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When Elvis Presley, the rock ’n’ roll pioneer whose music catapulted him to stratospheric fame, made his first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956, I sat enraptured in front of my family’s chubby black-and-white TV. I had started first grade that month, but my real education happened right there in the living room. Elvis Presley dictated the path of my life. I couldn’t get enough. Scrapbooks. Guitar. Imitating his sneering wiggle for my friends. When he died on my birthday in 1977, I covered his funeral for the Louisville Courier-Journal, which led to my writing four books about his life, and scores of articles about him and his family over 46 years.
Elvis reveled in his popularity, and he rewarded his fans by signing autographs for hours at the ornate music gates of Graceland, his Memphis home.
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But his only child, Lisa Marie, who died last night at 54 after suffering cardiac arrest at her home in Calabasas, California, had a darker view of fame. In observing her, interviewing her and attending three of her concerts, it was clear to me that she saw fame as a thief that robbed her of everything that mattered.
Her father’s suffocating notoriety, along with her parents’ divorce when she was 5, made her sullen and angry. By 8, she, too, was signing autographs at the fabled Graceland gates, but the child was just as liable to scribble an expletive before her name as not.
I would be lying to you if I said that I hadn’t seen her death coming. And a lot of fans would say the same thing.
She was 9 when Elvis died, and she saw his sad end barreling down on her like a freight train.
“One night when I was about 5 or 6, we were watching TV. I looked up at him and said, ‘Daddy, Daddy, I don’t want you to die.’ And he just looked down at me and said, ‘Okay, I won’t. Don’t worry about it.’ I said that to him several times when we were alone together. … I guess I was picking something up,” she told Life magazine.