Anyone who has watched a movie in the last five years may well have seen the acting work of rising star Riley Keough. Indeed, with box office hits such as Magic Mike and Mad Max: Fury Road under her belt, the 28-year-old actress’ fame looks set to rise. However, behind the star’s public persona lies a family connection many fans may have missed. And it makes her closer than anyone to rock ‘n’ roll royalty.
It’s fair to say that Keough did not have the most normal life growing up. Born Danielle Riley Keough on May 29, 1989, the future actress was the first child of singer-songwriters Lisa Marie Presley and Danny Keough. And from almost her very first breath, Riley was already thrust into the public eye.
Just one month after she was born, in fact, baby Keough was proudly displayed on the cover of People magazine. But it wasn’t her mother’s or father’s fame that prompted the paps to take notice. More accurately, it was the identity of her grandfather – none other than the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll himself, Elvis Presley.
Famed for hits like “Heartbreak Hotel,” Elvis Presley remains perhaps the most important figure in popular music. Through a catalog stretching back to 1954, the singer has sold more than one billion records and has inspired countless generations of budding musicians. And, certainly, popular culture as we know it today would not be the same without his influence.
However, Keough did not feel her grandfather’s presence in her life directly. After a period of drug misuse and ill-health, Presley died aged 42 in 1977, some 12 years before Keough was born. “The reality is I know as much about my grandfather as you’d know about a grandpa you never met,” she explained to Esquire in 2016.
But while Elvis wasn’t in her life, Keough did get closer to some other famous figures. Following her parents’ separation, the soon-to-be star had Michael Jackson – who was wed to Lisa Marie between 1994 and 1996 – as a stepfather. A few years later, her mother married again, this time to eccentric actor Nicolas Cage.
Jackson – the King of Pop, whose musical legacy is arguably on a par with that of Elvis – was an especially warm influence on the young Keough’s life. “I loved him,” she revealed to The New York Times Magazine in 2017. “There were toys everywhere, animals everywhere, kids everywhere. It was like being at Disneyland all day.”
But despite the strong lineage of musicians in her family, Keough decided that she wanted to follow a different path. In 2004 the then 14-year-old made her catwalk debut modeling for Dolce & Gabbana. Later that year, she also worked alongside Kate Moss, advertising David Yurman jewelry, and modeled for Christian Dior.
Nevertheless, Keough remained close to the Presley clan. And in 2004 she posed with mother Lisa Marie and grandmother Priscilla on the cover of Vogue magazine. “I don’t think any of it had to do with me being Elvis’ granddaughter,” Keough told Esquire. “None of my drive was ‘I need to get away from my family legacy.’”
Then Keough decided to swap careers and become an actress. In a strange twist, acting remains a huge part of the Presley legacy. During the late ’50s and ’60s, Elvis became a screen star thanks to films such as Jailhouse Rock andViva Las Vegas. Later, Keough’s grandmother Priscilla got in on the act, starring in the Naked Gun series in the late ’80s and ’90s.
Somewhat fittingly, though, Keough’s first big-screen experience was a music-themed production. Based on the career of the titular rock band, 2010’s The Runaways saw Keough appear alongside established stars such as Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning. Though not a box office success, the film nevertheless impressed critics.
Two years later, Keough made the jump from supporting to lead actress with 2012’s racy Jack & Diane. In addition, she landed a part in the stripper comedy Magic Mike that same year. And the latter – which grossed $167 million worldwide – gave the fledgling star an even greater platform.
It was while working on Magic Mike, in fact, that Keough began being recognized on her own merits. In 2012, moreover, the film’s producer Reid Carolin claimed to The Hollywood Reporter that her family connection came as a shock. “Somebody said something like, ‘Elvis Presley’s granddaughter,’ but honestly, I feel like I heard that after we saw her audition,” he said.
Meanwhile, Keough also received exceptional praise from her fellow actors. “Growing up, I watched Faye Dunaway, Jane Fonda, Tuesday Weld,” said Keough’s Magic Mike co-star and former fiancé Alex Pettyfer to The Hollywood Reporter. “They were truly classic movie stars. Riley, for me, is destined to be one of the greats.”
Meanwhile, in August 2012 Lisa Marie and Priscilla Presley made a much-publicized appearance at Elvis’ former home Graceland in respect to the singer’s momentous musical impact. However, Keough herself couldn’t make it to proceedings as she had business of her own. She was away filming the blockbuster Mad Max: Fury Road.
Released in 2015, Mad Max: Fury Road would prove both a critical and commercial success. As one of the wives of villain Immortan Joe, Keough was placed front and center in a film that eventually grossed $379 million worldwide. It was also named the year’s best movie by film industry body the National Board of Review.
But though Mad Max: Fury Road proved an important step in Keough’s career, the film changed the actress’ life in another important way. While shooting in Namibia in 2012, Keough met stuntman Ben Smith-Petersen and they soon began dating. Three years later, she married the Australian in a star-studded ceremony in Napa Valley, California.
Following her personal and professional triumphs with Mad Max: Fury Road, Keough starred alongside Shia LaBeouf in 2016’s American Honey. Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Andrea Arnold, the film garnered numerous awards, including the Cannes Film Festival’s Jury Prize. It also earned Keough kudos for her acting skills and nominations from the likes of the London Critics Circle and Village Voice.
American Honey was followed by a daring role in TV’s The Girlfriend Experience. Through her provocative performance as an escort, Keough gained a Golden Globe nomination – arguably the biggest accolade of her career to date and taking her one step closer to eventually matching her grandfather’s legacy.
Still, despite their family ties, Keough remains ambivalent about her relationship to the King. “People always ask, ‘How crazy is it that your grandpa was Elvis?’” she told Esquire. “I make them happy and say, ‘Yeah, it’s soooo crazy.’” But there’s no denying that if Presley were alive today, he would be proud of his granddaughter’s achievements.