Fans of Elvis Presley know how close he and his mom, Gladys were. But what they may not have known was that the seemingly overprotective parent had an entirely different side to her. Here's a look at her secret past.
For those who don't already know who the King of Rock & Roll's mother was: Gladys Presley was incredibly close to her famous son. But the way the public viewed her was not who she really was.
Throughout Elvis's career, his fan base believed that his mother was a bit overprotective over her boy. Now, of course, while this presumption wasn't completely false, there was more to Gladys than met the eye. And we're going to dive right into that...
His "Best Girl"
For years Elvis was seen as a heartthrob that hordes of teenage girls adored. But no matter what, the singer always said that his "best girl" was his dear mom Gladys. His first song was even dedicated to her because of how tight-knit their relationship was.
At just 18 years old, Elvis wrote and recorded a song titled My Happiness. Gladys was so happy about the song as she always supported her son's musical endeavors. Ever since he was a young boy, she was his biggest fan… and he was hers. He was even nicknamed "mama's boy" by his classmates.
Elvis had a reputation of being crazy close to his mom because for years, even well into high school, Gladys would walk him to school every morning. Until one day, according to Neatorama, the teenage boy became embarrassed about this tradition, and he asked her to stop.
Despite his decision to walk alone, Gladys continued walking Elvis to school every day. Except he had no clue because she would walk a few steps behind him. The coddling parent wanted to see with her own eyes that her son had made it to school safely.
As the years passed, their bond grew into a seemingly spiritual connection. One night, in the middle of the night, Gladys had a bad dream, as she screamed to her husband Vernon, lying next to her, "I see our boy - he's in a blazing car!" Ironically, the following day, their son's rental Cadillac caught on fire.
Thankfully, he escaped. But from there on, she was even more concerned for her son's safety. Apparently, during one of his earlier performances as a teen, a giant group of girls tried to get close to the heartthrob, but Gladys became concerned and screamed at the crowd, "Why you trying to kill my boy?"
Through Thick & Thin
But the adoration Elvis faced didn't happen overnight: He might have become one of the world's most famous singers, but he came from humble beginnings. Back in 1934, his dad took a loan of $180 dollars from his boss at the diary farm he worked, Orville S. Bean. He used the money to build himself and his wife Gladys a family home.
Along with the help of his brother, Vester, and their father, Jessie, Vernon was finally able to give his family a comfortable place to live by the end of the year. Yet still, the house had no indoor plumbing, as he was not able to afford to have electricity.
Bonded at Birth
Just one short month after Vernon finished the house, Gladys gave birth on January 8th, 1935. The parents were ready to welcome twins! Sadly the first baby, Jessie, was born a stillborn. The second twin was okay, but Gladys was in critical condition. So they rushed to the hospital.
The birth nearly took Gladys's life. After finally making it home with her miracle baby, she was ready to protect him at all costs. In the memoir Last Train to Memphis, Vernon said, "He never spent a night away from home until he was 17. The three of us formed our own private world." Elvis added, "My mama never let me out of her sight."
A Devastating Pattern
Gladys' overprotectiveness wasn't just because of her difficult experience with birth. Her family was known for dealing with hardships in the past that made her worried about her son's safety. When she was 18, her dad sadly passed away from pneumonia. And not long after Elvis was born, her mother also tragically died.
So at 23, she lost both her parents. And even more so, her siblings had all dealt with medicinal issues that included both physical and mental disabilities. So we can understand why she was also concerned that her little miracle child would always be in good care. But sadly, more bad luck was creeping her way...
Becoming a Single Parent
In November 1937, Vernon had sold a hog to Bean, a.k.a. the man he took a loan from for his home. He expected to receive a large payment for the expensive hog, but Bean only gave him $4. His anger caused him, Gladys’ brother Travis and a friend named Lether Gable to write a fraudulent check for more money.
Unfortunately, the 3 men didn't get away with the forgery - they were put in prison for three years, leaving Gladys all alone to raise her child. Now she wasn't just a single mother, she also had no job and no way of making money. As Elaine Dundy wrote in Elvis and Gladys, "These are hard times for mother and son."
Man of the House
This bump on the road only made Gladys and Elvis's relationship stronger. Even though the future pop icon was nearly 3 at the time, according to Dundy, when he learned his dad was imprisoned, he pat his mom on the back and told her, "There, there, my little baby."
From then on, he stepped up and became the man of the house. “Those are the words of a father protecting his baby, not the words of a son. This is a funny reversal of a role. That was the key. If they were to get anywhere in life, he was the one who had to do it,” Dundy explained.
Losing the Life They Knew
Since Gladys was unable to make a living for her family, she couldn't afford to stay in the house they were living in at the time. So she had no choice but to go somewhere else with Elvis. Dundy wrote, "At some point during Vernon's prison sentence, Gladys moved out and stayed with her first cousin Frank Richards."
