Riley Keough: Inside The Life And Career Of Elvis Presley's Granddaughter

This article includes references to addiction, child abuse, mental health issues, and suicide.

Riley Keough is rock and roll royalty. The eldest grandchild of Elvis Presley and the daughter of Lisa Marie Presley is one of Hollywood's fastest-rising stars. After booking her first role in 2010's "The Runaways," Keough moved on to roles in three Steven Soderbergh projects, including the 2012 film "Magic Mike" and STARZ's "The Girlfriend Experience." She received a Golden Globe nomination for her performance as Christine, an emotionally-detached high-end escort, in the series.

Soderbergh, who also directed the actor in the 2017 dark comedy, "Logan Lucky," told Vogue, "She has the ability to behave in such a way that deflects any sense that the camera is on her," he said. "You feel as if you are spying on her." Keough blazed a trail as a horror film queen with flicks like "It Comes at Night," "Under the Silver Lake," and 2019's "The Lodge." In 2020's social media-inspired "Zola," Keough's turn as Stefani, a wildly offensive stripper, won rave reviews.

Despite all the family tragedy Keough has endured, including the deaths of her younger brother Benjamin Keough and her mother within a few years, "The Terminal List" actor appears to be thriving. In Prime Video's highly-anticipated 2023 series, "Daisy Jones & The Six," Keough takes on her first musical role as the titular character. Here is everything to know about the up-and-coming star.

She grew up in two very different worlds

Riley Keough's dad is Lisa Marie Presley's first husband, musician Danny Keough. Her parents split after six years together, and Riley shuttled back and forth between mom's cushy digs in California and dad's humble abode in Hawaii. "My father had mattresses on the floor of his apartments. He lived in cabins and trailer parks," she told The Guardian, adding: "When I was like eight I told him, 'I want to grow up and be poor like you!' ... I didn't realize how wildly offensive that was!"

A few weeks after Presley divorced Danny, she married Michael Jackson. Their union only spanned two years, but Riley took plenty of trips to Neverland when she wasn't at home or at Graceland. (Jackson was facing child sexual abuse allegations at the time.)

Riley was under the watchful eye of her security detail at school in the San Fernando Valley, and her nomadic childhood made it difficult to keep up with her studies. She opted for homeschooling instead, and ultimately dropped out of high school altogether. The star told InStyle, "It's a shame, because I really wanted an education, and I really wanted to go to college, I just didn't have a lifestyle that would permit that."

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If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

She started modeling as a teenager

Riley Keough has admitted that she reaped the benefits of being a nepo baby. While her grandfather died years before she was born, she also had a famous mom and a couple of superstar stepdads – 15-time Grammy winner Michael Jackson (including his Lifetime Achievement Award and Legend Award) and Oscar winner Nicolas Cage. The Presley connections were beneficial, Keough told The Guardian, explaining: "I'm very privileged. Like the normal story of moving to L.A. and it takes you three years to find an agent? I got one in a week." 

Keough began modeling as a teen, and she was successful. She worked as a runway model for Dolce & Gabbana, and became the face of Christian Dior perfume. "I was always interested in having my own money — not my fam­ily's money. I don't think it had anything to do with me being Elvis' grand­daughter. None of my drive was, 'I need to get away from my family legacy!' I wanted to save up the money to go to film school," Keough told Esquire. But that never happened. The savvy but soft-spoken young woman still decided to give acting a try, inspired by Nicole Kidman's emotion-stirring performance in "Moulin Rouge."

Her agents would set her up with auditions, but she was so anxious, she wouldn't show up. When she had the opportunity to read for the 2010 film "The Runaways," Keough recalled, "I almost blacked out, I was so nervous. I thought it was the worst thing I'd ever done." After booking the part, Keough wasn't confident in her abilities and wouldn't even call herself an actor.

The Runaways was Riley Keough's first break

"The Runaways" is the story of the real-life all-girl teenage rock group that launched the career of Joan Jett. Kristen Stewart stars as the rock icon, and Riley Keough appears as Marie Currie, the sister of Cherie Currie (Dakota Fanning), lead vocalist of the group. Joan Jett was an executive producer of the film, which is based on Cherie Currie's memoir "Neon Angel." "...this all-girl rock band biopic hits all the right notes in all the right places," wrote Screen Anarchy, though the movie garnered mixed reviews overall.

