The Tragic Real-Life Story Of Elvis Presley's Parents Vernon And Gladys

The following article includes references to drug and alcohol addiction.

From his struggles with addiction, to his sudden death, many would say Elvis Presley lived quite a tragic life, and it turns out his parents' lives were no different. Vernon and Gladys Presley dealt with their own series of hardships few likely know about,

Gladys and Vernon welcomed Elvis in 1935 in a small two-bedroom house in Tupelo, Mississippi, per Graceland. From an early age, it was clear Elvis was musically gifted and as he forged a path into the industry, his parents were by his side through it all. As the "Burning Love" singer began to go on the road to pursue his dreams, he remained incredibly close to his parents, per Elvis Australia. Gladys recalled, "He phones us every other night, no matter where he is. 'How's my babies?' he asks us. We've always been very close... He was always that way about us." Even as his fame grew, Elvis stayed incredibly close to both of his parents, and it was evident that he adored them like no other.

With Elvis' fame and fortune, it may have seemed like Vernon and Gladys had a life many would dream of. Yet, while that might have been true at certain points in their life, Vernon and Gladys' life was also paired with moments of tragedy that even the most diehard Elvis fan would be shocked to discover.

Gladys wasn't able to have more children

There's no doubt Elvis Presley was Gladys Presley's pride and joy. She loved him more than anything else in the world and was very protective of him. According to Smooth Radio, she and Elvis had pet names for one another, would sleep in the same bed well into his teenage years, and he accompanied her while she worked. Although it may seem a bit overbearing, there was a reason why Gladys was so protective over her son.

When Elvis was born in 1935, he had a twin. His father, Vernon Presley, told Good Housekeeping that Gladys gave birth to Elvis' twin, Jesse, who was sadly stillborn. He said, "I was desolate at the loss of our child. But then my father put his hand on my wife's stomach and announced, 'Vernon, there's another baby here?'" Elvis' birth was an exciting moment, but it was also accompanied by the tragic loss of his twin brother, and sadly, Gladys wouldn't be able to have any more kids, making the musician her one and only child.

Although she was saddened by the loss, she reportedly believed that "when one twin died, the one that lived got all the strength of both," per Smooth Radio. Having lost a child, Gladys made sure she did everything in her power to make sure Elvis was protected, even if her actions might have seemed extreme to others.

Vernon landed in legal trouble

Even before Vernon and Gladys Presley welcomed Elvis Presley into their lives, the couple struggled financially. It was the height of the Great Depression, and Gladys worked on cotton farms, while Vernon worked odd jobs to make ends meet. Vernon told Good Housekeeping when he and Gladys found out they were pregnant, they were thrilled by the news, but they were already struggling. He explained, "At that time there was almost nobody poorer than my wife Gladys and me. But we were thrilled and excited when we learned that we were going to be parents."

Unfortunately, not long after giving birth to Elvis, Vernon landed in some legal trouble. According to Elvis Australia, in 1938, Vernon was sentenced to prison for allegedly forging a check. He reportedly sold a hog to Orville Bean, and expected a good payout. However, Vernon was shocked to discover he only received a four-dollar check for the sale. He was frustrated by the amount, so he, his brother, and a friend forged the check into a larger amount. It's unclear what the exact amount was, but it was reportedly either $14 or $40.

When Vernon was in prison, Gladys couldn't keep up with the payments for their home, so she and then-3-year-old Elvis had to move in with her in-laws, per Elvis Australia. It wasn't until Vernon was released on a suspension that he and Gladys' life started to get back on track.

Elvis' stardom took a damaging toll on Gladys

Elvis Presley's music career changed the Presley family's life forever. They went from barely making ends meet to having anything and everything they could ever wish for. But while Elvis' fame seemed like a dream come true for most, it took a damaging toll on Gladys.

From the moment he was born, Elvis and Gladys shared an unbreakable bond that only grew stronger when Vernon was in jail. However, as Elvis' success grew, the protective mother found it hard to share her son with the world, per the New Zealand Herald. According to Elaine Dundy, who wrote the book, "Elvis and Gladys," Gladys struggled with Elvis' fame, especially when they moved to Graceland, per Daquan. Gladys became depressed while living at Graceland and it wasn't just because her son was constantly on the road; she also felt trapped at the lavish mansion. Dundy explained, "She was isolated. This house, Graceland, which was supposed to be her monument, became her mausoleum. She could not do her grocery shopping... She could see very few people. That made her morbid..."

Also, but according to Smooth Radio, Gladys was constantly teased by neighbors for doing her laundry outside and feeding the family's chickens on the lawn. It was all too much for Gladys, and at one point, she even reportedly told a friend, "I wish I was poor again, I really do."

Gladys addiction contributed to her death

Gladys Presley was deep into a depression at the height of Elvis Presley's fame. The protective mother even reportedly told one of Elvis' cousins that she was "the most miserable woman in the world," per Daquan. Elvis' stardom and his busy schedule were too much for Gladys, who became dependent on alcohol and pills. She was reportedly taking diet pills, which only worsened her health, and drinking loads of vodka. Gladys was finding any way to cope with the drastic changes in her life and missing her only son.

However, in August 1958, Gladys fell ill, and not long after, she died at the age of 46 due to a heart attack, per The Cinemaholic. Dealing with Elvis' fame with her constant consumption of alcohol is believed to have played a role in her death. The overprotective mother reportedly had undiagnosed hepatitis, the inflammation of the liver, which can be heightened due to drinking.

Elvis was left distraught by the loss of his mother. He and Gladys had a mother-son bond like no other. According to Charles L. Ponce's biography, "Fortunate Son: The Life of Elvis Presley," the musician shared heartbreaking parting words at his mother's funeral, per The Cinemaholic. He said, "Goodbye, darling, goodbye. I love you so much. You know how much I lived my whole life for you. Oh God, everything I have is gone."

Vernon had to deal with Elvis' passing

Vernon Presley not only had to deal with the passing of his wife, Gladys Presley, but also his son, Elvis Presley. The "Can't Help Falling in Love" singer died in 1977 at age 42, per USA Today. Initial reports suggested that the musician died due to "cardiac arrhythmia." However, toxicology reports later revealed that Elvis had a handful of drugs in his system. Elvis' death was sudden, and at the time, Vernon was Elvis' only living parent.

Elvis was Vernon's only child, and having to see him die was heartbreaking. He told Good Housekeeping, "Elvis' death was so sudden that it will be years before I'll be able to accept the fact that it really happened." Vernon admitted he discovered his son was dead after one of the musician's workers called his office saying, "Elvis was not breathing." Vernon revealed how he had spoken to Elvis only days before his death. Recalling their conversation, Vernon said, "A few days before he died, Elvis and I talked at Graceland for five or six hours about all sorts of things until I finally said, 'Son, I have to go home now and get something to eat.' 'I know, Daddy,' Elvis told me. 'But I want you to know that I've really enjoyed this.' So had I."

Vernon had to deal with something no parent should ever ave to do, as he had to bury his son right next to his late wife, Gladys.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.