A Brief History
On June 7, 1982, the widow of the late King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Aron Presley, Priscilla Ann (Beaulieu) Presley, opened the estate of the late singer for public tours. The bathroom in which Elvis died of a heart attack in 1977 was kept off limits. The estate, named “Graceland” by its original owner after his daughter, Grace, is one of the most famous homes in the United States, and is second only to the White House in number of annual visitors with 650,000 Elvis fans visiting each year. Located in Memphis, Tennessee on 13.8 acres, the property, now operated as a museum, was once in the countryside but now is surrounded by developments.
When Elvis (yes, the middle name, Aron, is properly spelled with a single “a” even though his tombstone spells it incorrectly as “Aaron”) became popular his home on Audubon Drive in Memphis became a mecca for adoring fans, much to the discomfort of the neighbors. Elvis had to find a more secluded place, and commissioned his parents, Vernon and Gladys, to find a property with a $100,000 budget. The property located in Memphis outside of the urban district (less than 4 miles from Mississippi, the native state of Elvis) was called “Graceland” after the owner’s daughter and already had a large house on the land built in 1939. The 10,000+ square foot Colonial Revival type mansion cost Elvis $102,500 on March 19, 1957, close to his planned budget.
Of course Elvis made some modifications, such as adding a built in swimming pool and a posh racquetball court, complete with bar. He had a meditation garden constructed and even an indoor shooting range. A jukebox was located by the pool, a billiards room provided recreation, and a stable housed the horses. The parents and grandparents of Elvis are buried on the property, and of course the tomb of Elvis Presley is also located on the grounds of Graceland. A wall was built around the property with a wrought iron gate featuring an image of Elvis and in the style of sheet music. Elvis kept an eye on it all from a closed-circuit television system monitored from his bedroom.
In 1962, Elvis had the 17 year old Priscilla Ann Beaulieu, whom he had met in Germany while serving in the US Army when Priscilla was only 14, move into Graceland. The couple married on May 1, 1967, naturally enough in Las Vegas, Nevada. After a Palm Springs honeymoon, the couple hosted another wedding reception at Graceland. The couple separated in 1972 when Priscilla began an affair with her Karate instructor and divorced in 1973. Their only child was Lisa Marie, born on February 1, 1968, exactly 9 months since the wedding.
The death of Elvis Presley shocked the world in 1977, exacerbated by the news that the King had died while on the toilet. Lurid details of his over-prescription of drugs and his colon jammed with undigested red meat was fodder for the media. Sobbing fans flocked to Graceland and the place remained a mecca for Elvis fans over the years until Priscilla finally opened Graceland to the public in 1982, though keeping the bathroom in which Elvis died off-limits. Many notable and famous people have visited Graceland, including singer-songwriter Paul Simon that penned an album he called “Graceland.” President George W. Bush hosted a tour of the Estate for the Japanese Prime Minister in 2006, and former Beatle Paul McCartney left a guitar pick on Elvis’ grave. Graceland is featured or referred to prominently in many cultural references, including books, songs, television and movies. The Estate and Mansion feature Elvis memorabilia such as his pink Jeep, Gold Records, and even his jet airplane that he named Lisa Marie.
Graceland remains a key part of the legacy of Elvis Presley, along with his incredible commercial success (600 million to 1 billion records sold) and his impact on the music industry and American culture. (He has the biggest selling Gospel album of all time along with his rock and roll, pop and country type music.) Elvis starred in 33 films and in 3 television specials and was even deputized as a drug enforcement agent by President Richard Nixon.
In his 42 years of life, Elvis had enormous influence on music and culture, though the “shocking” sensual style that scandalized the 1950’s seems laughably tame today.
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For more information, please see…
Presley, Priscilla Beaulieu. Elvis and Me: The True Story of the Love Between Priscilla Presley and the King of Rock N’ Roll. Berkley, 1986.
Rooks, Nancy. Inside Graceland: Elvis’ Maid Remembers. Xlibris, 2005.