On June 25, 2009, Lisa Marie Presley was in England having what she calls "the strangest day of my life."
Despite the seemingly routine tasks of the day—she went to work in the studio before coming home for dinner—Lisa Marie spent the entire day in tears and couldn't understand why. "I was literally cutting my food, eating my dinner crying," she recalls.
Later that evening, in an effort to stop crying, Lisa Marie went upstairs and crawled into bed to watch something mindless on television. An hour later, she got a text from her friend John Travolta that sent shock waves through her body.
Lisa Marie's ex-husband Michael Jackson had died.
The tears stopped as shock set in. "I was floored," she says. "Honestly floored."
A little more than one year after that unforgettable day, Lisa Marie sits down with Oprah to open up for the first—and only—time about Michael Jackson, their marriage and his death. It's an interview unlike any she's given before.
"[In] previous interviews, I'm barky, and I tend to want to skirt out of it," Lisa Marie says. This time, she wants to speak candidly about the intimate, personal details that made her relationship with Michael as complicated and misunderstood as it was.
"You said on my show, 'Yes, this was a real marriage,'" Oprah says, referring to her 2005 interview with Lisa Marie. "But the rest of the world thought it was a big, staged publicity [stunt]."
"A lot of that is what I wanted to clear up in this interview," Lisa Marie says.
Though Lisa Marie says her marriage to Michael Jackson was real, she also admits that Michael was a master at manipulating the media.
"He was brought up that way," she says. "He was conditioned to get himself where he needed to go for his career, and he became very good at making and creating and puppeteering."
These manipulations made Lisa Marie question Michael's love for her at the time. "I always confused that manipulation thinking that it meant he didn't love me," she says. "But I understand it better now. The manipulation was a survival tactic for him."
Lisa Marie says any bitterness she held onto after their relationship ended gave way to clarity and understanding upon Michael's death—along with a flood of emotions.
The day after Michael died, Lisa Marie expressed how she felt about his death and her perceived role in it on her blog. She wrote: "The person I failed to help is being transferred right now to the L.A. County Coroner's office for his autopsy. All my indifference and detachment that I worked so hard to achieve over the years has just gone into the bowels of hell, and right now, I am gutted."
According to Michael's autopsy, a lethal level of the powerful anesthetic propofol and another sedative caused his death. Lisa Marie says she didn't suspect Michael had a drug problem during their marriage, though she does recall one incident that gave her pause.
While rehearsing in New York for an HBO special in December 1995, Michael collapsed onstage and was rushed to the hospital. "I couldn't tell what was happening," Lisa Marie says. "Dehydration. Low blood pressure. Exhaustion. A virus."
"What did your gut tell you?" Oprah asks. "You thought there was some drug use?"
"Yes," she says.
Lisa Marie also recalls times when she would pick Michael up from a certain doctor's office, and he would not be coherent. Looking back, she says these behaviors were suspicious, but at the time, she didn't push the issue.
Despite these suspicious incidents, Lisa Marie says the marriage was, in every sense normal, open and intimate. When Michael couldn't sleep at night, for example, she would stay awake to talk with him. She says she truly enjoyed being there for him.
"I loved taking care of him," she says. "It was one of the highest points in my life when things were going really well, and he and I were united. It was a very profound time of my life."
Then, after less than two years as husband and wife, the marriage ended.
Lisa Marie: He had to make a decision. Was it the drugs and the vampires or me? And he pushed me away.
Lisa Marie: Meaning, people that are sort of ...
Oprah: Sycophants sucking his blood?
Lisa Marie: Sycophants, yes.
Oprah: So you saw that all around him?
Lisa Marie: Oh, yes.
This is something Lisa Marie says her father, Elvis, faced in his life as well. "[My father and Michael] had the luxury of creating whatever reality around them they wanted to create. They would have the kinds of people who were going to go with their program ... and if they weren't, then they could be disposed of," Lisa Marie says.
Legendary fame, addiction, prescription drug overdoses—the parallels between the lives of her father and former husband are astounding, even to Lisa Marie. "It blows me away, to be honest with you," she says. Michael Jackson even died in a house that was across the street from a home Elvis once owned, a place where Lisa Marie says she spent time as a child.
Michael also seemed to recognize the connection. As Lisa Marie watched footage of the ambulance backing out of Michael's driveway, she says she thought back to a particularly eerie conversation she and Michael had in the Neverland Ranch library one day.
"We were sitting by the fire, and he was telling me that he was afraid he was going to end up like my father," she says. "[Michael] was always asking me about when he died, how it happened, when it happened and where. He said, 'I feel like I'm going to end up the same way.'"
For someone who grew up in the spotlight, Lisa Marie is a very private person who prefers to avoid the public eye. "It's just not in my nature to do that sort of thing," she says. Yet, she could not help but fall in love with Michael, one of the most famous men in the world.
"He was an incredible, dynamic person," she says. "He had something so intoxicating about him, and when he was ready to share with you and be himself—I don't know if I've ever been that intoxicated by anything. ... He was like a drug for me."
People could not get enough of Lisa Marie and Michael Jackson. Since Michael was promoting an album during their relationship, there were many public appearances to make—including an appearance on the 1994 MTV Movie Awards that became known for the couple's famous onstage kiss.
