Elvis and the Law
Updated: Aug 20, 2020
By Ryan Beasley
Elvis Presley is best known for his massive influence on rock and roll as we know it appropriately nicknamed “The King” or “The King of Rock and Roll.” While his musical legacy has lived on for years and deserves to be recognized, many people are not nearly as aware of the legal legacy that has followed Elvis throughout his life and even after his death. As we approach the 43rd anniversary of his death, we’d like to explore the lawsuits that Elvis and his estate have been involved in over the years.
Johansen v. Presley: In 1998, more than twenty years after the musician’s death, Swedish woman Lisa Johansen published a book titled I, Lisa Marie: The True Story of Elvis Presley’s Real Daughter. In this book, Johansen claimed her name was really Lisa Marie Presley and she was the real daughter of Elvis Presley, but was moved to Sweden for security purposes, while the better known and American Lisa Marie Presley is just an imposter. Although Johansen’s story gained traction after the book’s publication, the buzz dwindled when she refused to take a DNA test. However, in 2011, she sued his estate for $130 million dollars, claiming to be the victim of emotional distress and defamation. The lawsuit ended up being dismissed for obvious reasons.
Presley v. Hanks: Lisa Johansen was not the only person to come forward claiming to be a child of Elvis. In 1988, Deborah Delaine Presley claimed to be the illegitimate daughter of Elvis Presley and sued the co-executor of his estate, Joseph A. Hanks, in an attempt to receive her portion of the estate. Interestingly enough, the court did not attempt to argue the fact that Deborah was Elvis’ daughter, so whether or not she is actually related to him is unknown. However, the court did rule against Presley, stating that the will only included children born through wedlock, so she is excluded from receiving her portion of the estate on those grounds.
Elvis Presley Enterprises v. City of Memphis: In 2017, Elvis Presley Enterprises—formed to manage Presley’s assets, including his mansion, Graceland—sued the City of Memphis because they refused to allow an arena to be added to the Graceland property. Memphis had already signed a deal with FedExForum and were engaged in a contract with the Memphis Grizzlies, a stipulation of which being that the City of Memphis would not finance any competition to the team. The arena expansion would interfere with both of these agreements, so the city could not agree to the change. However, Elvis Presley Enterprises was not successful as the lawsuit was dismissed and the Court of Appeals refused to re-examine it.
Gauch v. Graceland. A Swiss tourist, Hans-Peter Gauch, who visited Graceland with his daughter in October of 2017 filed a lawsuit against the estate in 2018, claiming that it was responsible for the destruction of his physical health and marriage. One morning, during his stay, the fire alarms went off in the building. He and his daughter were exposed to the fire alarm for thirty minutes while they tried to find an exit (the elevators were not working and there were apparently no exits where the exit signs indicated there should be). Gauch claimed the fire alarm was very close to his right ear and, since returning, had been diagnosed with Tinnitus, which causes ringing in the ears and difficulty hearing. Along with those difficulties, Gauch also has developed an irregular speech pattern and loss of interest in physical activities. This has led to him remaining married to his wife, but moving out of the house. No decision has been made in the lawsuit as of yet.
Henslin v. Presley and Davis. In 1963, Elvis Presley’s employee, Richard E. Davis, was driving a car when he struck and killed gardener Harvey Henslin. Henslin’s widow filed the lawsuit against both Davis and Presley, despite the fact that Elvis was not an occupant of the car at the time. While this lawsuit should have made national waves, it seems as though it may have gone under the radar, as no resolution can be found.
And those are just some of the legal stories surrounding Elvis. That doesn’t include his other activities of dubious intention such as shooting televisions; teaching a monkey to drink alcohol and the movie Roustabout.
Ryan Beasley is the owner of Ryan Beasley Law. Learn more at www.ryanbeasleylaw.com.