While it’s true that few love stories are as iconic as Elvis and Priscilla Presley’s, it wasn’t without its challenges.
In this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday, the actress opens up about the difficulties she faced while adjusting to life as the late King of Rock and Roll’s wife after she married him in 1967.
“My God, I had to learn everything,” Priscilla says of living with a megastar who received constant attention from female fans. “Women gravitated to him, so I would be nervous when he had to go places alone. I would even go with him to get his teeth cleaned! I always had an eye on him because everyone in the world was after him.”
There was also his notorious temper.
“If he saw somebody he didn’t like on the TV, he’d get his gun out and blow it up,” she says. “Then he would tell his daddy to go get another TV.”
Priscilla, now 76, famously — and still shockingly — first fell for the singer when she was just 14. While living in West Germany — where the New York City native moved with her mom and her dad, Paul, a U.S. Air Force captain, after he was transferred there in the late ’50s — she was invited to a party at the house Elvis rented in Bad Nauheim during his stint in the U.S. Army.
The moment she met Elvis, then in his mid-20s and already a superstar with hits like “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel,” Priscilla knew immediately she “had to keep him,” she says now. “I wanted to go places with him. I would cry if I couldn’t be around him.”
In 1963, three years after Elvis returned to the U.S., Priscilla’s parents let her move from Germany to Memphis — where the Tupelo, Mississippi-born star had moved with his family as a teen — on the condition that she live with his father and stepmother in their home a mile away from his Graceland mansion.
Four years later, when he was 32 and she was 21, they were married.
As his wife, “I was always ready to greet him at the door and pamper him,” says Priscilla. “I loved taking care of Elvis very much. I loved tending to him. I loved feeding him. We would baby talk, because you have to have your own language when you have that many people around. It was a good life. It was different, but it was ours.”
The birth of their daughter Lisa Marie in 1968 cemented their bond, but after six sometimes tumultuous years of marriage, they divorced in 1973.
From there, Priscilla went on to have a successful acting career, with roles on the prime-time soap Dallas and in the Naked Gun film franchise, and although her marriage to Elvis didn’t last, she has no regrets about it.
“I truly cherish the great times. As you grow up, there are always fears and insecurities,” says Priscilla, who also has a son, Navarone, 34, from her post-Elvis relationship with Marco Garibaldi. “But as you get older you understand it all.”
Decades after their divorce, she still follows advice Elvis gave her about surviving difficult times: “Keep moving. Keep moving. You always keep moving.”
For her next project, Priscilla is moving forward by looking back. On Sept. 4 Kruse GWS Auctions will begin taking live bids for a private lunch with Priscilla. Several pieces of Elvis memorabilia, including the eyelet jumpsuit he wore during his 1972 Madison Square Garden shows, will also be auctioned.
“I thought, ‘Why not be a part of it?'” says Priscilla. “I used to have a different opinion about these estate sales, but then as I got older I realized that you have to pass these things down to someone who’ll really appreciate them.”
To have Priscilla on board, says Kruse GWS founder Brigitte Kruse, is priceless: “She’s just such a wealth of experience and knowledge. You don’t study and learn about Elvis without learning about Priscilla as well. Their names are synonymous.”
A portion of the auction proceeds will go to the Dream Foundation — which supports terminally ill adults and their families — in honor of Priscilla’s late mother Ann, who died on Aug. 2 at age 95.
“I’m just happy this year has passed,” she says, “and hopefully we can have some good news come in.”
As she faces the future with positivity, Priscilla is also bringing a new sense of purpose to her memories of Elvis.
“I want to make sure these young ones learning about him now will take the torch and keep it going,” she says. “He has a phenomenal legacy, and I will always cherish my moments with him.”