Donna Presley was born in 1950 in Missouri. Her uncle was Elvis’ father. The 15-year-old rock legend was thus her cousin. And friend, and employer.
– Elvis was the kindest and most loving person I have ever known. Not only generous with his money, which really meant nothing to him, but with his time and his warmth, says Donna, or “Donnie” as Elvis used to call her.
– That’s how I remember him.
We are sitting in a neat living room on Lidingö and talking, Elvis’ cousin and I.
It is the home of Annelie Strand, who together with Peter Jezewski (once in The Boppers) organizes the rock tour “Be bob a luba”, where Donna Presley appears as a special guest.
The mood is upbeat ahead of the upcoming gig. The dog Aston is also on the hook and licks the reporter’s shoe. Donna Presley keeps her high-heeled boots on and laughs out loud at the jock’s mischievous ways.
She has traveled a long way from her home in Arkansas in the United States to ride around Sweden for three months and draw stories about Elvis for the audience as Jezewski celebrates the tenth anniversary of his show.
– I love being able to tell about Elvis, the family and what he was like as a person. It’s an honor for me to do that, says Donna.
We’re trying to turn back the clock to 1960. Elvis Aaron Presley had had his big break a few years earlier and was now a celebrated star.
When he wasn’t on tour or in the recording studio, he lived in his lavish estate Graceland, south of downtown Memphis, Tennessee.
There, then 10-year-old Donna spent her summer holidays with family and friends. Elvis loved having his family around him. In her teens, Donna moved to Graceland and started working at “AB Elvis”. Later, her parents also moved there.
Worked with Elvis fan mail
Among other things, Donna, who was still in school, had to help handwrite answers to the bags of admirer letters that came to Elvis.
“The King”, a name he himself disliked and was absolutely not allowed to be called at home, was often away, but when he came home to Graceland, exciting things used to happen, Donna remembers.
Preferably on the nights when Elvis lived his private life.
– He couldn’t go out anywhere during the day, there would be crowds and commotion everywhere. So he had to wait until it was night. I usually say that Elvis lived like a vampire that way. He didn’t get up until three o’clock in the afternoon, says Donna Presley.
With his entourage, mostly consisting of close friends from high school and pals from his army days, Elvis could call the owner of an amusement park and have it opened just for himself late at night.
Or you went to a shopping center and shopped wildly without having to crowd with other customers. Or to a local car dealer. Elvis liked to buy cars for himself and others.
Nothing was impossible for the world star. At the same time, he lived his life in a golden cage, says the cousin.
– Fame and fortune come with a price tag, so it was. Elvis didn’t have many people he could trust, and it can be a lonely life. That’s why he liked having his family close to him.
When the rock star was off, there could be full action inside Graceland. Fast cars, motorcycles and go carts on their own track.
He also liked to set off fireworks and sometimes it could degenerate into pure war where Elvis and his friends shot at each other with handheld pieces of gunpowder, so-called roman candles, i.e. Roman candles.
– It was not harmless and once he himself was burned on the neck and then had to cancel a film shoot, Donna remembers.
Took the horse to grandma
On another occasion, Elvis had bought a new riding horse and wanted to show it to his grandmother Minnie Mae (Elvis called her “Dodger”).
Since grandma was in her room, he took the horse inside and trotted through the big house. The horse, however, became needy, as horses do, and it must have ended with pure disaster on the carpet.
Donna Presley shakes her head slightly and smiles:
– He liked to be a bit “on the edge” and invent crazy things.
One of her fondest memories of her cousin was when Elvis met her newborn son.
Presley flirted a bit with the baby and asked what his name would be.
– “Stacy Aaron,” I said. He wondered if I took the name after him – with two ai Aaron? I answered “yes of course”. Elvis was very teary-eyed then.
Didn’t like the fiance’s “joke”
On an earlier occasion when Donna brought her then-fiancé to Graceland, Elvis was less gentle in his tone. You could say that the boyfriend stepped on the piano with a crash.
– I wanted him to meet my grandmother and Elvis also happened to be at home.
– When are you getting married? Elvis wondered.
The young fiance answered:
– When Donna can pay for the lifestyle I got used to!
The boyfriend was probably trying to joke, but it didn’t go home. At all.
– I saw how Elvis’ jaw twitched, and I thought “oops, that was the wrong thing to say.”
Very true. The next day, Minnie Mae declared that Elvis was upset: She can’t marry this guy. The king had spoken! A little later, Donna broke up.
Elvis’ own love affairs have always received a lot of space in the columns. It is periodically claimed that he and movie star Marilyn Monroe had intimate encounters when he was in his 25s.
Cousin Donna can neither confirm nor deny:
– I don’t know, she says. At least I’ve never heard Elvis talk about it about it.
After the divorce from Priscilla in 1973, Elvis’ health problems began to become noticeable. He was overweight and became addicted to various painkillers.
The latter contributed to his tragic death on August 16, 1977. The news was cabled around the world: The King of Rock had passed away, aged just 42.
Donna Presley remembers in detail what she did in that second 45 years ago when she got the news of her death. She still gets very emotional talking about it.
– I was at home with the children when my mother called and was hysterical. “Pray for Elvis,” she cried. So we knelt in the living room and prayed. 20 minutes later it rang again. It was mother who said: It’s too late honey, he’s gone.
The last time Donna met Elvis, he had two weeks to live. Her feeling was that he was getting things right at the time after all.
– I think he had changed his mind in several ways and was possibly heading in a new direction. Live healthier and get rid of people around him who were not good. For example, he wanted to tour Europe again, which the Colonel (Elvis’ manager Tom Parker) was completely against.
Close full screen mode
The years after Elvis’ death were difficult for the family. Elvis’ father Vernon more or less grieved himself to death, according to Donna. He died of a heart attack in 1979.
Elvis’ large fortune went to daughter Lisa Marie whose stormy life is a chapter in itself.
– Lisa Marie inherited everything, which is perfectly fine. We expected nothing from the legacy. We had received Elvis’ love and that was more than enough, says Donna.
She doesn’t have much contact with cousin Lisa Marie Presley these days.
– We don’t spend time together, but maybe see each other once a year when it’s Elvis Week in Memphis. Thousands of people from all over the world come there in August every year to honor Elvis’ memory.
Finally, if Elvis were still alive, aged 87, what do you think he would have thought of today’s world?
– There is so much strife in the world today and I think he would have been devastated by it. But I think he had done everything to make life better for others.
Born: 1950 in Missouri.
Living: In Wynne, Arkansas.
Family: Two sons with wives and six grandchildren.
Current: Touring Sweden with Peter Jezewski’s 10th anniversary show “Be bop a luba” where she talks about her cousin Elvis, and sings some Elvis songs.
Books: Has co-written three books about Elvis Presley, one of which is a cookbook (yes, the recipe for Elvis’ infamous fried banana and peanut butter sandwich is included).
READ MORE: The Story of Elvis Presley – The King
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