Elvis and Priscilla Presley’s love affair is remembered as one of the greats. But as it turns out, there was another woman in the late King of Rock’s life. This secret lover was one of Elvis’ co-stars. And a rediscovered interview finally reveals the truth about their covert romance on and off the screen.
Said woman is stunning Swedish actress Ann-Margret. Incidentally, she had been associated with Elvis long before the two of them even met. At the beginning of her singing career, you see, she had been marketed as a feminine version of Elvis – due to their similar vocal qualities. And this led to Ann-Margret working with Elvis’ very own backup singers, the Jordanaires, even releasing a cover of his smash hit “Heartbreak Hotel.”
It seems, then, that Elvis and Ann-Margaret were destined to meet. And this is exactly what happened in 1963, when the pair were cast together in the movie Viva Las Vegas. Ann-Margret was a rising star by that time, having already enjoyed a massive hit with musical comedy Bye Bye Birdie. But Elvis was still the more established of the two, with Viva Las Vegas being his 14th film.
In Ann-Margaret’s autobiography, Ann-Margret: My Story, which came out in 1994, she remembered her first meeting with the King of Rock ’n’ Roll. The actress recalled of the encounter, “Except for a piano, the MGM soundstage where Elvis and I met was empty. In the background, a few of his guys hung around observing their boss – a ritual I would soon come to expect.”
Apparently, Director George Sidney introduced Ann-Margret to Elvis as “a wonderful young lady.” The Swedish star wrote, “The significance was lost on Elvis and me. I reached out my hand, and he shook it gently. ‘I’ve heard a lot about you,’ we said at the same time, which made us laugh and broke the ice.”
This first encounter was, in its own way, a meet-cute. “I’m not really sure why I was so calm about meeting ‘the King,’” Ann-Margret admitted. “After all, this was Elvis – a man who had captured the heart of almost every woman in America. Little did I know he would soon capture mine.”
As filming on Viva Las Vegas commenced, the media noted how much time Elvis and Ann-Margret were spending together. Rumors subsequently swirled about a possible romance. But Elvis was already taken – or at least he was supposed to be. After all, the famous singer was still involved with Priscilla, and he’d even intimated to the young woman’s family that he would eventually marry her.
Interestingly, the 1994 biography Elvis and the Memphis Mafia sheds some light on Elvis’ apparent fondness for both Priscilla and Ann-Margaret. One of the book’s authors, Elvis’ close friend Marty Lacker, revealed, “I knew Elvis had to make a decision between them. And I thought if push came to shove, he would choose Ann.”
Meanwhile, Elvis’ cousin Billy Smith also contributed to the book. He divulged, “My personal desire was for Elvis to marry Ann. She made his life easier because she understood him and didn’t make any demands on him. She even understood his need for [his friends, the Memphis Mafia]. Priscilla never understood that.”
According to Lacker, Ann-Margret wasn’t pleased when Elvis went back to Priscilla. He recalled a moment when he met the actress on the street, and she asked him, “What the hell is wrong with your boss? One minute we’re in love, and the next minute I don’t hear from him again. He won’t even take my calls.”
Moreover, Priscilla was also furious at the situation. Indeed, in 1985 she wrote a revealing piece for People magazine titled “He Saved Me for So Long.” In it she wrote that even after filming on Viva Las Vegas finished, “the problem was that his life still included Ann-Margret… the newspapers were reporting their ‘blossoming’ affair daily.”
And one day, Elvis brought Priscilla some infuriating news about the other woman. “Elvis returned from the studio one afternoon, carrying a newspaper and fuming. ‘I can’t believe she did it.’” Priscilla wrote. “He flung the paper against the wall in disgust. ‘She had the goddamn nerve to announce we’re engaged.’”
“Every major newspaper in America’s picked it up,” Elvis told Priscilla. “The rumor’s spread like a disease. Honey, I’m gonna have to ask you to leave. The press will be hanging around and following me all over for a statement.” Priscilla reacted with rage and flung a vase across the room, screaming out her dislike for Ann-Margret.
