Even a quarter-century after his death, Elvis Presley remains such an icon that many of us feel we know him personally. But in a 1985 interview, Barbara Walters spoke with the woman who may have known him best: Priscilla Presley.
In their conversation, the King's former wife revealed a side of Elvis that most of us never knew.
Throughout the preceding years, Priscilla had remained silent about their life together. In her 1985 book, Elvis & Me, however, she recounted intimate details about their marriage and Elvis' private side.
A Confusing Love Affair
When Priscilla moved in with Elvis, she was just a teenager; he was 24. Priscilla said the man she knew then was a gentle, fun-loving young man. He was also "insecure" and "vulnerable," she said.
She was mad about him, but their relationship was very different from a typical love affair, she said. "It was a very protective relationship from the very beginning," she said. "He was a father to me. He was my mentor."
Elvis was more than a mentor. He controlled her looks, her clothes, her hair, even her makeup, Priscilla said. "I was definitely under a spell of what I thought was love," she explained.
The couple lived together for six years before they married. During those years, Elvis and Priscilla slept together every night, but they never had intercourse, she said. He refused to have sex with her until they wed, she said, because "somewhere, he, along in his past, said that he wanted a virgin."
Yet they were intimate — according to Priscilla, she and Elvis took dozens and dozens of Polaroid pictures acting out their fantasies. She learned to turn him on sexually even though they never had intercourse. She stressed, however, that their playfulness was just that, and was never perverted.
"Nothing was harmful; nothing was done with bad intent," she told Walters. "Nothing was done, you know that I don't think is unusual. They were just games."
In 1967, Priscilla and Elvis were married and almost nine months to the day after their wedding, their daughter, Lisa Marie, was born.
Lonely Nights, Nasty Fights
Following the birth of their child, Priscilla said, Elvis no longer wanted to go to bed with her. She came to realize that Elvis could not reconcile the image of her as the mother of his child with that of the young girl with whom he fell in love.
Priscilla wrote that there were times when she and Elvis spent days alone in the bedroom, which he kept very cold and dark. It was "like a cocoon, almost like a womb, I guess," she told Walters. "It was his way of getting away."
Every night, Priscilla wrote, her husband would take pills to fall asleep — Priscilla said Elvis had "a fear of insomnia."
He also had an unpredictable temper. She confirmed the often-repeated stories of how he'd often shoot the television when he didn't like what he saw. "He'd just blow them off the air; that simple," she said. "And the television would be replaced like that."
Sometimes Elvis turned his temper on Priscilla, once throwing a chair at her when she didn't like something he sang.
In a particularly revealing diary entry, Priscilla wrote of her feelings of rejection and disappointment: "I embarrassed myself last night. I wore a black negligee, laid as close to Elvis as I could while he read. I kissed his hand, then each finger, then his neck, and face," she wrote. "But I waited too long. His sleeping pills had taken effect. Another lonely night."
Finally, the loneliness was too much for her. She decided to leave Elvis. The couple divorced in 1973.
In spite of her often-torturous relationship with Elvis, Priscilla said she still loves him and wants him to be remembered as he was in his early years.
"I look at that and I think, that's Elvis," she said. "He was having fun. You can see it in his films. He was a very humble man … and his biggest joy was being on stage."