Everything in Elvis’ personal life, from his complicated relationship with women to the terrible way he died, was rooted in his relationship with his mother. One of the star’s closest friends, Lamar Fike said “Basically, Elvis’ personality was that of Gladys’. There wasn’t a dime’s worth of difference between them.” Their intense relationship dominated both of their lives, right down to the way and the date they both lost their lives. Few realise that Elvis actually passed away on the same day as his mother had been buried.
Elvis was born on January 8, 1935, in Tupelo Mississippi – and from that moment his mother was the centre of his world. It went both ways, intensified by the loss of his twin brother Jesse in childbirth.
Elvis later said: “My mama never let me out of her sight.”
Gladys slept in the same bed with her son until he was 13 and Elvis never spent a night away from the family home until he was 17.
They developed a private language, a form of baby talk. In fact, throughout his life, Elvis referred to his mother as “my baby.”
Incredibly the start of Elvis’ music career was a result of his mother’s protectiveness. He had wanted a bicycle for his 11th birthday but was given a safer (and indoor-based) guitar instead.
Elvis Presley was very devoted to his mother
Elvis Presley with his parents aged 2
Years later, Elvis made his first-ever recording, paying $2 to record the song My Happiness as a gift for Gladys in 1954. Coincidentally, his first hit the following year was That’s Alright Mama. It started a frenzy of the local charts and drew the attention of national labels.
Elvis’ growing fame from 1955 onwards took him away from his home to somewhere Gladys could not follow.
God-fearing and poorly educated, she struggled with Elvis’ new life. She feared for her baby boy in a big world she could not understand or protect him from.
Her son lavished gifts on her, including a pink Cadillac, despite the fact she could not drive. But she only wanted one thing, she told him “For you to come home.”
Elvis Presley with his parents in 1956
Elvis Presley leaves his parents to do military service in 1958
A family friend Frank Richards, described popping into Graceland to see Gladys, who told him: “I’m the most miserable woman in the world… I’m guarded. I can’t buy my own groceries. I can’t see my neighbour.”
The emotionally fragile Gladys had started taking pills to sleep, pills to wake up and drinking vodka throughout the day. And then, her worst nightmare happened when he was conscripted for military service and left in March 1958.
Gladys looks unhappy and unwell in the official farewell photo and she faded very fast, falling seriously ill just a few months later. Elvis rushed back to be by her side but she died on August 14, 1958, aged just 46.
At the funeral, Elvis collapsed on the coffin and cried: ”Please don’t take my baby away! She’s not dead. She’s just sleeping.”
When his mother’s body went into the ground, he said: “Goodbye, darling. I love you so much. I lived my whole life just for you. Oh, God, everything I have is gone!”
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A grieving Elvis returned to military service and was posted to West Germany.
His father Vernon, grandmother Minnie Mae and some of his Memphis friends all travelled out to live nearby. Vernon soon started dating and married Dee Spencer in 1960.
Local girl Elisabeth Stefaniak lived with the star and his father in Germany as Vernon’s secretary (and Elvis’ part-time girlfriend) and described Elvis’ devastation that his father had already moved on: “He would start talking about his Father. That was the only time I saw tears in his eyes. It was because he was hurt that his mother had just passed away and his Father was already dating.”
Elvis’ army friend Rex Mansfield (who later married Elisabeth) added: “He really honoured both his parents and he would never say anything. He never said one word (against Vernon) but you could see it in his expression. You could see him hurting.”
Elvis enlists in the army
Elvis’ need for baby talk and the intensity of his childhood translated into his new relationship with 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu.
His unwillingness to have full sex before they were married and then his later disinterest in sleeping with her after their daughter was born, were all rooted in his fixation on Glady’s overbearing mothering and her traditional beliefs. Elvis was obsessed with the idea of the perfect, untouchable woman, whether a young virgin or a mother.
Elvis thought about Gladys in everything he did.
After Lisa Marie was born on February 1, 1968, Elvis told Tom Jones: “Mama would be so proud if she could see me now, a married man with a baby. She’d be a grandmother and that would go a long way to making up for the loss of Jesse.”
Elvis Presley with Priscilla and baby Lisa Marie
Family life with a wife and baby was unable to fill the void for the star as he struggled to revive his career but spiralled into an increasing dependence on prescription drugs.
He would tell people (including girlfriend and backing singer Kathy Westmoreland) that he had inherited a congenitally weak and misshaped heart from his mother and her side of the family.
In fact, that was never confirmed. Gladys died of a heart attack but one of the contributing causes of her death was liver failure due to alcohol poisoning.
Tragically, so many aspects of her death would be echoed years later when Elvis also died of a heart attack on August 16, 1977, which was attributed to his unhealthy lifestyle and prescription drug use.
Inseparable in life, they were united in the manner and dates of their deaths and now lie next to each other forever at Graceland.