When Lisa Marie Presley claimed last August that she’d had ‘more than anyone’s fair share’ of grief and loss in her life, she was talking about four failed marriages and the tragic suicide of her son Benjamin Keough, not to mention her beloved father’s death at 42.
Perhaps it would have seemed grubby to bring up money in her essay to honor Grief Awareness Day. But the heiress who grew up wanting for nothing and inherited her father’s estate at 25 could have mentioned that she also suffered more than her fair share of financial loss.
How much she or others are to blame for the $100 million inheritance that spectacularly slipped through her fingers remains a mystery, particularly given a crucial legal battle with former business manager Barry Siegel was, the Mail has discovered, settled ‘confidentially’ more than a year ago.
It was one of two legal battles over money – the other, with her fourth and final husband Michael Lockwood, hasn’t been resolved – that she was fighting in the final years of her life.
But the staggering dollar disappearing act certainly taints her legacy and leaves an additional headache for her children.
Given insiders long claimed that Lisa Marie inherited her father’s fecklessness with money, the famous ‘curse of Elvis’ may stretch further than many think.
Two years ago, an executive in the Presley estate estimated it to be worth between $400 million and $500 million, with a well-placed music industry insider telling Rolling Stone magazine that making ‘$40 million a year for a guy who died over 40 years ago is f***ing incredible’.
Given insiders long claimed that Lisa Marie inherited her father’s fecklessness with money, the famous ‘curse of Elvis’ may stretch further than many think. (Above) Elvis Presley with his wife Priscilla Presley and their daughter Lisa Marie Presley on February 5, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee
When Lisa Marie Presley claimed last August that she’d had ‘more than anyone’s fair share’ of grief and loss in her life, she was talking about four failed marriages and the tragic suicide of her son Benjamin Keough, not to mention her beloved father’s death at 42. (Above) Lisa Marie Presley with then-fiance Michael Lockwood in 2005
That sort of statement must rub salt into the wound for the Presley family given Lisa Marie sold 85 percent of the rights to exploit his name and music in a controversial $100 million deal in 2004.
In fact, the rot set in for the Presley dynasty’s finances under Elvis and his manager ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker. The singer, who is estimated to have earned as much as $1 billion during his life, was notoriously hopeless with money while Parker racked up huge gambling debts.
While Elvis was so spendthrift he even bought Cadillacs for many of his staff at Graceland, his beloved little daughter got whatever she wanted. She had her own pony, golf buggy to drive around the Memphis estate and myriad household staff at her beck and call. Elvis (who bought Cadillacs even for some of his most menial workers) would sometimes rent out Libertyland, a local theme park, so she and her friends could go and have exclusive run of it. When she once complained she’d never seen snow, he flew her straight off to the mountains of Idaho in his private jet so she could play in it for 20 minutes before flying her back.
When Elvis ran out of money, he’d simply arrange another tour or film deal.
Some believe that Lisa Marie learnt dangerous lessons from her father about the value of money in those early years – lessons that would one day prove ruinous to the family finances.
In 1973, Parker attempted to settle both his and Presley’s financial problems by arranging for the singer to sell royalties for his entire back catalog up to that point – some 1,000 songs – for a mere $5.4 million to music giant RCA. Even then, Presley received only $1.35 million of that sum after Parker subtracted his astonishing 50 percent fee and income tax.
Both performer and manager decided they could instead rely on his income from touring. That thinking may have seemed sound at the time – Presley was still only 38 – but it relied on Elvis continuing to perform. It also meant that the Presley estate would continue to get no royalties on many of Elvis’ biggest hits – a situation that has never changed.
When Presley died just four years later in 1977, he stipulated in his will that Lisa Marie – then only nine – would inherit his fortune, including 13.8 acre Graceland, when she reached 25. He was estimated to be worth $5 million at the time but the finances soon got even worse as the family could no longer rely on his income from touring. By the early 1980s, the estate was in dire straits, with annual income of just $1 million and facing an outstanding $10 million tax bill.
Lisa Marie’s mother, Priscilla Presley, stepped into the breach. As one of the executors of her ex-husband’s estate, she took the reins of managing it. She and financial advisors formed Elvis Presley Enterprises (EPE) to exploit rights to his image, merchandising and remaining royalties from songs recorded after the RCA deal.
This chiefly involved exploiting Elvis’ huge international fanbase by turning Graceland into a lucrative tourist attraction and it opened to the public in 1982. On the first day alone, 3,000 people visited and it soon boasted 700,000 visitors a year. By the end of the 1980s, the Presley estate was in strong financial health, earning $15 million every year. By 1993 it was estimated to be worth $100 million. That year, Lisa Marie turned 25 and became eligible to inherit her father’s wealth.
The rot set in for the Presley dynasty’s finances under Elvis and his manager ‘Colonel’ Tom Parker. (Above) Elvis Presley with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, signing a record contract with RCA in October 1955
It was reported that Lisa Marie’s mother Priscilla was forced to sell her Los Angeles mansion in 2019 to help Lisa Marie with her mounting debts.
She was put in charge of a new trust to run the Presley empire, appointing trustees to oversee her inheritance. A decade later in 2003 – the same year Lisa Marie launched her own ultimately unsuccessful music career – she appointed professional business manager Barry Siegel as a co-trustee and the person primarily in charge of the Presley assets.
Siegel, who also managed the fortunes of actors Al Pacino and Elijah Wood, hadn’t been in the post two years when he and Lisa decided in 2005 to sell 85 percent of the trust’s interest in Elvis Presley Enterprises – the business started by Priscilla – for around $100 million to CKX, an entertainment company that also owned the reality TV series American Idol.