"He knew I didn't love that," Lisa Marie says. "I would be there, uncomfortably. And his hand was blue after we got off that stage. ... I had squeezed it so hard. ... But as his wife, I needed to do some things like that."
From the day they said "I do" in 1994, Lisa Marie says Michael wanted her to have a baby.
"I did want to, but I just wanted to make sure," she says. "I was looking into the future and thinking, 'I don't ever want to get into a custody battle with him.'" Over time, she says her hesitation became a source of contention. Then, two months after their divorce was final, it was announced in October 1996 that Debbie Rowe was pregnant with Michael's child—an act Lisa Marie calls "retaliatory."
"She was there the whole time telling him that she would [have his child]," Lisa Marie says. "He would tell me, 'Debbie said she'll do it.' That's how he knew to handle it, 'If you're not going to do it, this person will.'"
"That's what you mean by 'disposable,'" Oprah says.
"Yes," Lisa Marie says. "That's exactly what I mean."
At the time, Lisa Marie says she also did hurtful things that affected their relationship.
One of those things involved Danny Keough, her ex-husband and the father of her two older children. Lisa Marie says the fact that Danny was still in her life made Michael uncomfortable.
"We'd take a vacation and Danny would go, and Michael would get upset," she says. "And then he'd disappear for a couple of weeks, and I couldn't find him." In addition to these disappearances, Michael would also push Lisa Marie away when he felt vulnerable—something she now recognizes as a coping mechanism.
"He honestly tried so hard and went through so much with me," she says. "He's never done that with any other female. ... I didn't appreciate it then, and I wish I did."
Even with the disagreements, difficulties and stress in the marriage, Lisa Marie says she now knows Michael truly loved her.
Oprah: Did he have to die for you to recognize that he loved you?
Lisa Marie: I think so, sadly.
Oprah: Is that the first time you recognized or believed that he truly loved you—after he died?
Lisa Marie: The sweeping answer would be yes. When we were together, we were really in love, and then we had the rough patches. And I had to make a decision to walk because I saw the drugs and the doctors coming in, and they scared me. They put me right back into what I went through with my father. That ended it. But we still spent four more years [together] after we divorced.
Lisa Marie: Getting back together and breaking up. ... At some point, I had to push it away.
Oprah: So you still loved him even when you left him?
Lisa Marie: Very much. I was trying to take a stand and say: 'Come with me. Don't do this.'"
The last time Lisa Marie says she spoke with Michael was in 2005. At that point, it had been nearly a decade since their divorce, and she had shut herself off from him emotionally.
"I was very distanced, and he was checking to get a read, you know?" she says. "He was trying to throw a line out to see if I would bite emotionally, and I wouldn't."
During that final conversation, Lisa Marie says Michael told her she had been right about certain people around him—the vampires. He also asked her if she still loved him.
"I told him I was indifferent," she says. "He didn't like that word. He cried."
Before the conversation ended, Michael revealed something chilling to Lisa Marie. "He felt that someone was going to try to kill him to get ahold of his catalog and his estate," she says.
"So he actually gave you names," Oprah says.
"He did, and I would like not to say them," Lisa Marie says. "But he expressed to me his concern over his life."
Prior to his marriage to Lisa Marie, Michael faced child sexual abuse allegations and rumors that continued to follow him for years. Amid these claims, strange interviews began to surface—in particular, a 2003 documentary by Martin Bashir called Living with Michael Jackson.
Lisa Marie: I didn't see the Michael I knew in that Martin Bashir interview. He was high as a kite from what I saw.
Oprah: He said some pretty shocking things in that interview. Particularly about how he felt it was okay to sleep with young children.
Lisa Marie: I think he said stuff sometimes to be defiant. He got so angry at having been accused. I think that sometimes he was such a little stubborn rebel and, like a child, he would just say what he felt everyone didn't want him to say.
Oprah: So you never saw anything, and to this day, you don't believe that any of those [molestation] charges were true.
Lisa Marie: No. ... I was never in that room. I can tell you I never saw anything like that.
On September 3, 2009, Lisa Marie attended Michael Jackson's funeral with nearly 200 of his closest friends and family members. At the end of the service, after most people left, she says she was the last one standing there with his casket.
"As you stood over his casket," Oprah asks, "Were you able to make peace?"
Lisa Marie pauses. "No, I don't think I could make peace then," she says. "It was more like I wanted to apologize for not being around."
Lisa Marie admits it's naïve to think that she could have saved her ex-husband from his fate, but she wanted to more than anything. To this day, she wonders whether her efforts could have made a difference. "Had I just said, 'How are you?' Can I try to make a phone call? I really did regret that I didn't," she says.
Lisa Marie now lives in England with her husband, Michael Lockwood—"He's the most understanding person I've ever met in my life"—and their twin daughters.
It's been more than a year since Michael's death and 33 years since the death of her father, but Lisa Marie says their birthdays and anniversaries of their deaths are still extremely difficult days for her. Now, she looks back on those relationships with perspective that can only come as a result of time and healing... and she says she's ready to move forward.