Lights out in Memphis

I was unexpectedly reduced to tears last week. I’m just getting over Covid, and my eyes are still watering a bit, but without emotion. Mid-January also marks the anniversary of my dad’s death, which also elicits tears – but those were not unexpected. Then Lisa Marie Presley died suddenly. I stared at the TV report and sobbed.

I have cried after hearing about the death of a much-admired actress or musician. I’ll admit a shed a few tears when Betty White died just shy of her 100th birthday. I liked Lisa Marie’s first album, but I can’t say I was an over-the-top fan of her music. The best explanation I can come up with for my tearful reaction is: I’m from Memphis.

I still remember the wall-to-wall television coverage in Memphis when Elvis died on August 16, 1977. As well as being shocked and saddened by Elvis’s death, Memphians were worried about little Lisa Marie, nine-years old at the time, who was at Graceland when her daddy died.

Image: Pixabay

Lisa Marie became the sole heir of Graceland, which she inherited on her 25th birthday. She sold a majority share of the 100-million-plus estate, but maintains her 15-percent ownership and a close relationship with Elvis Presley Enterprises which operates the home as a museum, and hosts more than a half-million visitors a year. On January 8, 2023, Lisa was at Graceland and personally welcomed guests there to celebrate Elvis’s birthday. He would’ve been 88. When she’s in Memphis, she stays at Graceland. The upstairs is closed to the public. While tourists wend through the exhibits and the jungle room downstairs, Lisa Marie is behind closed doors in her childhood home.

In the lyrics of her 2003 song Lights Out, Lisa Marie sings, “Someone turned the lights out there in Memphis. That’s where my family’s buried and gone. Last time I was there I noticed space left next to them, there in Memphis. In the damn back lawn.” 

Lisa Marie was laid to rest yesterday in the Meditation Garden in the “damn back lawn” at Graceland, alongside her father, and her son Benjamin, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in 2020. She was 54.

Have you ever been surprised by your reaction to a news story or a song? Have you ever been to Graceland? Share in comments.

32 thoughts on “Lights out in Memphis

    1. I’ve been to Graceland three times. Each time to take an out-of-town friend on the tour. Also toured the Lisa Marie (extra fee), Elvis’s private plane. Purportedly, Lisa has held parties on the plane.

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  1. I have never been to Graceland. My mother was a member of the Elvis Presley fan club and owned a pair of Elvis jeans. They have pictures of me as a baby dancing to Elvis when he was on American Bandstand. I remember when I heard he had died, I was a teenager and couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I called my Mom to make sure what I had heard on tv was true. I still watch his movies whenever they are on and I love a lot of his songs. My favorite is “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” My husband and I always dance to it on our anniversary. The last time was in Hawaii at a luau.

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  2. Visited Graceland a few years ago. So much history there.
    I was absolutely gutted when Dolores O’Riordan, singer for the Cranberries, died. It took me days to return to normal.

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  3. I visited in 2017, the day after I went to the birthplace in Tupelo. I understood so much better why Graceland was over the top; coming from nothing can make a person of means behave in extravagant ways.

    I still haven’t really gotten over David Bowie’s passing. It’s difficult to lose one of the bards of your lifetime.

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    1. Sharon, we seem to have lost so many musical legends in the past few years. It’s always sad to hear. My hubs was bummed out this week to hear about David Crosby’s death. The two of us always sing along when “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” comes on the radio. And we actually know all the words!

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  4. Vickie, what a beautiful tribute. My first play, Graceland, was about two Elvis fans competing to be the first person to set foot inside Graceland the day it’s opened to the public. I wrote it because I didn’t understand how people could worship some singer the way they worshipped him. By the time the play premiered, I understood.

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  5. I’ve not been to Graceland, but a dear friend just took her 86 y/o mother and crossed that off of her mom’s bucket list. I’ve collapsed with each Golden Girl death, and some of the young deaths of “heartthrobs from the 70s and 80s.”

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    1. Aw, Tracy, it’s wonderful your friend was able to take her mom to Graceland! That’s so sweet. I think everyone should go once. Hubs and I have wanted to go once during the Candlelight Vigil and walk with the hardcore fans. If only Elvis hadn’t died in August! (They often have to treat some people for heat exhaustion.)

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  6. I’m so sorry, Vickie. I have to admit that I am a complete ignoramus re: Elvis. I’ve never even seen an Elvis movie, though I’m familiar with (some) of his music. I must have grown up under a rock. I only remember the older Vegas Elvis with the sequins and cape, and I was a bit overwhelmed when I visited my cousin in Memphis and toured Graceland. I loved the peaceful garden. Looking forward to seeing the latest biopic; it was on my list before the death of Lisa Marie.

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    1. Lisa, you don’t really watch Elvis movies for the acting and, unfortunately, not for the musical numbers either. The movies have one of his hit songs, if you’re lucky. “Fun in Acapulco” is probably my fave of the quintessential Elvis films. Lots of cheesy music. Its early sixties —Elvis in his prime. He plays a lifeguard/diver— lots of shirtless opportunities. And Ursula Andress is among the female cast of lovelies.
      “King Creole” is considered by many to be his best acting performance. And it was filmed on location in New Orleans instead of a soundstage.

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      1. Thanks for the tips, Vickie! I don’t know why I’m so clueless about Elvis. My parents were older. Just ask me about Glenn Miller and Perry Como, ha.

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    1. I agree, Leslie. If you look back at Lisa Marie’s interviews over the years, she had a great sense of humor — lots of snappy comebacks! I’m afraid losing her only son to suicide a couple of years ago really wore down her mental and physical health.

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  7. Thanks for this post, Vickie, and allowing us to feel our feelings. My mom was a big Elvis fan; I listened to her (back then) CDs, and I actually went to an impersonator show once. My dad’s been to Graceland, and I’d like to visit one day.

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    1. That’s great, Jen! Thinking I may watch Elvis’s ‘68 Comeback Special this week. Would love to take you on the Graceland tour! I could drive since I know the city. There are other great attractions — Rock ‘n Soul Museum, Sun Studio, National Civil Rights Museum, Beale Street. But, Graceland has a singular vibe and haunting quality!

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  8. Amazing how events trigger emotions. Just seeing the gates on your post reminded me of the picture my wife and I took in the same location. Fun trip with many wonderful memories! Thanks, Vickie!

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  9. Vickie, I didn’t know you’re from Memphis! I, too, felt such a sense of sadness when Lisa Marie passed – the life of a child of such an icon couldn’t have been easy. When she was with Michael Jackson I thought, this makes perfect sense because they could understand the pressures the super famous feel. Elvis’ beautiful voice was undeniable, but I have to admit that I was a bit flummoxed when my aunt went into mourning when he passed away. I love the cheesy Elvis and have had seeing the Skydiving Elvi on my bucket list for years.

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  10. Skydiving Elvi sound like fun! Lisa Marie’s three daughters have inherited Graceland now. I’m glad they have each other. Being an only child may have made things harder for Lisa growing up.

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  11. What a lovely post and tribute, Vickie. ❤

    I was surprised by the ferocity of my grief when Robin Williams died. I'm still not over it. I also felt a deep and persistent sadness when Tom Petty died. For me, the world got a whole lot quieter on both counts.

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