Being the love interest of one of the world’s most famous men thrust Priscilla Presley into the spotlight as a teenager. While her marriage to Elvis Presley lasted only five years, it left her with a daughter, Lisa Marie, and the opportunity to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. She appeared in Dallas, starred in the Naked Gun films and wrote a best-selling biography Elvis and Me. In 1982 she founded Elvis Presley Industries to guide and protect the legacy of her late husband, and served as chairman of the board until 1998. Presley, 65 and a resident of Los Angeles, was named the Nevada Ballet Theatre’s 2011 Woman of the Year for her contributions to the arts, and will be honored at the theater’s prestigious Black and White Ball on Jan. 29. Check NevadaBallet.com for information.
How does it feel to be the Woman of the Year?
I’m incredibly grateful and flattered to be honored. The Nevada Ballet Theatre has been around for many years, and I feel the women who are included—like Celine Dion, Debbie Reynolds and Marie Osmond—are great company. I’ve followed [the ballet] for years. I’m just very grateful and flattered.
Are you comfortable being a role model?
It’s a difficult role because it’s a lot of responsibility. I’m honored to be thought of as [a role model]. I think it comes with life experience, it comes with wisdom, and when you’re put in that position you want to make good, rational decisions. You want to give good, rational advice. You want to be able to help, especially today when there are no role models for children. When we were kids growing up, we had role models to look up to. It’s a huge responsibility because when people put you in that category, we’re all human beings and we all make mistakes. When you’re given that title and you do make a mistake, you’re ostracized. When I was growing up we would make a mistake and we were told to learn from it. Today if kids make mistakes it’s just the end of the world. Mistakes are what give us experience.
What is your advice to young women in the entertainment industry today?
It’s such a different entertainment industry today. When we were growing up we had acting classes, we studied acting and we went three times a week. We talked to our peers and learned whatever we could. We would watch television and all the old movies. It didn’t come so quickly, you had to earn it. Today there is so much competition and people think they can just run right in and get the part, but you have to be dedicated. You have to have persistence and patience and you have to really want it. You have to earn that and do homework.
What is something most people wouldn’t know about you?
I’m very private and I guard my privacy because once that’s taken away you want it more and more. In a society where there is no privacy, all of that is being taken away. I love people and I like being around people that I choose to be around. I enjoy sharing experiences with them. I love being around people who enjoy life and are positive. I try to keep negative energy away because I feel that when you’re around that it sucks you of your own life force.
What goals do you still have for yourself?
I think once one stops having goals and purposes, no matter how old you are, it’s then you are starting to go along with the flow and just fade away. I just have so many things I want to do still. I still want to learn and perfect French. I still want to travel. I still want to see new places and meet new people. I still appreciate cultures. There are so many different cultures out there that I want to learn about and understand. If a movie comes up that I feel is for me, then I want to do that. I think that the desire for life, and to be a part of it, is a gift.
What are your best Las Vegas memories?
Elvis brought me to Las Vegas when I had just turned 17. It was June of 1962 and my birthday was in May. The Vegas I saw certainly isn’t the Vegas of today. It wasn’t the huge metropolis that it is today. It was a small town. It was very intimate and very unique and very adult. The Tropicana hotel and the Sahara hotel were at the top of their game, and you went to the Thunderbird. I’m dating myself, but it was just so unique and people knew each other. You would walk into a casino and people would tip their hats or wave their hand as you would walk by, and it was much more intimate. It’s a huge business today, not that it wasn’t then, but it’s huge. I miss so much the lounge acts. I would see Fats Domino, The Platters, Ike and Tina Turner Revue; it was just such an amazing town.
What would Elvis think of Las Vegas today?
Elvis was a real believer in the performer, and if people were performing and working, then he would think that would be great. He loved Vegas, it was the playground for adults. He would do a movie and then hit Vegas after the movie, or if he had some downtime, or when he played Vegas, he would stay an extra week just to calm down. When he finished his show he would still have a high because it was so successful and he would just stick around Vegas and he would go see all the other performers on the Strip. He would have a lot more choices, that’s for sure.