"Whatever the reason, the Presleys never return to the house Vernon built; stories differ as to the reason and how the house left their ownership." While the truth about the house remains unknown, we do know that this hardship left Gladys anxious that anyone close to her could easily be taken away at any point.
A Shocking Return
On February 6, 1939, Vernon was finally released from prison. But what he saw when he returned left him surprised. He learned that his wife and son had built an unbreakable bond - he couldn't believe how close they were. They even slept in the same bed until Elvis was 13 years old.
The two also spoke in a secret baby language only they could understand. According to Dundy, because he was the only twin who survived, their relationship was closer than normal. "There were twins in every branch of the family on both sides. You could say a relationship of twinship developed between them - beyond the mother and son."
Throughout the years, Gladys always assured her son that he would grow up and do amazing things with his life. And he believed this to be true, telling his mom that his future success would lead them to a better life. Apparently, he even told his Gladys, "Don't worry, Mama. When I grow up, I'm going to buy you a fine house…"
"…And pay everything you owe at the grocery store, and buy two Cadillacs, one for you and Daddy and one for me." We guess he manifested this, because, as we probably all know, he turned out to become one of the industry's most influential artists.
"Never Happy Another Day"
Despite Gladys knowing her son would do big things when he finally rose to fame, she had a hard time coming to terms with it. Her friend Lillian supposedly said, “After Elvis became famous, Gladys was never happy another day. She never had peace no more.” She reportedly had a hard time sharing her baby with the world.
She had no idea just how famous her boy would be, and she couldn't handle it. The worried mother was so concerned that, based on reports from The Wrap, she would ban Elvis from flying to his concerts. And even after he promised he would drive instead, she said, "If you don't slow down, you won't live to 30!"
A Different Woman
The way Gladys behaved towards Elvis during his most iconic years led fans to paint a very specific picture of her. They saw her in one way - an anxious attached mother - and although in some way this was the way she was, she wasn't always like that.
In the past, Gladys was a completely different person. In the book Elvis and Gladys, Dundy explained, “Impetuosity and impulsiveness played a large part in Gladys’ make-up. She knew nothing of half measures, nor was there anything half-hearted or self-protective about her.”
One In The Same
Based on Dundy's research, she came to the conclusion that growing up, Gladys was actually very similar to her son... which may be why they were so close to one another. In 1985 Dundy opened up to United Press International about what she thought about Gladys and Elvis's similar personalities.
“I think he was very like Gladys while she was a young girl. She had rhythm. She was a great beauty. She did a wild Charleston to Jimmie Rodgers records.” Of The King, she added, “you are either a momma’s boy or a daddy’s boy. I think he was a momma’s boy.”
Her Mischeiveous Side
When Vernon and Gladys were getting married in 1933, they had some difficulties to overcome - with the main one being their age. At the time, the bride-to-be was 21 while her groom was 17. So to make sure they would be allowed to wed, they needed to come up with a lie.
The couple decided to tell the authorities that she was actually 19 and that Vernon was 22. But the only way this wild plan ended up working was because they went to a neighboring county of Pontotoc to make things official because no one there knew who they were.
But before they tied the knot, Gladys was actually dating Vernon's older brother, Vester, since he was more age-appropriate for her. And funny enough, Vernon was dating Gladys's sister, Clettes! After a while, all the siblings realized they were with the wrong person.
Vester once admitted, “Yeah, I dated Gladys a few times, and Vernon dated Clettes. Gladys didn’t like my attitude. Like I always said, I was pretty wild in those days.” He said, “So, Vernon started dating Gladys, and soon there was only one object of his affection.” Talk about a sibling swap!
But switching things up in her dating life and lying about her age wasn't the only thing that made Gladys the free-spirited teenager she once was. Growing up, she loved to go out with he friends and get wild dancing the night away. It's been said that her favorite dance was buck dancing.
But her fun and wild party side quickly diminished when she finally settled down and got married to Vernon. And her personality became even more serious when she found out she was pregnant with twins. From then on, her entire life was dedicated to her family.
Dark Days Ahead
As Elvis became more famous, Vernon and Gladys also became public figures because of their bond with their son. So, of course, when he bought his mansion, Graceland, he brought along the people who raised him. The family's cousin Richards told Gladys, "I guess you must be about the happiest woman in the world!"
"You got it wrong," Gladys reassured Richards, "I'm the most miserable woman in the world. I'm guarded." Despite her new lavish life, she wasn't doing well. She had even become reliant on a pill that drove her to eagerly clean all the time. Elvis noticed and voiced his concern, but she told him it was just a weight loss pill.
Can’t Ignore the Signs
Even though Gladys told Elvis there was nothing to worry about and the only reason she was on so many pills was to manage her weight, he didn't fully believe her. Slowly her behavior was growing more alarming - it was believed that she was abusing substances, to keep her awake and alert.
She was on these pills to ensure she stayed alert, but the mixture, along with the heavy drinking of vodka and other alcohol, caused her to struggle with alcohol abuse. At this point, Elvis couldn't ignore the signs anymore: He was well aware that his dear mother had a problem.
