with the celebrity and his friends and lying in bed with him, where they cuddled and kissed.
To her great shock and delight, Elvis continued to call her even after he returned to the United States.
Eventually, he arranged to have Priscilla come live with him in Memphis, where she finished high school. She moved into Graceland with one of the most famous men in the world. Still, according to Priscilla, they never consummated their relationship until they got married in 1967.
At that point, Priscilla was 21 years old and had been dating Elvis Presley for more than seven years. But her marriage to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll wasn’t the fairytale she had imagined. Though they had a daughter together, Lisa Marie, both Elvis and Priscilla were unfaithful to each other, and Priscilla began to realize that she “needed much more” out of the relationship.
She had spent her life in his shadow. As she later wrote, Elvis had “[become] my father, husband, and very nearly God.”
This is the story of Priscilla Presley, the young wife of Elvis whose life with the rock star is the basis of the 2023 Sofia Coppola film Priscilla.
Priscilla Before Elvis
Priscilla Ann Wagner was born on May 24, 1945, in New York City, just a few months before her 10-year-old future husband gave one of his first public musical performances at a Mississippi talent show. (Elvis came in fifth.)
Her father, a U.S. Navy pilot, was killed in a plane crash when Priscilla was just six months old. Her mother, Ann, remarried to an Air Force officer named Joseph Paul Beaulieu in 1948, and Priscilla took his surname. His military service meant that the family moved around often, and by 1959, they were stationed in West Germany.
Though Priscilla saw herself as “an insecure Air Force brat,” she also had a sense of her looming destiny. “I always knew that something extraordinary was going to happen to me,” she told PEOPLE in 1978.
And in West Germany, something extraordinary did happen.
As Priscilla tells it, she was at the Eagles Club, a popular dining and entertainment spot for the families of American servicemembers, when she noticed a man in his 20s staring at her. He introduced himself as Currie Grant, struck up a conversation, and asked if she liked Elvis Presley.
According to an essay she later wrote for PEOPLE, Priscilla responded: “Of course. Who doesn’t?” At that point, Grant told her that Elvis was his friend. He said that he and his wife would like to take her to a party at the singer’s house.
After Priscilla’s parents met Currie and he promised to keep an eye on her, they agreed that the 14-year-old could go to the party. Two weeks after they’d met, Currie picked Priscilla up and drove her to a house in Bad Nauheim.
There, Elvis and Priscilla would meet for the first time. It would prove to be a fateful encounter for both of them.
The Early Days Of Elvis And Priscilla’s Blooming Relationship
As Priscilla later recounted, she noticed Elvis immediately as she and Currie walked into the room. She thought he looked “handsomer” than in the movies and “younger and more vulnerable” with his military haircut. Currie brought her over to make introductions and Elvis said: “Well, what have we here? What are you, about a junior or senior in high school?”
When Priscilla admitted that she was actually just a freshman, Elvis — already famous for his films and songs like “Hound Dog” and “Heartbreak Hotel” — laughed and said: “Why, you’re just a baby.”
Though nothing happened between the two that night, the 14-year-old felt like Elvis was trying to get her attention as he played the piano and sang. And just a few days later, even though there was a 10-year age difference between Elvis and Priscilla, he asked Currie to invite her again. And then again.
Before long, Elvis cut straight to the point: “I want to be alone with you, Priscilla,” he said during her third visit to the house, according to Priscilla’s PEOPLE essay. “Will you come upstairs to my room?” He added, “I swear I’ll never do anything to harm you. I’ll treat you just like a sister.”
As Priscilla tells it, they merely cuddled and talked, and Elvis told her about the recent death of his mother, Gladys. When Priscilla left, Elvis gave her her “first real kiss” and said, “We have plenty of time, Little One.”
But the 14-year-old’s new relationship had not gone unnoticed by her parents. Priscilla’s stepfather insisted on meeting the singer, laying down some ground rules, and interrogating him about his interest in the ninth grader — particularly due to the age difference between Elvis and Priscilla. She later wrote that Elvis “disarmed Dad, just as he did my mother.”
