Vernon and Gladys Presley were Elvis Presley’s close companions
When Elvis Presley became one of the world’s most famous musicians, his parents, Vernon and Gladys, were right by his side.
His parents, Vernon and Gladys, lived with him at Graceland most of their lives, as did his wife, Priscilla Presley, and daughter, Lisa Marie. Other family members like Elvis’ grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins all lived on the property at various times.
Family was at the core of his career, too. Vernon (along with Elvis’ manager, Col. Tom Parker) managed the singer's business affairs and would go on tour with him. Unfortunately, Gladys did not get to enjoy much of the life that came with Elvis’ fame; she died in 1958 when Elvis was only 23 and enlisted in the Army.
But who are Vernon and Gladys Presley? Read on to learn about their humble origins, life at Graceland and close relationship with their son.
They met when they were very young
Gladys was born on April 25, 1912, in Pontotoc County, Mississippi, while Vernon was born on April 10, 1916, in Fulton, Mississippi.
When the two met, Vernon was only 17 and Gladys was 21. Though they fell for each other quickly, the couple could not legally get married because Vernon was underage. He lied to the court, saying he was 18, and they wed in 1933.
On Jan. 8, 1935, Gladys gave birth to twin boys: Jesse Garon Presley and Elvis Aaron Presley. While Elvis was a healthy baby, Jesse was stillborn.
"I was desolate at the loss of our child,” Vernon told Good Housekeeping. “But then my father put his hand on my wife's stomach and announced, 'Vernon, there's another baby here?' At the time Elvis was born, medicine hadn't advanced far enough for a doctor to predict twins, so his arrival took us completely by surprise.”
The young family lived in poverty
While Gladys was home caring for baby Elvis, Vernon worked odd jobs to make ends meet, but the family struggled. In 1938, Vernon was convicted of altering a check and served eight months in prison.
According to Graceland's website, the Presleys' financial difficulties guided Elvis toward music. When he wanted a bicycle the family could not afford, Gladys encouraged him to accept a guitar instead. With Elvis' promise as a musician and the hopes of better opportunities in a bigger city, the family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1948, with so few belongings that they all fit into their 1939 Dodge, The Washington Post reported.
Elvis’ first recording was a gift for Gladys
Long before he found fame, a teenage Elvis made his mother a gift: He went to Memphis Recording Service and recorded two songs. It cost about $4. Those two songs, "My Happiness" and "That's When Your Heartaches Begin," got the attention of Sun Records and started his career.
Vernon guided Elvis in his business ventures
In 1954, Sun Records offered Elvis his first recording contract. Vernon became his trusted advisor — going on tour with his son and managing his affairs, along with Elvis’ manager, Col. Tom Parker.
In Elvis’ final years, Vernon made $75,000 a year (about $350,000 today) to manage his affairs.
The family lived at Graceland
Elvis notoriously shunned public appearances outside of concerts because his fans would inevitably find him. Instead, Elvis preferred to keep everyone he cared about with him at his Memphis estate, which he bought when he was 22. Vernon, Gladys and other family members lived there over the years, and when Priscilla was 17, she moved to Memphis to live with the singer.
"If he saw somebody he didn't like on the TV, he'd get his gun out and blow it up," Priscilla told PEOPLE in 2021. "Then he would tell his daddy to go get another TV."
Gladys died at age 46
Elvis was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1957. Just five months into his service, Gladys fell ill. Her son was granted leave to be with her, and she died of cardiac arrest two days later, on Aug. 14, 1958.
"It broke my heart,” Elvis said at the time, according to the Associated Press. “She was always my best girl.”
Two years later, Vernon remarried, this time to Dee Presley. The couple lived in a home on the Graceland grounds until their separation. They finalized their divorce in 1977.
Vernon died at age 63
After Elvis’ death in 1977, Vernon took over all the business affairs at Graceland, but the home remained private. Elvis’ grandmother, Minnie Mae Presley, still lived on the property with his aunt, Delta Mae Biggs, as her caretaker, and they kept things as much like they were when Elvis was alive as possible.
Vernon suffered a fatal heart attack and died on June 26, 1979.
The family is buried together at Graceland
Elvis was interred at a Memphis cemetery near Gladys — but after criminals attempted to steal his remains and ransom them, Vernon eventually had the two brought back to Graceland and buried in the Meditation Garden Elvis built on the property in 1964. When Vernon died, he was also interred in the garden.
In more recent years, Lisa Marie Presley, Elvis’ only daughter, and her son Benjamin Keough were buried with the family. Lisa Marie died of cardiac arrest on Jan. 12, 2023, and Benjamin died by suicide on July 12, 2020.
After Lisa Marie’s death, Priscilla sued Lisa Marie’s daughter and executor, Riley Keough. Per the terms of the settlement, Priscilla will also be allowed to be buried at Graceland in the Meditation Garden.
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