Nowhere To Go
Dundy elaborated to UPI, “She was isolated. This house, Graceland, which was supposed to be her monument, became her mausoleum. She could not do her grocery shopping. She wasn’t allowed to feed her chickens because of the image. She could see very few people. That made her morbid, and she had a morbid streak in her, anyway.”
Her new life wasn't anything she had hoped it would be. But things got even worse when her favorite person left. In March 1958, Elvis got drafted into the army and was taken to Fort Hood, Texas, for basic training. Not long after, he was able to return to his family, but this didn't make Gladys's condition better.
On August 8, 1958, Gladys had suddenly fallen over. But it wasn't until the following day that she was actually taken to the hospital. The doctors found that she had cirrhosis of the liver, and she sadly didn't have much time left. And tragically, on August 14, Gladys passed away.
Of course, the devasting death broke Elvis's heart. His mom and best friend were gone, and things were difficult for a while. In fact, many of the singer's beloved fans believe he was never the same after Gladys had left us. He once even said, "I lost the only person I ever loved."
"Don't Take My Baby Away!"
The sudden death took a major toll on Elvis's mental health. In his book Fortunate Son: The Life of Elvis Presley, Charles L. Ponce de Leon revealed that The King couldn't handle the pain of the loss so much so that he lashed out during his mother's funeral.
He reported that the artist threw his body onto the coffin while yelling, “Please don’t take my baby away! She’s not dead. She’s just sleeping.” And while the coffin was being lowered to the ground, Elvis allegedly whispered, “Goodbye, darling. I love you so much. I lived my whole life just for you!”
Laid to Rest
To put her body to rest, her family made the decision to bury her at the Forest Hill Cemetery in Memphis. Her coffin was buried at the very top of a hill where they intended to have her stay for the rest of time. But things didn't exactly turn out the way they were planned.
Although her coffin would, later on, be moved to a new location, her original tombstone was a unique white marble monument that had a cross with Jesus Christ and two cherub angels marked the grave. Of course, it was topped with a simple maker that read "Presley."
The headstone was embellished with simple detailing that just said "Presley" because it was originally made with the intention of being a family burial site. But roughly six years after Gladys passed away, Elvis decided he had a different plan for the tombstone.
In 1964 the Can't Help Falling In Love singer chose to change his mother's tombstone to something that represented her beyond just her family name. The new white marble stone read her full name, "Gladys Love Presley." It also included the words "Sunshine Of Our Home."
When Elvis suddenly passed away in 1977, the world was shaken. The industry had lost a true legend - but he would never be forgotten. His remains were buried in a mausoleum at Forest Hill Cemetery. And soon enough, Gladys's coffin and tombstone were moved next to his.
One day the local police received a tip that grave robbers were going to try and steal Elvis's remains. So to ensure they would remain safe, Vernon moved his son and wife's coffin to be buried at the Meditation Garden at Graceland. Till today, they lay in this location.
Final Resting Place
But when moving Gladys's body, Vernon didn't include her "Sunshine Of Our Home" gravestone. It's not clear as to what his reason was, though many have assumed it was because it had both a Christain cross and a Star of David carved into it due to her Jewish background.
It took many years for authorities to get her gravestone to be laid to rest with her. But finally, in 2018, Gladys's tombstone that her son specially made for her was finally brought out of storage and placed in the Meditation Garden. We can't lie - it's a beautiful spot for Elvis's "best girl" to be laid to rest.
The Truth Behind Her Death
Due to the unfortunate circumstances and bad habits that Gladys fell into after her son rose to unbelievable amounts of fame, many fans and even some of their close family members believed that his success was ultimately what caused her death. They think it was too much for her to handle.
Elvis had the whole world watching him. Teenage girls were obsessed with him, and he had become arguably the most famous person at the time. But sadly, with good, there typically comes bad. Dundy told UPI, “All these people in Tupelo said what killed Gladys was, of course, Elvis. Four years after he became famous, she died.”
Vernon Speaks Out
We have no doubt this belief hurt Elvis as many people blame him for his mother's death. But unfortunately, this accusation wasn't just held by fans who didn't know Elvis personally. At one point, even his own father had admitted he believed the fame had caused Gladys to pass away.
In 1975 the father and son duo were both in the hospital - Vernon for a heart attack and Elvis from substance abuse. They were in a hospital room together with Elvis’ cousin Billy Smith who later confessed that an unbelievable conversation happened between the two Presley men that day...
A Lasting Memory
Based on reports from Billy, Vernon had confessed to his son what he really thought. “You worried your mama right into the grave!” It was an unbelievable thing to admit. But for quite some time, the two men had an unstable relationship, especially since losing Gladys.
The harsh words that Vernon spoke deeply affected Elvis. Although his fans had speculated this before, nothing could have prepared him for hearing that sentence from his own father. Smith, later on, recalled, “Elvis broke down and cried. It about killed him.”