Who was Elvis Presley's mother Gladys? The heartbreaking story behind her life and death

11 May 2022, 16:23 | Updated: 20 May 2022, 16:48

Elvis and Gladys
Elvis and Gladys. Picture: Getty

By Tom Eames

Elvis Presley was known to be very close with his mother Gladys, and he perhaps would not have become the legendary star he was without her love and support.

But who was Gladys and when did she pass away? Here's all the important facts about Elvis's mother:

  1. When was Gladys Presley born and when did she give birth to Elvis?

    Elvis Presley With His Parents in 1937
    Elvis Presley With His Parents in 1937. Picture: Getty

    Gladys Love Smith was born on April 25, 1912.

    Her early life couldn't have been more different from the riches her son would provide her in the future. She was the daughter of a cotton farmer, and in the 1930s she met Vernon Presley at church.

    She was four years older than him, and Vernon was 17 and thus underage at the time. They lied about their ages in order to get married in 1933.

    Gladys soon became pregnant and she gave birth on January 8, 1935.

    However, tragedy occurred during the birth. Gladys had twins, but the first boy, Jesse Garon Presley, was stillborn.

    The second boy, Elvis Aaron Presley, survived.

    Gladys believed that “when one twin died, the one that lived got all the strength of both.”

  2. Gladys and Elvis were very close, which would become heartbreaking

    Elvis Presley with His Parents
    Elvis Presley with His Parents. Picture: Getty

    Gladys always kept Elvis close, perhaps due to the trauma of losing his twin brother.

    When he was a baby, she apparently even dragged him in a sack beside her while working in the cotton fields.

    The mother and son had pet names for each other, constantly communicated in baby talk, and even shared the same bed well into Elvis’s teenage years due to their poor household.

    When Vernon was briefly in prison for forging a check in 1938, Gladys and her son grew closer.

    Elvis’s fame sadly would start Gladys’s downward spiral. While very proud of her son, Gladys found his fame hard to deal with.

    While at Elvis’s Memphis mansion, Graceland, neighbours were said to have mocked how Gladys did her laundry outdoors, and Elvis’s team asked her to stop feeding her chickens on the lawn.

    “I wish we was poor again, I really do,” she apparently told a friend. Growing depressed, Gladys started to drink more alchohol and take diet pills.

    In 1958, Gladys had developed hepatitis.

  3. When did Gladys die and how did Elvis take it?

    Gladys Presley's burial site in 'Meditation Garden' at Graceland
    Gladys Presley's burial site in 'Meditation Garden' at Graceland. Picture: Getty

    In August 1958, Elvis Presley’s mother became ill.

    Elvis was serving in the US Army at the time, and was stationed in Germany. He quickly went home to see her, and thankfully arrived just in time.

    On August 14, 1958, Gladys Presley died, aged just 46.

    The cause of death was a heart attack, and it was later discovered that one of the contributing factors was liver failure due to alcohol poisoning.

    “It broke my heart,” Elvis Presley later said. “She was always my best girl.”

    Elvis was incosolable at the funeral, and could barely walk after burying her. His close friends have said how he changed after Gladys’s death, and never really got over it.

    Elvis’s own death occurred nearly exactly 19 years later, as he died on August 16, 1977.

    He and his parents are buried side by side at his Graceland mansion.