Lisa Marie Presley coped with 'suffocating' pain in her final years

NASHVILLE, TN - JUNE 05:  Musician Lisa Marie Presley poses at the Wonderwall portrait studio during the 2013 CMT Music Awards at Bridgestone Arena on June 5, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Wonderwall)
Lisa Marie Presley coped with "suffocating" pain in her final years after the death of her son in 2020. (Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Wonderwall)

Lisa Marie Presley — who died Thursday at age 54 after suffering cardiac arrest — had a lifetime of heartache and challenges, but her final years especially.

A beautiful little girl, born to icon Elvis and his wife Priscilla Presley in 1968, her image was shared around the world before she could utter a word. The golden couple split when Lisa Marie was 4 and then her father died when she was 9. She was left to grow up in his shadow — while shouldering the responsibility of his enormous legacy. She claimed she was sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend for three years starting at age 12. She used drugs as a teen, landing in a Scientology addiction treatment program by 17. While she had an association with the organization, she later cut ties with it.

Lisa Marie's entire life played out in public, despite not launching her music career until she was 35. She was constant tabloid fodder with that icy glare, inherited from her dad, on checkout line magazine covers. Her many headline-making marriages and divorces — four in total — also fueled the gossip beast. Her first husband was musician Danny Keough, who remained a lifelong friend and reportedly administered CPR amid her cardiac incident. She was later married to childhood friend/music legend Michael Jackson (1994 to 1996), actor Nicolas Cage (for three months in 2002) and music producer Michael Lockwood (2006 to 2016). The first and last unions resulted in her beloved children: actress daughter Riley Keough, 33, son Benjamin Storm Keough, who died in 2020 at age 27 and twin daughters Harper Vivienne Ann and Finley Aaron Love Lockwood, 14.

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 10: 80th Annual GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS -- Pictured: Lisa Marie Presley arrives at the 80th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 10, 2023 in Beverly Hills, California. --  (Photo by Todd Williamson/NBC/NBC via Getty Images)
Lisa Marie Presley at the 80th Annual Golden Globe Awards on January 10, 2023. (Photo: Todd Williamson/NBC/NBC via Getty Images)

Lisa Marie attended the Golden Globes just two days before her death, supporting Elvis and the actor who played her dad, Austin Butler, who won for his performance. She appeared delicate, holding onto her father's friend Jerry Schilling during red carpet interviews. It wasn't something she was hiding, saying to Schilling, while talking to Extra on camera, "I'm gonna grab your arm" as she seemed unsteady, and wrapping her right arms around his. Her speech seemed slower than usual. Inside the show, she seemed to stumble, an attendee says.

Two days later, the day she died, she complained of stomach pains early in the morning, according to TMZ sources. Soon after, she was found unresponsive by her housekeeper. Her former husband Danny, with whom she lived, administered CPR until paramedics arrived and transported to the hospital. She was placed in a medically induced coma and put on life support, dying hours later. The family made clear her death was not a suicide. Her father and paternal grandmother also both died from heart attacks at young ages — 42 and 46 respectively.

While questions remain about her health in her final days, we know that Lisa Marie's final years were fraught with pain and struggles...

She was 'completely detonated and destroyed' by son Benjamin's 2020 death

Her only son, Benjamin, died by suicide in July 2020 — and Lisa Marie made it clear that navigating that pain had been unbearable. In August, she penned an essay for National Grief Awareness Day and said she had "been living in the horrific reality of its unrelenting grips since my son's death two years ago." When he died, the lives of she and her three children "were completely detonated and destroyed by his death. We live in this every. Single. Day." She said it was "incredibly lonely," as people, including "family," expected her to move on from her grief, but the pain is not something you ever "get over... You do not 'move on,' period." She called it "a real choice to keep going, one that I have to make every single day." However, she said, "I keep going for my girls."

Prior to that, in her first statement after Ben's death, she described the pain as "suffocating and bottomless," admitting,"I will never be the same."

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Ten days before her death, she gave a speech at Graceland in honor of what would have been Elvis's 88th birthday. She admitted to the crowd that they were "the only people that can bring me out of my house," adding, "I'm not kidding."

Lisa Marie's half-brother says her final years 'weren't easy' in tribute

She was the only child of Elvis and Priscilla, but had a half-brother, Navarone Garcia, from her mom's relationship with Marco Garibaldi. In the 35-year-old musician's tribute to his "big sister," who was 19 years older, he wrote, "I hope you are now at peace and happy with your Dad and your son by your side. I know the past couple years weren't easy for you, and I wish things had been different between us," without elaborating. "Regardless, you are my sister and I'm sending love and prayers for your journey home. I still can't believe this, I'm lost for words."

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Lisa Marie was in a years-long, bitter custody battle over her twin daughters

The "Dirty Laundry" singer's marriages made headlines — between the odd union with Jackson, amid the sexual abuse allegations he faced, and the three months she was married to Cage. However, her final marriage, to Lockwood, resulted in divorce and years of fighting and bitter allegations. While they exes were ultimately awarded joint custody in December 2020, just months before, Lockwood, in court documents, attempted to strip her of custody, claiming he was worried she would "relapse into drug and alcohol dependency" following Ben's suicide. He also and expressed concern for the girls' safety, saying they may have access to weapons at Lisa Marie's house, where Ben died.

