Elvis Presley’s Friends Were Worried He Would End Up Like Jerry Lee Lewis, Who Married His 13-Year-Old Cousin
Elvis Presley famously met Priscilla Beaulieu, who would eventually become Priscilla Presley, in Germany when she was just 14 – and he was 24. But, while Presley was immediately taken with Beaulieu, some of his closest friends and associates were deeply concerned about the couple’s age difference.
In his 2007 memoir, Elvis: Still Taking Care of Business, Memphis Mafia member Sonny West – who was Presley’s close friend and bodyguard for over 15 years – revealed that Presley’s entourage worried the King’s career would be affected by his budding relationship with Beaulieu. After all, Presley’s rock and roll rival, Jerry Lee Lewis, was nearly blacklisted from the music industry after he notoriously married his 13-year-old cousin, Myra Gale Brown.
Lewis was a rising star in rock and roll
Lewis was on his way to international rock and roll stardom when he married Brown, who was his first cousin once removed. The four-time Grammy winner, known as “The Killer” and later inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is considered one of the fathers of rock and roll and rockabilly music.
The Memphis-based “wild man” was known for his energetic live performances of chart-topping hits like “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” The singer was also widely considered to be Presley’s greatest rival.
His career took a major hit when he married Brown
Despite his early career successes, everything changed when 21-year-old Lewis married 13-year-old Brown in 1957. Upon arriving at the London Heathrow Airport for a major British tour five months later, Brown let it slip to a reporter that she was his wife.
According to Ultimate Classic Rock, Lewis tried to lie about his wife’s age – but it was too late. Not only did reporters discover that Brown was 13, but they also figured out that he had married her before divorcing his second wife, Jane Mitcham. This made him a two-time bigamist, as he’d done the same with his first wife, Dorothy Barton (Live About).
The tour was hastily cancelled due to the scandal, and Lewis’s career didn’t pick up again until he ventured into country music years later. As for Brown, she eventually divorced Lewis in 1970, citing his substance abuse and alleged physical and emotional abuse as the reason (Cuepoint).
Presley’s friends worried about his interest in Beaulieu
In Elvis: Still Taking Care of Business, West admitted that Presley’s friends couldn’t deny the parallels between Lewis’s controversy and Presley’s interest in Beaulieu – with whom he had an even larger age difference than Lewis did with Brown.
According to West, Presley thought of Beaulieu as a “new conquest” and pursued her “with vigor.” He was especially interested, West argued, in molding her into his dream woman and fantasy ideal.
“Her natural beauty was undeniable,” West wrote of Beaulieu in those early days, when she was exchanging photos and letters with the King after her returned to the U.S.
“Her age, however, was a whole different matter – especially in the eyes of the law,” he continued, adding that the age gap “spelled ‘T-R-O-U-B-L-E.’”
They warned him against getting too involved with the much younger girl
Presley’s colleagues and confidantes in the Memphis Mafia, as well as his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, warned him not to jeopardize his career as Lewis had.
West noted that Lewis’s “bizarre” marriage to his young cousin had “famously derailed” his “red-hot career.”
Of the fallout from the notorious scandal, he wrote that “the revelation of their marriage was a public relations disaster. Tours were canceled, Jerry Lee’s records were blacklisted from radio playlists, and his fee for personal appearances dropped from $10,000 a night to $250. He was reduced to playing one-night stands in seedy bars and juke joints to pay the bills.”
Naturally, the King of Rock and Roll simply could not meet the same fate – at least if his friends had anything to do with it.
But Presley was not one to be swayed when he wanted something. While he didn’t marry Beaulieu until 1967, when she was 21 years old, she moved into Graceland long before that. She was frequently referenced in the press as the King’s “live-in Lolita” due to her age. Because he waited to marry her until she was several years into adulthood, however, his career never suffered the consequences as Lewis’s had.