The regional Victorian city of Bendigo played host to an unusual visitor this week as Priscilla Presley rolled into town to launch an exhibition of memorabilia owned by her late husband, Elvis.
The exhibition, which features more than 300 personal and professional items from ‘the King of Rock and Roll’s’ Memphis home, is a coup for the one-time gold-mining mecca.
It’s Priscilla’s sixth trip to Australia, but her first to Bendigo, which she described as “quaint and unusual”.
“I love it here, this is a town I’m in love with and it’s really sweet,” Ms Presley said.
“To bring all of these artefacts and share them with all you really touches me.
“Elvis didn’t get to tour a lot of the places he wanted to go and Australia was one of them.
“So I think it will be exciting for all of you to share his life and the things he did, the clothes he wore and all the things that meant something to him,” Ms Presley said.
Bendigo Art gallery director Jess Bridgfoot and curator Lauren Ellis secured the exclusive exhibition via a series of virtual meetings while they housebound during the Victoria-wide lockdowns in 2020 and 2021.
“This is absolutely a triumph for our gallery and for Bendigo,” Bridgfoot said.
“This is not a travelling exhibition. It’s been curated with Bendigo Art Gallery in collaboration with Graceland,” she said, refering to Elvis’ Memphis mansion, “and it’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Australians to experience.”
The pair had high hopes of Priscilla’s attendance, but COVID travel restrictions meant it was only confirmed three weeks before the exhibition’s launch on Friday.
Angie Marchese, vice-president of archives and exhibits at Elvis Presley Enterprises, who is also in Australia for the exhibition, had never heard of Bendigo before meeting with Bridgfoot and Ellis.
“When we had our first call it was all about their mission and the other exhibits they have been able to host here,” Ms Marchese said.
“I was so impressed with their work and what their goals are for Bendigo and Victoria that it just made sense to bring Elvis here.”
Bendigo Art Gallery has a reputation for punching above its weight, with previous international exhibitions on Grace Kelly and Marilyn Monroe, as well as Academy Award-winning costume designer Edith Head and British fashion designer Dame Mary Quant.
Thirteen of Elvis’s bedazzled Vegas jumpsuits, his gold telephone and even a pack of crayons from his childhood home in Tupelo are on loan to the gallery for the four-month Elvis: Direct from Graceland exhibition.
Priscilla, 76, became emotional while speaking to reporters about her former husband, who died in 1977 at the age of just 42.
“Elvis never thought he would be remembered and that really stuck with me,” she said.
“Now to share this with the world, this was everything he ever wanted. To be able to share, to be remembered. It’s a dream come true.”
Presley said Elvis’ books were among her favourite memorabilia on display, recalling her husband as an avid reader. But she said her wedding outfit revived the most touching memories.
“My wedding dress and his tuxedo … everything in that room brings back memories,” she said.
“This is very sentimental for me, it’s very difficult.”
Priscilla spoke at an exclusive, sold-out event at the gallery on Saturday about her life and times with the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
The couple were married between 1967 and 1973, and had one child, Lisa-Marie Presley.
Following Elvis’ death Priscilla became the chair of his estate, and despite receiving advice to sell Graceland she opened it to millions of adoring fans. The mansion is now the second-most visited historic home in the US after the White House and has welcomed more than 43 million visitors in 40 years.
Priscilla starred in multiple films including the Naked Gun series and also played Jenna Wade in primetime TV series Dallas.
In 1987 she welcomed a son, Navarone Garibaldi, with then partner Marco Garibaldi.
Australian actor Olivia DeJonge will play Priscilla in the upcoming Elvis biopic directed by Baz Luhrmann.
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