Friends Jeanene Erdahl and Lisa Larson drove overnight from Minnesota to Graceland, arriving in Memphis at 4:30 a.m. to line up for a memorial honoring the life of Lisa Marie Presleywho died last week at 54 years old. Later in the day, they will turn around and start again.
Erdahl and Larson, who became quick friends seven years ago after bonding over their mutual love for Elvis, watched the memorial service steps away from where mourners love Axl Rose and Alanis Morissette paid a musical tribute to the only child of Elvis and Priscilla Presley.
“She was part of our generation, and [we] watched her go through difficulties in her life and overcome them,” says Erdahl rolling stone. “She had strength and character and pizzazz, and she seemed so much fun.”
Mourners traveled from around the world to pay their respects to Lisa Marie, a talented musician herself, as well as the guardian of her father’s legacy for most of his life. Debbie Ramage of Courtenay, British Columbia was finally planning to visit Graceland next year for her 60th birthday, but decided to come now to pay her respects to the family. “I think she was brilliant,” Ramage says of Lisa Marie. “She looked a lot like her father. She has this beautiful spirit like her father, and she was a beautiful singer.
Under cold, gray winter skies in Memphis, family, friends and a crowd of mourners estimated in the thousands gathered outside a stage set up just outside the gates of Graceland – the mansion Elvis bought in 1957 and the house where Lisa Marie spent her first four years. Attendees lined the circular aisle and stretched towards the stone wall that runs along the north side of the property as a succession of guests, from Priscilla Presley to former Memphis Mafia Jerry Schilling, took the dais . As each guest exited the tent, the crowd – uninvited – lifted photos of Lisa Marie and waved them in tribute.
Like the general mood, the musical performances were mostly dark, with Billy Corgan by Smashing Pumpkins (whose friendship with Lisa Marie dates back to their 2003 “Savior” collaboration) playing the Love cut “To Sheila” on an acoustic guitar. Alanis Morissette took the stage with a pianist to sing “Rest,” which she wrote after Chester Bennington’s suicide in 2017 and released for Mental Health Day of Action in 2021.
Then in a surprise appearance that could only be eclipsed by a cameo from Elvis himself, Axl Rose has emerged. Wearing a long dark coat and scarf, the vulnerable and emotional Guns N’ Roses frontman stood behind the podium at Graceland and admitted he was quiet and nervous about be invited to speak at the memorial. “I’m still in shock because I feel like I’m going to continue to be in shock for a while,” said Rose, a longtime friend of Lisa Marie. “I feel like I’m supposed to text her like now.” He followed his remarks, read on his phone, by sitting down at the grand piano and playing a fast-paced rendition of GNR’s signature ballad, “November Rain.”
After the service lasting just over an hour, the mourners – who were asked not to photograph family members and guests out of respect for Lisa Marie – quietly walked down the aisle of Graceland to ‘to Lisa Marie’s final resting place in the Meditation Garden, the same route that thousands of Presley worshipers take each August 15 as part of the candlelight vigil to mark the anniversary of Elvis’ death.
Wreaths sent by Elvis fan clubs in Italy, Japan, Sweden and Germany lined the walkway leading to the garden. A bouquet of white and red roses was placed nearby, with a card reading “In Loving Memory, From Axl Rose”. Mourners marched slowly, passing first by the graves of Elvis and his parents, Gladys and Vernon, then bowing to pay their respects at the grave of Lisa Marie next to her son, Benjamin Keough, whose suicide in 2020 broke Lisa Marie. Flowers, stuffed animals and other keepsakes surrounded their mausoleums, with another bouquet of white roses – this one sent by Oprah Winfrey – connecting them.
After paying her respects, Katrina McElyea of Memphis – whose mother was a nurse to Elvis’ controversial doctor Dr. George Nichopoulos, and who occasionally plays Elvis’ mother in re-enactments of his life – reflected on the memory of Lisa Marie and what she meant to the global Elvis community.
“He was someone who not only cared about his family and his father’s legacy; she cared about the fans, she cared about the tribute artists,” McElyea says. “She truly loved each of us, and to be here and give back even a fraction of that love is really special to me.”