Keough struggled to book roles after "The Runaways," and she dealt with one failed audition after another. "Rejection just makes me work harder to prove myself," she said to The Guardian. 

Work picked back up with "The Good Doctor." Keough plays a patient with a kidney infection, Diane Nixon, with whom Orlando Bloom's physician character develops a not-so-healthy relationship. The film had a disappointing 31% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, and Keough then appeared opposite Juno Temple in "Jack and Diane," a sexually explicit LGBTQ teen love story. "The characters seem more written," Keough told The Hollywood Reporter. "I find it more fun to do something with a little bit more to do." Reviewers widely panned Bradley Rust Gray's film, but this was only the beginning for Keough.

The actor worked with Steven Soderbergh three times

Riley Keough went from indie darling to major studio film actor with Steven Soderbergh's 2012 film "Magic Mike." It's an up-close look at the world of male erotic dancers, starring Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey. Keough plays Nora, a stripper who gets involved with one of the dancers (Alex Pettyfer). "Her character is young and really wild, kind of like a siren who leads Alex's character down the rabbit hole," writer-producer Reid Carolin told The Hollywood Reporter. Keough relished working with the cast and crew of the R-rated box-office hit. "You show up for work at 'Magic Mike' and there's a bunch of guys in thongs with spray tans, it just puts everyone in a good mood," Keough told Den of Geek. Keough also had an off-screen romance with Pettyfer, and the two were engaged for less than a year, per Us Weekly

Keough starred alongside Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy in 2015's "Mad Max: Fury Road." In the post-apocalyptic saga, Keough plays Capable, one of Immortan Joe's wives being held in captivity. "One of the main themes of the movie is women being extremely powerful and sort of taking over men," the actor said (via Hey U Guys). "...these women who are sort of suppressed doing something extremely bold and really strong and escaping." 

Keough met her now-husband, Australian stuntman Ben Smith-Petersen (above), on the set of "Mad Max," per People. "He's calm and loyal and strong and sensitive. He's my best friend," Keough wrote in an essay for Vogue Australia.

The Girlfriend Experience was Riley Keough's breakout role

In 2016, Riley Keough found her small-screen breakout role in Soderbergh's adaptation of his 2009 film, "The Girlfriend Experience." In Season 1 of the Starz anthology series, Keough played Christine Reade, a law student who is drawn into the world of high-end sex workers, and eventually begins working the night shift. "I liked the idea of playing a lead female character on a TV show that's not super-likable and sweet and brave and courageous," Keough explained to Vulture. "She's a control freak and she's selfish and she does things you think about doing but don't actually do." 

Soderbergh artistically commented on the layers of storytelling he can see within Keough. "That's what you have with Riley; there's this real sense that there's something else going on behind what she's presenting and what the story is presenting." Keough received a Golden Globe nod for her acclaimed performance in the series that ran for three seasons.

The following year, Keough starred alongside Christopher Abbott in the psychological thriller "It Comes at Night." They play the parents of a young boy seeking refuge in a stranger's home after the earth has been ravaged by a mysterious disease. "The reason this film works is because everyone is so invested in these people's connections," Keough explained to Film Ink. "They are families. If...they were just random people in a house it wouldn't be as impactful if they die."

Mellie in Logan Lucky was another memorable role

In another Soderbergh film, 2017's heist comedy "Logan Lucky," Riley Keough plays a hairdresser named Mellie, the kid sister of Channing Tatum and Adam Driver. In this film, she gets pulled into her dim-witted brothers' team of low-rent criminals trying to pull off a robbery during a NASCAR race, per Den of Geek. "[Soderbergh] kind of lets you go wherever [you] want to go. He doesn't really get involved with your acting process," Keough told the outlet. "I couldn't figure out who (Mellie) was exactly, which was exciting," she added. "I couldn't tell if she was meant to be really girly, or like this tough race car driver. I liked that I didn't know exactly." The film was a critical success for the "Oceans" trilogy director. 

Keough also appeared in Andrea Arnold's road trip drama "American Honey," which stars Sasha Lane and Shia LaBeouf. Keough plays Krystal, the manager of a team of teens crossing the country selling magazine subscriptions for cash and getting into trouble along the way. The actor was a longtime admirer of the British auteur, who also helmed Season 2 of "Big Little Lies." "Andrea's filmmaking is pure honesty, you really feel it in that place in your soul where you're always trying to feel things," Keough told Variety. "... She captures life."

