Elizabeth Grace Ward was born on April 3, 1961, in Ozark, Arkansas, the daughter of Patricia Hampe, a nurse, and Jimmy Young Ward, a poultry worker. She was raised in Booneville, Arkansas. The family later moved to Russellville, Arkansas, where Ward dated University of Arkansas trainer Mike Walker and graduated from Russellville High School in 1979. She was a junior accounting major at Arkansas Tech University at the time she entered the Miss America contest. Instead of returning to Arkansas Tech, she used her Miss America scholarship money to study acting at HB Studios in New York City.
Gracen married Jon Birmingham in 1982, but they divorced in 1984.
In 1989, while filming Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat, she met actor Brendan Hughes, and they married soon after. They divorced in 1994.
In 1992, rumors swirled that Gracen had conducted an affair with Bill Clinton. At first, Gracen dismissed this claim (as request by Clinton's campaign manager Mickey Kantor); however, in spring 1998 Gracen recanted her six-year-old denial and stated she had a one-night stand with Clinton in 1982. After claiming this, Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, who was investigating Clinton in the Paula Jones lawsuit, issued a subpoena to have her testify her claim in court. However, Gracen eluded the subpoena and was at one point able to avoid it because Highlander: The Raven was being filmed out of the country. Paula Jones' legal team was also unable to track down Gracen because she had made unscheduled trips to Las Vegas and the Caribbean.
In December 1999, Gracen filed for bankruptcy protection. Afterward, Gracen was given a few television guest roles, and a supporting role in the made-for-television movie Interceptor Force 2, before taking a long leave of absence from her acting career in 2002. Gracen began doing voiceover work for Blue Hours Productions, which has revived the classic radio anthology Suspense, which airs on Sirius XM. In 2012, Gracen did a character voice-over in the Malaysian animated science fiction film War of the Worlds: Goliath.
In 2012, Gracen formed Flapper Films. In 2014, she starred in Coherence, a sci-fi indie thriller. In January 2016, Gracen established Flapper Press and self-published Shalilly, a young adult fantasy novel.