Elvis apparently responded violently to this. According to Priscilla, he grabbed her and flung her onto the couple’s bed. Then, he snapped at her, “Look, damn it! I didn’t know this was going to get out of hand. I want a woman who’s going to understand that things like this might just happen. Are you going to be her – or not?”
Yet despite everything, Elvis and Priscilla eventually married in May 1967. However, there were rumors that this had only happened because of the considerable and questionable age gap between them. Indeed, when Elvis and Priscilla had first met back in 1959, he was 24 years old and she’d been a mere 14.
“Our vows were taken and we were now husband and wife,” Priscilla wrote in her People piece. “I remember flashbulbs popping, my father’s congratulations and my mother’s tears of happiness. Mrs. Elvis Presley. It had a different ring, a nicer sound than previous labels such as ‘constant companion,’ ‘teen heartthrob,’ ‘live-in Lolita,’ ‘lover.’”
Things were far from perfect between the couple, however. Even after Priscilla became pregnant with Elvis’ child, she still had to deal with tales about him and yet another woman. This time, it was Nancy Sinatra. “I was quick to cry,” Priscilla remembered. “Elvis assured me that I was just being oversensitive because of my condition. I agreed.”
“Six months into my pregnancy Nancy called and said she’d like to give me a baby shower,” Priscilla continued. “I didn’t know her that well and thought it a little strange that she was so accommodating. But Elvis assured me that she was very nice and that I should get to know her. Nancy was very friendly and very supportive. I found that I liked her and I decided to ignore the rumors.”
There were other problems, however. When Priscilla was heavily pregnant, Elvis announced he wanted a trial separation. “I wanted to die,” Priscilla admitted. “I was seven months along and could not believe what I was hearing. I don’t think Elvis really intended to leave me. It wasn’t his style.”
“I later realized he had questions about how a baby would affect his life,” Priscilla added. “Would his public accept him as a father? He wasn’t even sure if his fans had adapted to his becoming a husband. How loyal would they be? Within a short time Elvis’ sensitive nature brought him back to his senses. Two days had passed. The idea of a trial separation was never mentioned again.”
Meanwhile, Ann-Margret got hitched to somebody else. In Elvis and the Memphis Mafia, Marty Lacker mused, “The same month Elvis married Priscilla, Ann married Roger Smith. I read in her book that she and Roger announced their engagement in ’66. But she also said they split up in March of ’66, and they got back together after that. I think that only happened because she didn’t know what to do about Elvis. She was really, really in love with him.”
Despite their separate marriages, though, Elvis and Ann-Margret were still close. In the summer of 1967, one month after the Elvis-Priscilla wedding, Ann-Margret debuted in Las Vegas. Elvis gifted her a guitar made entirely out of flowers to congratulate her… and, what’s more, he kept on doing so. Indeed, Ann-Margret received plenty more flowers from him as her career continued.
However, in August 1977, as Ann-Margret began a new show in Vegas, no flowers arrived. The following day, she discovered why. Elvis had passed away at the age of 42 in his bathroom. Moreover, a serious drug habit had contributed to his death.
By that point, Elvis and Priscilla had divorced. She’d split with him towards the end of 1973, in fact, although they had joint custody of their daughter Lisa Marie. Priscilla was naturally one of the people who attended Elvis’s funeral – and Ann-Margret was also there, even though she’d been advised not to go.
It wasn’t until many years later, though, that Ann-Margret gave her in-depth interview about Elvis. In 1994, the same year she released her book, she spoke to journalist Charlie Rose. And she became emotional as she discussed the man, now dead and gone, who’d had such a massive impact on her life.
Charlie Rose told Ann-Margret, “It seems that there was about the two of you, kindred souls, something deep inside that you both knew that you both had. And it’s almost now as if you were trying to protect that.” The actress answered, “Oh yes, it was extremely special. It was very strong.”
