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Cal Thomas: The other side of fame

From the commentary: Lisa Marie's father loved her, so far as he seemingly understood love. He just never appeared to grasp its full meaning.

Music fans attend a public memorial for singer Lisa Marie Presley at Graceland in Memphis
A music fan hands a picture of Lisa Marie Presley to another fan as they attend a public memorial for her, the only daughter of the "King of Rock 'n' Roll," Elvis Presley, at Graceland Mansion in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S. January 22, 2023.
REUTERS/Nikki Boertman<br/><br/><br/>
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"I'm gonna live forever, baby, remember my name" - (from "Fame")

The death at age 54 of Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of Elvis, got me thinking again about the two-edged sword that is fame.

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Poems, books, even movies have addressed fame, how some people even lust after it and how it seems to ruin more lives than it helps. Once you have attained fame you can never live as normal people do. Strangers want to approach you, some with good motives, some bad. The famous need security, locked gates, unlisted telephone numbers and people around to protect them and feed their egos. Such was the fate of country boy Elvis, as depicted in the current biopic about him. And now it has become the fate of his only child.

Lisa Marie never asked to be famous. It was thrust on her. True, she had a short career as a singer, but was always known first as Elvis' daughter. As with Frank Sinatra Jr., lineage can be a curse.

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Neither Lisa Marie nor her father handled fame well. She was married four times, including to singer Michael Jackson. Her son committed suicide. She struggled with drugs, as did Elvis, who died of an overdose. Elvis' relationships with other women were legion. According to legal documents obtained by The Blast, Lisa Marie was spending "$92 thousand a month before her death and owed the IRS $1million after squandering the $100 million fortune she inherited from Elvis."

People handle fame in different ways. Pat Boone, who was born in 1934, seven months before Elvis, also had a head start on the "king," recording three smash hit songs before Elvis scored his first.

Boone has told me and others that Elvis was a Beverly Hills neighbor during his movie-making days. Boone says Elvis would often walk the one block to his home and seemed envious of Boone's family. When Boone's four girls heard Elvis was there they sometimes jumped from the backyard swimming pool and sat on his lap. Boone said he felt Elvis wished for a family of his own. He eventually had one with wife Priscilla and their daughter, but fame's dark side got to him. His wife and daughter were also fame's targets and eventually became its victims.

Boone has said he thinks Elvis might have lived to a ripe old age, instead of dying at 42, had Tom Parker not been his manager and driven him as he did for the 50 percent of Elvis' profits that Parker frittered away on his gambling addiction.

Boone's years of fame included movies and a network TV show on NBC, and he handled his fame much better. There were no "other women," and no drugs. He credits his strong Christian faith and loving wife for protecting him, but Boone never indulged himself in his lower nature. He wasn't surrounded by "yes men" who told him what he wanted to hear.

Some mocked Boone's clean-cut appearance, but given how he turned out (he is now 88, as Elvis would have been had he lived), his lifestyle looks better every day.

Everyone wants to believe his or her life matters. Some find meaning in externals that can lead to dark and deadly places. Others find it in the spiritual realm, which has led many to light and a happy place.

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Another song conveys a lesson to all who seek fame as an end in and of itself: "Fame if you win it, comes and goes in a minute. Where's the real stuff in life to cling to?"

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Lisa Marie's father loved her, so far as he seemingly understood love. He just never appeared to grasp its full meaning. This was his tragedy. Because of the fame he bequeathed to her, it became Lisa Marie's tragedy as well.

This Cal Thomas commentary is his opinion. He can be reached at cthomas@wctrib.com.

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