(L-R) Finley Lockwood, Lisa Marie Presley, Priscilla Presley, Riley Keough, and Harper Lockwood pose after placing their handprints in cement at TCL Chinese theatre in Los Angeles, California, U.S. June 21, 2022. REUTERS/Ringo Chiu
Finley Lockwood, Lisa Marie Presley, Priscilla Presley, Riley Keough, and Harper Lockwood pose after placing their handprints in cement at TCL Chinese theatre in Los Angeles, California on June 21, 2022. Lisa Marie made few public appearances in her final years, especially after Benjamin's death, but did support the film Elvis about her dad. (Photo: REUTERS/Ringo Chiu)

The dispute over the custody of the girls began as soon as their 10-year union ended in 2016. They were both were both temporarily stripped of custody, with Priscilla briefly stepping in to care for the girls in 2017. Presley had accused Lockwood of having "disturbing" images on his computer; his attorney denied it, calling the accusation "highly sensational, inaccurate and unproven." Lockwood accused his ex of drug use, and refused to let their children travel to Memphis, Tenn., for an event marking Elvis's 85th birthday.

In the wake of Lisa Marie's death, a rep for Lockwood — who remarried last year — said in a statement to Entertainment Tonight, "Michael had been hoping for a speedy and complete recovery because her children needed her. It is very sad it didn’t turn out that way. Michael's world has been turned on its ear. He is with both of his daughters now."

Lisa Marie's divorce from Lockwood was messy

While they split in 2016, their divorce wasn't final until five years later. They fought about her fortune, which at one point was more than $100 million as her megastar dad's sole heir, with him accusing her of lying about her financial woes.

According to her 2017 deposition, which was obtained by the tabloid Radar, Lisa Marie admitted to to "abusing cocaine terribly" during the last few years of marriage and mixing alcohol and pills. "The last three years I … had to go to rehab several times," she said, later putting the number at somewhere between three and five stints in a Mexican treatment facility. "I was a mess. I couldn't stop." Pressed for specifically what she was taking, she said "painkillers and opioids" as well as alcohol. "The last year of our marriage, I was abusing cocaine terribly. It was bad, yeah."

Michael Lockwood and Lisa Marie Presley arrive at the 46th Country Music Association Awards in Nashville, Tennessee, November 1, 2012.   REUTERS/Eric Henderson (UNITED STATES  - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)
Lisa Marie Presley with Michael Lockwood in 2012. They divorced in 2016 after 10 years of marriage and battled it out for years after. (Photo: REUTERS/Eric Henderson)

A 2017 ruling found that their 2007 post-nuptial agreement, in which they waived spousal support, was valid. However, at one point, she was ordered to pay $100,000 for Lockwood's legal fees.

She bravely revealed an opioid addiction in 2019

As her deposition testimony made headlines, she revealed on the Today show in 2018 that she had been battling addiction. She said she was "proud" of how far she had come, saying her therapist called her miracle... She's like, 'I don't know how you're still alive.'"

The next year, Presley bravely shared the depth of that struggle, with an "addiction to opioids and painkillers" in a foreword she wrote for the book The United States of Opioids: A Prescription for Liberating a Nation in Pain by Harry Nelson. She made it clear that was "grateful to be alive," explaining that while recovering from the birth of her twins in 2008, a doctor prescribed opioids for pain. "It only took a short-term prescription of opioids in the hospital for me to feel the need to keep taking them" due to their dangerous addictiveness, she said. She traveled "a difficult path to overcome this dependence, and to put my life back together" and called for people to "stop blaming and judging" those who struggle.

Lisa Marie Presley wrote the foreword for
Lisa Marie Presley wrote the foreword for The United States of Opioids: A Prescription for Liberating a Nation in Pain. (Image: Amazon)

Nelson tells Yahoo Entertainment today that Lisa Marie showed extreme bravery agreeing to write that foreword — and revealing her opioid addiction for the first time — agreeing to do so only because she knew she would help others.

"I will always regard her as a true ally in the fight to destigmatize addiction and recovery and to do something to stem the opioid and overdose crises," he says. "May her memory be for a blessing and may she be remembered — among all the other deserving tributes — as someone whose compassion for the suffering of others led her to be a force for good in the world."

Nelson, who knew Lisa Marie for a decade, says the last time he spoke to her was about a year ago. He was reaching out about "another writing and advocacy project we had discussed to see if she was open to moving forward on it. It was something we had spoken about before her son Benjamin's tragic passing, and I did not want to push in a time when she was dealing with so much pain. I had hoped that time would ease her grief. She seemed to be still having a very difficult time with that terrible loss. She was not ready. I wanted to be respectful and not to push, and I asked her to be in touch if and when she was ready. I did not have a chance to talk to her again."

She dealt with financial issues, claiming to have lost millions

During Presley's divorce battle, Elvis's heir claimed she was $16.7 million in debt in 2018.

That year, she sued a former business manager, Barry Siegel, whom she alleged squandered her $100 million fortune, leaving her with only $14,000 in cash, $500,000 in credit card debt, unspecified unpaid taxes and a mansion in England in foreclosure.

Lisa Marie had inherited her father’s estate, worth an estimated $100 million, when she was 25. With Graceland and licensing of her father's image, the business continued to make approximately $40 million a year, but she after a few bad business moves, she sold 85 percent of the stake in Elvis Presley Enterprise, in 2005, according to Fortune. The media outlet noted her spending habits were an issue. Either way, the sale paid out $100 million — including the erasure of $25 million debt she had — and she retained a 15 percent stake and owned Graceland and its original items.

Lisa Marie claimed in her lawsuit that Siegel was "reckless and negligent" in his "mismanagement" and depleted her $100 million trust, before and after the sale. In legal documents he blamed her, saying she "twice squandered" her father's fortune after she inherited it — counting her 2005 payout as the second time — and is "looking to blame others instead of taking responsibility for her actions."

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, contact Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Treatment Referral Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357)