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Who Were Elvis' Parents? Vernon + Gladys Presley Encouraged the Icon to Pursue Music


Over 40 years since his death, Elvis Presley has remained one of the most popular and loved artists around the world. Much is known about his successful career and love life, but many don't know about his early years -- specifically those spent with his parents.

Elvis Aaron Presley was born on January 8, 1935, in East Tupelo, Miss. to Vernon Elvis Presley and the former Gladys Love Smith. Elvis wasn't an only child. He had an identical twin brother, Jesse Garon Presley, who was delivered 35 minutes before the singer but was, unfortunately, a stillborn. Growing up, the King of Rock 'n' Roll was very close to his parents, specifically his mother who helped him find a love for music.

Who is Vernon Presley?

 Rock and roll musician Elvis Presley and his father Vernon Presley during a press conference after his first performance at the International Hotel on August 1, 1969 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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Vernon was a hard-working man, working with his brother as a farmer, raising cotton, soybeans and hogs. He later decided to work for the WPA, which is a federal government work program during the Depression Era. He went on to drive a delivery truck for McCarty's, which is a Tupelo wholesale grocer delivering groceries to stores throughout northeast Mississippi. According to Peter Guralnick, author of Last Train To Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley, Vernon served eight months in prison in 1938 after altering a check.

When Elvis began showing interest in singing, especially during church, Vernon encouraged his son to follow his dreams. Elvis eventually was offered a contract with Sam Phillips' Sun Records with Vernon managing his affairs from the Graceland mansion, where the family moved when Elvis was 21. In addition, Vernon would go on tours with the singer and help out with his finances the best way he could.

Memphis, Tennessee: Private Elvis Presley and his father numbed over the death of the singer's mother Mrs. Gladys Presley. She died this morning at a Memphis hospital of an apparent heart attack. Elvis, on a seven-day emergency furlough on the steps of the Presley mansion, with his father.

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Throughout Elvis' onstage and in-studio career career, Vernon would repeatedly say that his son always envisioned stardom after he got out of high school. In the Elvis on Tour documentary, Vernon recalled, "At that time, he was more interested in gospel singing and quartet singing. So, he tried two or three different of the young groups, to get in with them. They was [sic] either full or they didn't think he could sing good enough or something. I don't know what happened. Then, after he made this record, quite a few of the quartet groups wanted him."

After Gladys Presley's death in 1958, Vernon married his second wife, Dee, moving into the Graceland estate together. After Presley's death in 1977, Vernon was named an executor of his will, later going to Elvis' daughter, Lisa Marie Presley. In 1979, just two years after Elvis' death, Vernon suffered a heart attack in June. Many believe he might have died of a broken heart due to the passing of his son.

Who is Gladys Love?

 Singer Elvis Presley kisses his mother, Gladys, on the eve of his induction into the Army. At left is his father, Vernon.

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On June 17, 1933, Vernon and Elvis' mother Gladys eloped, marrying in the Country of Pontotoc. The couple lied about their ages due to Vernon only being 17 at the time. While Gladys was legal to get married, Vernon was too young hence the cheeky lie, saying he was 22 instead of 17. By June 1934, Gladys reportedly knew she was pregnant, and by month five she recognized it was twins since she felt both of the babies kicking and had a family history of twins on both sides of the family. While pregnant, she was reportedly earning $2 a day at the Tupelo Garment Company which Vernon worked on his other jobs.

Although Elvis was close to both of his parents, it was reportedly said Elvis was closer to his mother. The Presley's were known to attend an Assembly of God church which helped develop Elvis' inspiration for singing. After Vernon was incarcerated, both Gladys and Elvis moved in with some relatives, bouncing around areas. In 1948, they moved to Memphis, spending a year in boarding houses where they were granted a two-bedroom apartment in a public housing complex.

Memphis, Tennessee: Pfc. Elvis Presley, on his first leave from the Army, escorts his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Presley, from their mansion here to town for a sneak preview of the entertainer's latest movie, June 1st. The film is called "King Creole."

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In 1958, as his career was growing and he started to appear in films, Elvis was drafted into the US Army and was stationed in Germany. Unfortunately, things were going downhill for his mother after she was diagnosed with hepatitis after becoming addicted to alcohol. Elvis was given emergency leave to visit her in Memphis on August 12, where she tragically died two days later of heart failure at 46. Gladys was brought home to Graceland after her death, where hundreds of fans gathered outside to console the singer. Elvis reportedly wanted to conduct the funeral at this home, but Colonel Tom Parker convinced him to hold it at The Memphis Funeral Home due to his safety.

After Vernon's death, the Presley family decided to bury the family in the Meditation Garden in Graceland where Elvis, Gladys, Vernon, and his grandmother Minnie Mae Hood Presley's tombs are located. The family is survived by Elvis' daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, Priscilla Presley, her children, and her grandchildren.

This story previously ran on June 21, 2022.

READ MORE: Everything to Know About the New 'Elvis' Biopic

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