Elvis Presley is internationally loved by fans still obsessed with his music. He was a young boy from Tulepo, Mississippi, whose talent skyrocketed him to the big time, which reportedly took its toll on his mother. But who was Gladys Presley, how did she die and who is playing her in the upcoming biopic?
Gladys Love Presley, nee Smith, was born on April 25, 1912.
She gave birth to Elvis on January 8, 1935, along with his identical twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley.
However, Jesse was sadly stillborn and was delivered 35 minutes before Elvis.
While Elvis was known as being close to both his parents, it has often been reported he was far closer to his mother, who was, by many accounts, the most dominant member of the family.
Elvis Presley biopic: Who was Elvis’ mother Gladys Presley?
The family attended an Assembly of God church, which helped Elvis develop his musical inspiration but the Presleys were by no means well off.
It has been described in a number of biographies that the Presleys required help from neighbours and government for assistance with food, and in 1938, they lost their home during which time Elvis’ father Vernon Presley was jailed for altering a cheque.
During this period, Gladys and Elvis moved in with relatives, as described in Peter Guralnick’s book Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley.
The young Elvis was very shy about his performance abilities and as he got older, the family continued to move around.
In 1948, they moved to Memphis, Tennessee, and after spending almost a year in boarding houses were granted a two-bedroom apartment in a public housing complex, known in the UK as council housing.
Elvis’ shyness continued but mainly because of his relationship with his mother hampering his ability to be confident.
He was often bullied by classmates, as Guralnick describes, due to being called a “mama’s boy”.
Elvis spoke about this in interviews vaguely, once saying: “My mama never let me out of her sight. I couldn’t go down to the creek with the other kids.”
Gladys and Vernon Presley
In 1953, Elvis began paying for some time at Sun Records to perform, and later claimed he did this as a gift for his mother.
But as Elvis continued to do well in the music, Gladys allegedly struggled to cope and began to drink heavily, eventually being diagnosed with liver problems.
In 1958, while his career was growing and he was beginning to appear in films, Elvis was drafted into the US Army and was placed in Germany.
Shortly after, Gladys was diagnosed with hepatitis, and her condition worsened very quickly.
The young Elvis with his parents in 1937
Elvis was given emergency leave to visit her, arriving in Memphis on August 12, but she died on August 14, 1958, of heart failure at age 46.
The singer was deeply upset by her death, as chronicled in Peter Guralnick’s book Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley.
Elvis and his father even kept a broken piece of windowpane which Gladys had reportedly fallen into, as a result of their deep grief.
The pair had remained incredibly close even into adulthood and they reportedly still used baby talk and pet names when speaking.
The Presley family
Speaking of Presley’s pain at his mother’s passing, his friend Judy Spreckels said: “I have never seen anyone as sad as Elvis was.
“He cried continuously. We were in the front hall at Graceland, and he stood there hugging me for a half-hour.
“He was crying and crying and crying. It was the saddest thing I’d ever seen.”
Clearly, whoever takes on the role of Gladys will need to be formidable as well as a devoted mother.
Elvis and his father Vernon after the news of Gladys’ death
Who is playing Gladys in the Elvis biopic?
Maggie Gyllenhaal, who is famed for her work in The Dark Knight, Donnie Darko and TV series The Honourable Woman, will be playing her.
Alongside her is Tom Hanks who will take on the role of Elvis’s manager Colonel Tom Parker in the new movie, which is expected to be released in October 2021,
Austin Butler, a former Nickelodeon children’s TV star, will play Presley, while Australian actress Olivia DeJonge will play Priscilla, Elvis’ wife.