Elvis Presley was married only once – to Priscilla Presley, whom he met when she was just 14 years old. Only his affair with Ann-Margret Olsson, his one-time co-star, closely rivaled his relationship with Priscilla in terms of how memorable it was in the public imagination.
Ann-Margret and Elvis shared a sizzling affair that turned into a lasting friendship and deep respect over time. Many, including Ann-Margret herself, suspected that they were soulmates. But their red-hot romance once led Priscilla to reconsider their relationship altogether – and to break a vase in a rage.
Ann-Margret and Elvis met on the set of ‘Viva Las Vegas’
It’s no wonder that Ann-Margret and Elvis fell for each other; after all, Ann-Margret herself was often viewed as a female version of the King of Rock and Roll. Both were sex symbols and musical talents with undeniable star power and magnetic charisma.
By the time director George Sidney fatefully introduced the pair on the set of their 1964 movie musical Viva Las Vegas – later infamous because of their palpable on-screen chemistry – Elvis was already an icon, and Ann-Margret had found success with movies like Bye Bye Birdie.
In her 1994 autobiography, My Story, Ann-Margret explained that her affair with Elvis felt inevitable almost immediately after they met.
“We were indeed soul mates, shy on the outside, but unbridled within,” the actress wrote (via the Elvis History Blog). “We both lived on the edge and we both were self-destructive in our own ways…In many ways, both of us, despite fame and whatever else we’d achieved so quickly, had remained very childlike, and emotionally dependent.”
In fact, the two stars might have been a little too similar for the King’s taste. He had traditional ideas about marriage and gender roles, and he and Ann-Margret clashed on the Viva Las Vegas set due to his rumored professional jealousy toward her. She was an assertive, career-oriented force in her own right, and that wasn’t necessarily what he looked for in a woman.
Priscilla was enraged by the affair
There was only one problem with Elvis and Ann-Margret’s relationship: He was already engaged. Priscilla, then 18, was still living at Graceland and awaiting their marriage.
While Priscilla knew that Elvis always had a wandering eye, she admitted to being particularly threatened by his relationship with Ann-Margret in her 1985 memoir, Elvis and Me. According to USA Today, she revealed in the memoir that she “picked up a flower vase and threw it across the room” when Elvis finally admitted to his clandestine affair with his Viva Las Vegas co-star.
Elvis’ young bride-to-be was so angry about the affair that Elvis wondered if he should send her back to Germany for some time to allow her to cool off. But according to Elvis Australia, Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’ manager, stepped in to pressure him to marry Priscilla instead.
For her part, Ann-Margret knew her relationship with the King couldn’t last due to his engagement.
“Elvis had always been honest with me, but still it was a confusing situation,” she wrote in My Story of Elvis’ approaching wedding date in 1967, according to the Elvis History Blog. “We continued to see each other periodically, until we had dated for almost a year. Then everything halted. We knew the relationship had to end, that Elvis had to fulfill his commitment.”
Eventually, Elvis stopped returning Ann-Margret’s calls. He married Priscilla in 1967, shortly before his former lover tied the knot with her longtime husband as well.
Elvis and Ann-Margret remained friends throughout their lives
Although Ann-Margret was married to Roger Smith for 50 years, she retained a strong affection for the rock and roll legend who was once her lover. She refused to speak poorly about him, despite her heartbreak over the loss of their relationship.
In one New York Times article long after her breakup from Elvis, the Swedish-American actress gave a telling answer to a reporter’s question about whether Elvis was the “love of her life.”
“‘I don’t want to hurt…,’” she began thoughtfully, before thinking better of her answer. “The man that I married is the man I knew I was going to marry on the third date. We’ve been together now 30 years. Eee gad.”
Still, Elvis and Ann-Margret remained friends until his death. He sent flowers to her before many of her performances, and she was one of the only celebrities to attend his funeral in 1977 – with her husband in tow.