The deal didn’t actually bring Lisa Marie’s trust $100 million but only $40 million after taxes, as well as $25 million of stock in CKX. However, it was apparently part of Lisa Marie’s plan to expand her business and make it more profitable. ‘You have to either grow or go down,’ she said at the time. Siegel also justified the deal Siegel, saying it ‘cleared up’ more than $20 million in debts that Lisa Marie had racked up.
Once again, however, the Presley ship ran on to the rocks. Plans to expand Graceland were foiled by the 2008 economic meltdown. And CKX went bankrupt and was bought in 2011 by a private equity firm which sold the Presley estate two years later to brand management company Authentic Brands Group in a $145 million deal.
Authentic Brands still controls the merchandising and licensing of the Elvis name, image and likeness. What was left for Lisa Marie? Graceland, her father’s personal possessions and 15 percent of Elvis Presley Enterprises.
Now, even $40 million – the cash amount she earned from the 2005 CKX deal – would normally be enough for any young woman. But by 2015, just 10 years later, she was deeply in debt.
In 2018, she sued Barry Siegel and his company, Provident Financial Management, in Los Angeles accusing them of squandering her $100 million inheritance and leaving her with only $14,000 and facing unpaid taxes and other debts – including a $500,000 credit card bill – amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
She accused Siegel and his company of hiding from her the true financial condition of her trust, assuring her that her finances were in ‘good shape’ when they weren’t.
She insisted that, had she known the truth, she wouldn’t have spent money so profligately – working her away through $39 million in just four years from 2005 to 2008.
When Lisa Marie once complained she’d never seen snow, Elvis flew her straight off to the mountains of Idaho in his private jet so she could play in it for 20 minutes before flying her back. (Above) Elvis’ jet, Lisa Marie, displayed at Graceland
Lisa Marie’s mother, Priscilla Presley took the reins. This chiefly involved exploiting Elvis’ huge international fanbase by turning Graceland into a lucrative tourist attraction and it opened to the public in 1982.
In her lawsuit she inadvertently revealed the extent of her lavish spending. She – or technically her trust – had homes in Hawaii and Hidden Hills, California, as well as a 15th century manor house, with 50 acres and indoor swimming pool, she’d bought in 2010 in Rotherfield, East Sussex for $9 million. They then spent millions more on ‘improvements’ according to neighbors.
The house, where she lived for some years with her family, was close to the UK headquarters of the Scientology church – an organization she had credited with helping her overcome drug addiction but which she is said to have left in 2014. She subsequently got only $4 million for the property when she finally managed to sell it in 2021.
Lisa Marie complained in her lawsuit that by 2010, the mortgages on the houses in Hawaii and California were more than the properties were worth and yet Siegel still agreed she could spend another $9 million on the Sussex estate. The lawsuit strongly suggested that she left all the sums in his hands and confined herself to just spending money.
The trust, she said, should have been worth at least $100 million – the amount she sued Siegel for – if it hadn’t been for the ill-considered sale of most of her stake in Elvis Presley Enterprises and the connected investment in the American Idol company.
Lisa Marie also claimed she wouldn’t have allowed Siegel to charge fees averaging more than $700,000 a year if she’d known the real financial picture. She said he’d squandered her wealth ‘through his reckless and negligent mismanagement and self serving-ambition’.
Siegel denied the allegations and he and Provident counter-sued, claiming her ‘out-of-control spending’ caused her predicament.
According to Siegel, Presley’s ‘out-of-control spending’ led to her financial predicament despite his repeated attempts to rein it in. It was her father’s weakness with money all over again.
Siegel’s lawyer, Leon Gladstone, said at the time: ‘It’s clear that Lisa Marie is going through a difficult time in her life and is looking to blame others instead of taking responsibility for her actions.’
Siegel claimed that Lisa Marie was so spendthrift that she went $20 million in debt as early as 2003. He said his appeals to her to rein in her lavish lifestyle fell on deaf ears.
In court papers, Siegel described annual meetings with Lisa Marie in which he’d present her with financial information about the trust only for her to refuse to keep hard copies of it because – she said – she didn’t want visitors to her home to read it.
Lisa Marie complained in her lawsuit that by 2010, the mortgages on the houses in Hawaii and California were more than the properties were worth and yet Siegel still agreed she could spend another $9 million on the Sussex estate (above).
She – or technically her trust – had homes in Hawaii and Hidden Hills, California (the latter, above).
As the case dragged on, it was reported that her mother Priscilla was forced to sell her Los Angeles mansion in 2019 to help Lisa Marie with her mounting debts.
News of the bombshell lawsuit dropped off during the pandemic and Siegel told the Mail Friday that it had been ‘resolved confidentially more than a year ago’. Referring to her death, he added: ‘We are so sorry for the loss.’
Her frazzled fortune also clearly had a bearing on her legal action with her last husband.
Presley divorced Michael Lockwood, a guitarist in her band, in 2016 – 10 years after they’d wed and later had two girls together.
In the resulting divorce proceedings, Lockwood asked for her to pay him $263,000 a year so that he could ‘enjoy a lifestyle that is closer to my marital status of living’. He also sought $40,000 a month in child support.
She countered that she was $16 million in debt, saying in court documents that she owed more than $10 million in back taxes and had defaulted on a loan of more than $6 million that she’d needed to buy the splendid home in East Sussex.
Although a court ruled in her favor in 2018, Lockwood returned to court in 2021, demanding child support and citing a recent $1 million book deal she’d reportedly signed and income from a Hollywood biopic of Elvis. The case remained unsettled when she died.
The financial future of the Presley clan is likely to loom large in the aftermath of Lisa Marie’s death. Given the unhappy family history when it comes to money, there’s little grounds for optimism down at Graceland.