Elvis Presley made the front page of The New York Times today. The legendary performer and essential voice and character of American music and culture still connect with the public and his economic prowess decades following his death underscores the reason he is still referred to with the moniker ‘The King’. With the obvious stated, let us talk with additional candor about the legal affairs that surround his family.
I am confident Elvis would not be pleased with the reason his name is making the press these days in a legal arena. While he would surely be most honored and tickled with the fame that has come to his memory from the incredible performance of Austin Butler in the movie Elvis, which has reaped Oscar nominations including the Best Actor nod, all the rest of what has been occurring would simply make him most sad. His daughter Lisa Marie died weeks ago, and his estate and professional interests are being tugged at for various reasons, again sadly, some for less than honorable outcomes.
Lisa Marie was never, and for whatever reason, able to either cope with fame as she entered adulthood or able to ever acquire business savvy. The Elvis world was filled with stunned apoplexy when it became clear that Michael Jackson was far more interested in the music rights for Elvis’ musical library than in any desire for female companionship from Lisa. Evidence of the lack of seriousness that Elvis’ daughter brought to the business side of Elvis Presley Enterprises was summed up in today’s front page story. It was not news to EP fans, but it is important this information is nationalized so that Priscilla Presley is not vilified as she works to right the ship at Graceland in Memphis.
“….the Elvis brand today continues to take in more than $100 million a year as the licensing juggernaut behind apparel, pink Cadillac plush toys and tickets to tour Graceland. But the family trust receives only a fraction of its proceeds, according to court filings that detail its earnings.
In 2005, Lisa Marie and her business manager sold off 85 percent of Elvis Presley Enterprises for roughly $97 million in cash, stock and debt relief, according to court documents — funds that have since been nearly depleted. Still, last year, before her death, Elvis’s daughter drew an income of $1.25 million from the trust, which continues to be worth tens of millions of dollars, according to financial filings. The beneficiaries are now Keough and her two younger half sisters.
The spending sprees and awful decision making from Lisa Marie underscore the complete drift from the precise and measured ways Priscilla Presley had fashioned Elvis’ memory following his death into the iconic image he is today. Even after the divorce between the famed couple it was clear of the deep bond that existed and further underscored by how Priscilla has ben diligent in her work on his behalf since 1977.
The Los Angeles Times estimated in 1989 that the value of the estate had climbed to more than $75 million and that Elvis Presley Enterprises was bringing in an estimated $15 million a year in gross income.
The assets grew to more than $100 million by 2005, according to court documents. By that time, they had been moved into a new vehicle, the Promenade Trust, established by Lisa Marie in 1993. She was its beneficiary; her mother and Barry Siegel, the family’s business manager, served as trustees.
Then began what Lisa Marie’s lawyers have called her “11-year odyssey to financial ruin.”
Siegel and Lisa Marie would later trade accusations over who was to blame for her precipitous financial decline. In a 2018 court fight, which was eventually settled, Siegel contended that, though the trust received millions of dollars in annual income, “Lisa’s continuous, excessive spending and reliance on credit” drove it into significant debt.
On Jan. 26, two weeks after Lisa Marie’s death, Priscilla filed papers in Superior Court in Los Angeles challenging a 2016 amendment to the trust purportedly authorized by Lisa Marie. That amendment had removed Priscilla and Siegel as trustees. It had also designated Riley Keough and Benjamin, her brother, as co-trustees in the event of Lisa Marie’s death.
Siegel had acknowledged receiving notice of his removal as trustee during his 2018 court battle with Lisa Marie. But Priscilla’s lawyers argued that the amendment was invalid, saying that it had never been delivered to her during Lisa Marie’s lifetime as required under the language of the trust. They also argued that the amendment was potentially fraudulent, asserting that Lisa Marie’s signature was “inconsistent” with her usual penmanship. Priscilla asked the court to recognize her as a trustee.
It is imperative that reason and professionalism again return as the controlling hand on the icon’s memory and financial viability. As we know from the recent blockbuster film about Elvis there is indeed a whole new generation coming to know of both the music and the man. Priscilla Presley is the one to best shape, guide, and grow this legend’s business affairs.