Before long, her days were spent at school and her nights with the rock star. Priscilla’s grades suffered as a result, as her “concentration was totally on Elvis.” But her all-consuming love affair seemed like it might have an end date. In March 1960, Elvis returned to the United States.
“I want you to promise me you’ll stay the way you are,” Elvis said to Priscilla before he left, according to Vogue. “Untouched, as I left you.”
Priscilla agreed but soon heard rumors that he’d been linked romantically to Nancy Sinatra and did not hear from him for weeks. Then, one day, her phone rang at 3 a.m. It was Elvis. “Hi, Baby,” he said. “How’s my little girl?”
How Old Was Priscilla When She Married Elvis?
For the next seven years, Elvis and Priscilla continued to explore their relationship. Elvis flew Priscilla to California in 1962 and even convinced her family to let her come live with him in Memphis the next year. All the while, Priscilla reportedly remained a virgin as Elvis took control over her life and image.
“Something in his Southern upbringing had taught him that the ‘right’ girl was to be saved for marriage,” she later wrote. “I was that girl. At the same time, he molded me into his woman. I wore the clothes, hairstyle, and makeup of his careful choosing.”
At the end of 1966, Elvis proposed to Priscilla with a three-and-a-half-carat diamond ring with 20 surrounding, detachable diamonds. A few months later, in May 1967, they got married at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas in front of just 14 people, keeping the news quiet as long as they could. Priscilla was 21; Elvis was 32. When the story broke, many of Elvis’ fans were distraught and wrote hysterical letters about becoming nuns or even contemplating suicide.
Priscilla later said that the marriage was encouraged by Elvis’ manager, Tom Parker, who was concerned about a “morals clause” in the star’s contract. Parker knew it wouldn’t look good if the public knew that he was living with Priscilla (all while carrying out other affairs). But she also remembered that her new husband made the marriage feel special.
“He carried me across the threshold of our house singing the ‘Hawaiian Wedding Song,'” Priscilla wrote in Elvis and Me. “He stopped and gave me a long, loving kiss, then proceeded to carry me upstairs to our bedroom.”
Exactly nine months later, Priscilla gave birth to their daughter, Lisa Marie. (Lisa Marie died tragically in 2023 at the age of 54.)
But cracks had started to form in Elvis and Priscilla’s relationship. Elvis, Priscilla later explained, didn’t know how to treat her after she became a mother. Elvis had even once told her that “he had never been able to make love to a woman who had a child,” and Priscilla began to feel that her “physical and emotional needs were unfulfilled.”
As Elvis traveled for work, Priscilla had brief affairs and started to realize the importance of forging her own identity separate from her husband’s. “With Elvis,” she told PEOPLE in 1978, “my life was his life. He had to be happy. We never disturbed him. My problems were secondary.”
Forty years later, she expanded on the sentiment. According to TODAY, Priscilla Presley explained: “You obviously didn’t have your own life. You lived his life. You saw the movies he wanted to see. You listened to the music he listened to. You go to places he would go so you really kind of lost yourself. As a woman, I didn’t really know who I was.”
After six years of marriage, they divorced in 1973. Elvis Presley died just four years later at the age of 42. But for Priscilla Presley, life was just beginning.
Priscilla’s Life After Elvis
After Elvis died, Priscilla Presley leaned into her own career. She became an actress and appeared in films and TV shows, including a well-regarded arc on Dallas. Priscilla also opened Graceland to the public in 1982 and recounted her life with Elvis in her memoir Elvis and Me in 1985.
In addition, she has been involved in several Elvis-related projects, including the new film Priscilla (2023), which will focus on her role in Elvis’ life.
“[T]elling his story wasn’t something I wanted to do but had to do, because of all that’s been said and written about him,” she acknowledged in a 1988 interview. “I have to fight for his reputation, his ideas, his image… I have to protect Elvis — he was very misunderstood.”
After learning how about Priscilla Presley’s life and relationship with Elvis, read about how Elvis Presley once convinced Americans to take the polio vaccine. Or, discover the tragic story of Elvis’ look-alike grandson, Benjamin Keough.