Toward the end of his life, the King of Rock and Roll was on a downward spiral. The newspapers were plastered with photos of his weight gain, riddled with drug use rumors and his fight against depression.
But his former fiancée, Ginger Alden, is telling of a different side of Elvis Presley.
At one time, Ms. Alden—a longtime Sag Harbor resident, by way of Arkansas—saw the man she loved as anything but hopeless and ill during their year-long engagement prior to his death on August 16, 1977, when she found him unresponsive on their bathroom floor.
“There are some things that I’ll always wonder about,” Ms. Alden said during a recent telephone interview, following the release of her memoir, “Elvis and Ginger,” in September, from Berkley Books. “But as far as him being depressed or sad all the time, I didn’t see it like that.”
She first met Mr. Presley through her father, Walter, a public relations and recruiting specialist for the U.S. Army in the 1950s and 1960s, when she was a child. Mr. Presley, she said, had been recruited as a soldier.
“After Elvis was out of the Army in 1960, my father decided to stop by Graceland [Mr. Presley’s home in Memphis, Tennessee], hoping for some PR tidbits,” she said. “He became friendly with a guard at the gate, who was one of Elvis’s uncles.” A family friendship was born.
At age 5 in 1961, a very young Ginger first met the musician, who reportedly patted her on the head. It wasn’t until 15 years later that their paths crossed again. Her sister, Terry, had just been crowned Ms. Tennessee, and Mr. Presley requested an audience.
But Ginger caught his eye, instead.
“That night, I was singled out by him, and I was blown away,” recalled Ms. Alden, herself a former beauty queen. “I thought he was so handsome.”
The two were engaged just two months later, on January 26, 1977—and it was a night Ms. Alden will never forget.
“The two of us had been sitting in [his daughter, Lisa Marie Presley’s] room,” she said. “There was a lot of commotion that evening, and he took me by the hand through his dressing room, got down on one knee, and said all of these beautiful things to me, and presented me with this incredibly beautiful ring.”
It was the 11.5-karat, custom diamond that Mr. Presley had always worn on stage.
“It was beyond the ring,” she said. “He began telling me I was the lady of the house, and he’d give me the remote control to the back gate, and adding me into his life in so many ways. I was shy and quiet at the time, and it was almost like trying to feel comfortable in the White House,” she said of Graceland.
Ms. Alden did not move in prior to marriage, she said, though she spent nearly every day by Mr. Presley’s side, both on and off the road. Spirituality—just as much as, if not more than, music—had become an integral part of his last year of life. They spent hours on end studying and reading philosophy, as Mr. Presley struggled to better understand his life.
“He was on a major spirituality quest during our time together,” Ms. Alden said. “Here’s this rock-and-roll icon, and he’s reading me these spirituality books in bed. He had this great sense of humor, but at the time he was really at a place in his life where he was just searching for answers as to why he had become as famous as he was. I think that was a lifelong search for him.
“He called music ‘the universal language,’” she continued. “He’d look for music in different levels of life, down to telling me the crickets were singing in unison. He opened my life up … to a different way of looking at things.”
Less than a year into their relationship, Ms. Alden found Mr. Presley dead in his bathroom. Although the official cause of death was a heart attack, Ms. Alden said she still couldn’t say whether the sleeping pills he’d been prescribed by doctors had played a role in his death.
“Ron tells me my book should’ve been called ‘Poof,’” Ms. Alden said of her current husband, television commercial director Ron Leyser. “I had this whole life, and I was on this whirlwind journey with Elvis. He’d become my whole world—and, all of a sudden, it was gone.”
Shortly after Elvis’s death, Ms. Alden moved to Manhattan to pursue a career in modeling and acting in commercials, where she met Mr. Leyser. Two years ago, Ms. Alden began penning her memories after their son, Hunter, left home to study at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., tapping old diaries and her family for more material. And after decades of reflection, the 58-year-old said the timing finally felt right.
“I remember the first night I met him, we were in his room, and he pointed to the street outside, which was named Elvis Presley Boulevard,” she said. “He looked at me and said, ‘I’m not that street out there. If you cut me, I bleed.’
“He wanted people to know, ‘I’m a human being and I have feelings.’”