Riley Keough appeared in five films in 2018

In a 2017 interview with The Guardian, Riley Keough said, "I'm a workaholic." She wasn't just blowing smoke. That year, she lit up the screen in four movies. In 2018, the busy actor appeared in five. In "Paterno," the HBO biopic about the embattled Penn State coach, Keough plays the journalist who uncovered the alleged sexual misconduct. "It's incredible a young woman was essentially able to break this story," she told ET. "That was amazing what she did. She kind of took down this empire and it was a very crazy thing to do." Playing a real-life character who was investigating a high-profile scandal wasn't something she took lightly. "It's a very specific pressure because it's a real person and you don't want to let them down," the actor added. 

Keough also teamed up with "Spiderman: No Way Home" star Andrew Garfield in the noir black comedy "Under the Silver Lake." He plays an obsessive slacker who discovers a dangerous conspiracy while investigating her character's disappearance. The film, which was directed by David Robert Mitchell, didn't receive a warm response from critics. 

With all that was on her plate, Keough tweeted her desire to be cast in The CW's "Riverdale." In Season 7, the actor guest-starred on the series as Laurie Lake, a mysterious woman who meets Archie and Jughead. Sometimes wishes do come true.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

Her performance in The Lodge earned rave reviews

Riley Keough has been a fan of the horror genre since she was a kid, making her own movies at home. "I discovered ketchup could be used for blood, and I just went crazy," she told Vogue. In an interview with ET, she said, "I feel like the scripts that I've been reading — that happen to be horror, thriller, psychological thriller, or whatever — the roles are really interesting to me." One of those scripts was likely for 2019's "The Lodge."

Keough stars as a soon-to-be stepmom alongside "The Hobbit" actor Richard Armitage (above) in the psychological thriller, and critics were singing her praises. The Los Angeles Times raved, "...the movie's strongest asset is Keough, an actress who can seize and hold the screen with electrifying force... but who is no less powerful in her quieter, more recessive moments."

When director Janicza Bravo sent her the script for the 2020 film "Zola," Keough shared with Vogue in 2021, "My only question to Janicza was, 'Can I really go for it?' She was like, 'Absolutely!' We wanted to make her as wild, offensive and loud as we could." Keough plays an overly talkative stripper named Stefani in the film, which tells the story seen in an infamous 2015 Twitter thread. Bravo, another director enamored with Keough's talents, told The New York Times, "She's one of those actors who so effortlessly lands in the feet of her character that it almost seems like it isn't acting."

Riley Keough was 'totally debilitated' after her brother's death

Like many actors, Riley Keough spent much of her time in the early days of the pandemic out of work. That's when tragedy stuck, and her younger brother Benjamin Keough died by suicide in July 2020 at age 27. After losing her brother, Riley told The New York Times in 2021, "The first four or five months, I couldn't get out of bed. I was totally debilitated. I couldn't talk for two weeks."

Riley said her husband and her friends helped her cope, and she became a death doula – a person who provides support, education, and guidance to those who are grieving. "That's really what's helped me, being able to put myself in a position of service. If I can help other people, maybe I can find some way to help myself," she explained. On the day she would have celebrated Benjamin's 28th birthday, Riley posted on Instagram, "Happy Birthday beautiful angel."

Benjamin struggled with mental health issues and the pressures of living in the shadow of one of the most famous families in the history of rock and roll, his friend Brandon Howard told People. In an interview on the podcast "Just for Variety with Marc Malkin," Riley said, "I think people have these ways they imagine mental health looking, and I think that really, for me, is what I had always wanted to communicate about him. Everyone that knew him knew that, but he was just a magical person."

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Riley Keough made her directorial debut with War Pony

For her first project in 2022, Riley Keough went behind the camera, teaming up with producing partner Gina Gammell as co-directors for "War Pony." The inspiration for the coming-of-age drama occurred five years earlier on the set of "American Honey," as Keough explained to Variety and Kering at Cannes for a Women in Motion conversation. Sioux Bob and Bill Reddy were local actors on the production who grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

When the two women struck up a friendship with the young men, they started brainstorming the idea of a project about the locals' life stories. "We didn't really have a goal. ... We certainly didn't think we were coming to Cannes," Keough said. The film did premiere at Cannes in 2022, and to strong reviews! A "rousing tale of love and money on a Native American reservation," wrote The Guardian.

