Lisa Marie Presley: Remembering the Gen X Child Who Lost Her Father

Lisa Marie Presley: Remembering the Gen X Child Who Lost Her Father

I never met Lisa Marie Presley. But we were children together. At least that’s how it feels.

I’ve never heard a single song from her and I haven’t seen her celebrities come and go. Still, I’m saddened by the death of a 54-year-old woman I never knew.

Maybe it’s a Gen X or 1970s kids thing. When I was little, she was one of the few kids in the public eye who wasn’t a child actor. Adult celebrities came and went, but here was Lisa Marie, another girl about my age with a public face and name. Like me, she hasn’t had any starring roles in films or TV shows. Instead, there was the occasional photo of her in a Christmas dress or something posing with her famous father with sideburns, who loved her so much he named his plane after her.

crop-lisa-marie-plane

Elvis’ plane was named after his daughter, Lisa Marie.

Gael Carnivalbauer Cooper/CNET

fathers and daughters

Solidarity, sister – I had a sideburn father too. It was the 1970s; Almost every child had a father with sideburns. Our dads with sideburns weren’t world-famous singers who could be identified just by their first names, and they didn’t have airplanes that they named after us. But they definitely posed for awkward family photos, looked uncomfortably sweaty and had huge lapels on their jackets, just like Elvis.

Even her name identified her as one of us. The year I was born, “Lisa” was the most popular baby girl name in America, and “Marie” certainly seemed like one of the most popular middle names. To this day I have almost a dozen girlfriends named “Lisa”. Generation X nursing homes can have an entire Lisa wing if they want one day, and only cater to older Lisas. Maybe some Kims and Amys.

The 1970s was the awkward age of this country, and it was a pretty ugly time to be a kid. Events—the Vietnam War, Watergate—were grim. The sights we surrounded ourselves with weren’t much better: orange shag rug, avocado gadgets, bell-bottoms.

Do you know where your children are? nope!

The children of the 1970s were not cared for in the way they are today. The memes are right: your parents kicked you out of the house one summer morning and didn’t expect to see you again until dinner.

If mom needed you in between, good luck. Maybe you’re playing kickball or smoking in someone’s clubhouse, or strolling along the railroad tracks getting burrs out of your toughskins, or knee-deep in a pond to poke at a dead fish, or risking tetanus catching the flag at a junkyard. You might have a great time, you might be bullied, you might be bored to death. Your parents never knew and they didn’t want to ask.

Of course there was no social media, no “influencers”. Very few kids my age were famous. Lisa Marie was one of them.

lisa-marie-kitchen

Graceland’s 1970’s style kitchen is frozen forever in time and looks very much like the kitchen I grew up with, a thousand miles and many millions of dollars away.

Gael Carnivalbauer Cooper/CNET

losing your father

By the time her father Elvis died in 1977, Lisa Marie had somehow disappeared from the limelight. Of course, this was huge, earth-shattering news. Huge headlines and news reports were everywhere. Elvis was rightly mourned as a legendary singer.

But something in me remembered the little girl in the photos and knew that the world may have lost an entertainer, but a kid my age lost their father.

She was 9. I was 9. My dad wasn’t Elvis and he didn’t have a plane to name after me. We didn’t have Elvis money or first class air travel or fancy houses.

But Lisa Marie and I were both 9, and I turned 10 and 11 and 16 and 25 and 40, and my dad was still around, offering advice, cracking bad dad jokes, and showing up at my school events. Gossiping for me at plays, teaching me to drive, leading me down the aisle, cooing at my little daughter. Lisa Marie didn’t understand that. Hundreds of millions of dollars couldn’t buy that.

That Graceland swing

As I got older, Lisa Marie kept making headlines. Their lives seemed more unreal and complicated than those simple 1970s father-and-daughter photos. She became a mom when I was still out of college and trying to find a way. She married Michael Jackson and later Nicolas Cage. She had come a long way from her girlhood days. Aside from our birth years, we obviously had very little in common.

But when I visited Graceland in 2017, I reconnected with Lisa Marie. Graceland is a big house, but not a Kardashian-style mansion. It felt immediately familiar — a goofy, slightly clumsily furnished 1970s house with shaggy carpeting and bulky tube TVs and a playroom with a fabric ceiling and a tear in the pool table’s canvas where a family friend tried a trick and messed it up.

The 1970s-style metal red, white, and blue swing set in the back looked like a million swing sets I’d played on. We saw the bicentenary together, Lisa Marie and I, and everything was painted red, white, and blue.

crop-lisa-marie-swing-set

Did this Graceland swing belong to Lisa Marie? The style and bicentennial color scheme are easily recognizable to any 1970s kid.

Gael Carnivalbauer Cooper/CNET

Lisa Marie led a complicated life. I will never understand the luxuries she knew and the challenges she experienced, good and bad. But her early, innocent glory burned so big and so bright that I never forgot her. She ended up being a mother and daughter, a singer and songwriter, a businesswoman—she was many things.

But my Gen X heart will mourn her as the little kid with the sideburn dad who lost him way too soon.

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