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Photographed by Jack Turpen of Elise Kobayashi
Styled by Jack Turpen
Directed by Sarahi Flores
Hair and Makeup by Sarahi Flores
Hair and Makeup Assist: Olivia Dibenedetto
Photography Assist: Olivia Dibenedetto

By Jessica Schoke

In the recent film by director Sophia Coppola, “Priscilla” focuses on the story of Elvis Presley from the perspective of his wife of several years, Priscilla Presley, based on her 1985 biography “Elvis and Me.” Priscilla served as an executive producer for this film, which tells the story of how the couple met, their marriage, and the ultimate end of their relationship. Although Elvis’ legacy as the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” has been cemented into musical and cultural history, and his impact has continued to be celebrated with films like Baz Luhrmann’s award-winning “Elvis” (2022), these works fall short from revealing the true extent of the realities of Elvis’ life. Coppola’s film puts emphasis on the hardships faced by Priscilla, from the relationship’s imbalanced power dynamic to the isolation that results from extreme levels of fame.

The unequal power dynamic in the relationship is an angle that has only been recently brought to light and acknowledged amidst the decades of praise of Elvis’ musical talents. Priscilla reveals that she was 14 years old when she met Elvis, who was 24 years old and demonstrated immediate romantic interest in her. Only recently have critics began to label their relationship as grooming, where an adult Elvis built a strong and trusting relationship with a young and impressionable Priscilla, as well as her family, which allowed him to manipulate her and make her dependable on him. Though they did not marry until Priscilla was 21, attempts by Elvis to control Priscilla were alluded to in both Priscilla’s and Coppola’s biographies. From dictating the clothing and makeup she wore to not allowing her to have a job, these biographies painted an environment that was controlled to fit the narrative Elvis wanted to portray. Elvis passed away five years after their marriage ended from a heart attack, believed to be caused by his opioid addiction. Though Priscilla was only 32 when Elvis died, she would never remarry and went on to cement her and Elvis’ legacy in cultural history.

When Elvis died in 1977, Priscilla became the executor of his estate. Left to manage a mountain of debt left behind by her ex-husband, and the difficult decision of whether to sell the large Memphis property, known as Graceland, Priscilla began rebuilding the Presley legacy. Priscilla built the Graceland property in just five years into a massive tourist attraction, as a museum and immersive experience centered on the life and legacy of Elvis Presley. Today, Graceland remains a major tourist attraction drawing millions of visitors from all over the world, including museums, restaurants, and events which center around Elvis’ music. Priscilla, though divorced from Elvis, dedicated her life to ensuring Elvis was remembered for his impact on music and culture, as his public image was on a downhill trajectory at the time of his death. Though Priscilla continued to impact popular culture throughout her life after her divorce, the lifestyle she was swept into at a young age was accompanied by many consequences.

Priscilla had been introduced to the world of substance use at a very young age, as Elvis’ fast-paced lifestyle came with much drug use that she first encountered at just 18 years old. Despite Elvis’ heavy substance abuse throughout and after their marriage that ultimately led to his death, Priscilla did not report the fostering of her own addiction until after their marriage ended. As her most formative years were spent being shaped into someone Elvis wanted her to be, Priscilla opens up in her biography about struggles with loneliness and having no sense of personal identity. As seen in many adults who experienced grooming in their childhood, Priscilla’s mental health severely declined after being separated from Elvis, which led her to relying on prescription drugs. Though she eventually received professional help and stopped using, her life would continue to be filled with drug addiction, eventually taking the life of her first child, Lisa Marie, at the age of 54, just in this past year.

In navigating life after the loss of someone she had been primed to be so dependent on, Priscilla continued to independently distinguish herself in popular cultural history. From her work on the Graceland establishment as it is known today, to several acting roles, to the start of her own product lines, to the writing of several books, Priscilla grew into a successful entrepreneur who reclaimed her own identity, showing the world who Priscilla is as an individual. At 78 years old, Priscilla has contributed to mainstream fashion trends for decades, most widely known for her signature beehive hairstyle, cat eye makeup, and trend-setting clothing style. Priscilla has commanded the world to view her as more than just a popular singer’s ex-wife and built herself to be larger than just living in the shadow of Elvis. Priscilla exemplifies integrity and demonstrates what it means to choose the moral decision in the midst of animosity. Priscilla is a powerful woman whose work will continue to inspire young women for generations.

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