"War Pony" also received "top dog" honors at Cannes. It's actually called the Palm Dog award for the best canine performance of the festival. The award went to Brit, the lovable silver poodle in the film, per The Hollywood Reporter. Keough also stars as Chris Pratt's wife in Amazon's thriller series "The Terminal List," which premiered that summer. She plays Lauren Reece, an elite athlete and mom who provides support for her husband and the other families in his SEAL platoon.

How Lisa Marie Presley inspired her

Lisa Marie Presley died on January 12, 2023, at age 54 after suffering a cardiac arrest. At a memorial service at Graceland, Riley Keough's husband Ben Smith-Petersen delivered a tribute she wrote to her mom, with Keough in the front row. "I remember how it felt to be loved by the most loving mother I've ever known. Thank you for showing me love is the only thing that matters in this life. I hope I can love my daughter the way you loved me, the way you loved my brother and my sisters," the actor's words read, in part (per People). Smith-Petersen shared Keough's love and gratitude for her mother.

Following in the footsteps of the legendary Elvis Presley, Lisa Marie did not have an easy life, or what appeared to be a happy one. The singer-songwriter struggled with an addiction, and she had four failed marriages, per the New York Post. Presley was also smart, strong, and not the kind of woman who let anyone push her around. 

Before her mother's passing, Keough discussed how Lisa Marie informed her work on a new project. Speaking to People ahead of her role in "Daisy Jones & The Six," Keough said, "I was raised by somebody who did their own thing and didn't really care what other people thought. She was definitely inspirational to me."

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What happens now with Graceland?

Lisa Marie Presley was the sole heir to Graceland after her grandparents, Vernon and Minnie-Mae Presley, died. Following Lisa Marie's death, her rep told ET Elvis' home would go to Riley Keough and her twin sisters, Harper and Finley Lockwood. Since then, Priscilla Presley has challenged the validity of her daughter's will, which was amended in 2016, removing her and Barry Siegel (Lisa Marie's former manager) as co-trustees, and replacing them with Riley and her brother Benjamin, per the Los Angeles Times

"Riley wants to keep the family together and keep Lisa Marie's legacy in a positive light, but she feels that her grandmother's actions are pushing the family apart even more," a source told ET after Priscilla filed court documents in California. "Lisa always wanted Riley and Benjamin to be the beneficiaries of the trust and that was no secret," the source also claimed, noting, "[Her] children meant the world to her, and she would do anything for them." According to some legal experts, Priscilla has a solid case.

The "Dallas" alum pointed out several issues with the amendment to the will, including the possibility that someone may have forged Lisa Marie's signature. Priscilla claimed the original trust mandated that she be given the amendment before her daughter's death, but she never received it previously. Her name was allegedly misspelled, too. Attorney Cynthia Brittain of Karlin & Peebles told the Los Angeles Times, "If everything is as they portrayed, the case law is pretty clear."

Riley Keough shows off her vocal chops in Daisy Jones & The Six

Riley Keough may have found the biggest role of her career, taking the lead in Prime Video's "Daisy Jones & The Six," which premieres in March 2023. Based on Taylor Jenkins Reid's best-selling novel, the limited series follows a fictional '70s rock band trying to stake their claim as the next Fleetwood Mac. As for Keough's vocals, series co-producer Lauren Levy Neustadter told Vanity Fair, "We talked about her singing and we talked about her grandfather and she sort of said, 'You know, I know I have it in me, but I really don't sing outside the shower.'"

When Keough first received the call from her agents about the role, she told them, "I was put on this earth to be Daisy." Speaking to The New York Times, she explained, "What I connected with was Daisy's artistry and how she felt, not being taken seriously as a young woman." With no experience as a vocalist, Keough had to learn to sing like a rock star to land the part, and she had a hard time getting there.

The star admitted that the musical training for the role wasn't easy. "I'm gonna go to this vocal coach, and he's gonna teach me how to f***ing belt, whatever I need to do to get this," the actor recalled to Vanity Fair. Fans will likely be impressed hearing Keough rocking out on "Regret Me," which is featured in the show's trailer. "Seeing her come alive in that role is just, I mean, it's mesmerizing, it's magical," said her co-star, "Enola Holmes" actor Sam Clafin.