Friends Jeanene Erdahl and Lisa Larson drove all night from Minnesota to Graceland, arriving in Memphis at 4:30 a.m. to queue for a memorial honoring the life of Lisa Marie Presley, who died last week at the age of 54 years died. I’ll turn around and do it again.
Erdahl and Larson, who became firm friends seven years ago after bonding through their shared love of Elvis, watched the memorial service just steps from where mourners including Axl Rose and Alanis Morissette saw Elvis and Priscilla’s only child paid a musical tribute to Presley.
“She was part of our generation, and [we] watched as she went through struggles in her life and overcame them,” Erdahl tells Rolling Stone. “She had strength and character and panache, and she just seemed so funny.”
Mourners traveled from all over the world to pay their respects to Lisa Marie, who was herself a talented musician and managed her father’s legacy for most of her life. Debbie Ramage, from Courtenay, British Columbia, was planning to finally visit Graceland next year for her 60th birthday, but decided to come now instead to pay her respects to the family. “I think she was brilliant,” says Ramage of Lisa Marie. “She was very similar to her father. She has this wonderful spirit like her father and she was a wonderful singer.”
Under a cold, gray Memphis winter sky, family, friends and a crowd of mourners estimated in the thousands gathered in front of a stage set up just inside the gates of Graceland – the mansion Elvis bought in 1957 and the home where Lisa Marie lived spent the first four years of her life. Attendees lined the circular driveway and stretched toward the stone wall that ran along the north side of the property as a variety of guests, from Priscilla Presley to Memphis Mafia alum Jerry Schilling, took to the dais. As each guest exited the tent, the crowd — unprompted — held up photos of Lisa Marie and waved them in tribute.
MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE – JANUARY 22: Fans gather to pay their respects to Lisa Marie Presley at the memorial on January 22, 2023 in Memphis, Tennessee. Presley, 54, the only child of American singer Elvis Presley, died on January 12, 2023 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images) Getty Images
Like the general mood, the musical performances were mostly somber, with Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan (whose friendship with Lisa Marie dates back to their 2003 collaboration “Saviour”) playing the Adore 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 in 2021 for Mental Health Action Day.
Then, in a surprise appearance that could only be overshadowed by a cameo by Elvis himself, Axl Rose showed up. The Guns N’ Roses frontman, dressed in a long dark coat and scarf, stood vulnerable and emotional behind the podium at Graceland and admitted he was speechless and nervous when asked to speak at the memorial. “I’m still in shock as I feel like I’m going to be doing this for a while,” said Rose, a longtime friend of Lisa Marie. “I feel like I should text her now.” Following his remarks read from his phone, he sat down at the grand piano and played a nimble rendition of GNR’s signature ballad “November Rain.”
After the service, which lasted 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 driveway from Graceland to Lisa Marie’s final resting place in the Meditation Garden, the same route as Presley’s thousands -Believers attend as part of the candlelight vigil every August 15th to mark the anniversary of Elvis’ death.
MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE – JANUARY 22: Fans gather to pay their respects to Lisa Marie Presley at the memorial on January 22, 2023 in Memphis, Tennessee. Presley, 54, the only child of American singer Elvis Presley, died on January 12, 2023 in Los Angeles. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images) Getty Images
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 that read, “In loving memory, from Axl Rose.” Mourners slowly walked through, first passing the graves of Elvis and his parents, Gladys and Vernon, then turning to pay their respects to Lisa Marie’s grave next to her son Benjamin Keough, whose suicide in 2020 left Lisa Marie devastated. Flowers, stuffed animals and other memorabilia surrounded their mausoleums, and another bouquet of white roses – this one from Oprah Winfrey – bridged them.
After Katrina McElyea from Memphis paid her respects – whose mother was a nurse to Elvis’ controversial doctor Dr. George Nichopoulos, and who occasionally plays Elvis’ mother in re-enactments of his life – she thought about Lisa Marie’s memory and its importance to the global Elvis community.
“She was someone who not only cared about her family and her father’s legacy; She took care of the fans, she took care of the tribute artists,” says McElyea. “She truly loved each of us and to be here and give even a fraction of that love back is really special to me.”