“We went together for one year, and he trusted me, and I do not want to betray his trust even in death,” Ann-Margret continued. “I knew him very, very well.” Asked what she meant, the actress said, “There’s been so much written that has been negative about him, I want to celebrate his life, the man that I knew.”
Ann-Margret then added, “[Elvis] was so gifted. And it makes me extremely angry that all of a sudden all these people who made fun of him right near his death, all of a sudden posthumously right after he passed on, were writing reams and reams of stories about him, how gifted he was. Why didn’t they do that when he was alive?”
From there, Ann-Marget moved onto other themes. “I just cherish his memory, and so did my father and my mom and my friends,” she said. “And I remember the good times that we had, and his generosity.” In addition, she told Rose that Elvis wasn’t just kind to her, but also to everybody in her life.
“He was just so sensitive and considerate and he knew about honor, and respecting your elders, and manners and being civilized,” Ann-Margret added. “He loved his family, loved his parents, he loved his little daughter so much. There never will be anyone else like him. He’s an American original.”
Moreover, in the interview Rose also brought up Ann-Margret’s “extraordinary” relationship with her husband Roger Smith, star of 77 Sunset Strip. He asked her if Smith was the love of her life, and she answered “Yes.” Indeed, Ann-Margret and Smith would remain together until he passed away, aged 84, in the summer of 2017.
After that interview, Ann-Margret more or less stopped speaking about her relationship with Elvis. In an October 2013 interview, the New York Post asked the actress “What was Elvis like?” and she answered, “He was great. He teased me all the time. You know what? I really don’t talk about him, because it’s very private, what we had.”
Nonetheless, other people have talked about the relationship. For example, in 2017 television personality and Turner Classic Movies host Ben Mankiewicz, who’d once interviewed Ann-Margret, spoke to Fox News about the sad love story between the two stars. He said, “Ann-Margret does not discuss Elvis, and not because she bears him any ill will.”
“Quite to the contrary, she is very eager to protect Elvis’ legacy and she thinks, correctly, that the media and others… sort of pick away at his legacy because we’re so desperate for information on him,” Mankiewicz continued. “And I suspect she thinks his career was mishandled by [his manager] Colonel Tom Parker.”
“A read of her autobiography – and she wrote it – makes it pretty clear that they were in love,” the TV host explained. “She doesn’t say it in so many words, but she says it in enough words. And they clearly meant a great deal to each other. They loved each other. It probably couldn’t last. But they had a real meaningful connection with each other.”
“They understood each other. They both come from small towns, they both loved motorcycles. And they both were uncomfortable in their spotlight of Hollywood,” Mankiewicz added. “And I think that’s what connected them to each other during the duration of Elvis’ life… I think my understanding of it is we should all be so lucky to have a friendship that’s as meaningful as the one between Ann-Margret and Elvis Presley.”
Ann-Margret is in her late 70s now, and she lost her husband, of course, but she’s still working. In 2014 she was in the television show Ray Donovan. And then in 2018 she joined the cast of Happy! on the Syfy network and featured in The Kominsky Method. She also still does movies occasionally.
Even though Ann-Margret will no longer speak about Elvis, the book Elvis and the Memphis Mafia provides an invaluable insight into that period of their lives. In it, Billy Smith recalled, “She had a slot machine made for him. Instead of cherries or jokers, it had three guitars that lined up for the jackpot. They’ve got it in the basement at Graceland.”
“I’d heard he even proposed to her, after she was already married to Roger,” Smith also recollected. “But in her book, she doesn’t exactly say that. She just says he came backstage and got down on one knee and told her he still felt the same way he always had.” Even if there really was a proposal, Ann-Margret obviously didn’t accept it.
Elvis’ buddy Marty Lacker had the last words in that chapter of the book. “[Ann-Margret] used to write him letters and sign them ‘Bunny’ or ‘Thumper,’” he stated. “And she’d call Graceland and use the same code. If Elvis had ended up with Thumper, this whole story might have ended differently.”