The difficult private life of Elvis Presley

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Elvis Presley left his mark on the world of rock ‘n’ roll — and America in general — serving as an icon for generations to come. There’s no denying that the King is a pop-culture legend, a man who revolutionized the music industry with his hip gyrations and risqué stage presence — a stark contrast to those who came before (sorry, Bing Crosby).

MARRIAGE

In 1967, Elvis wed his only wife, Priscilla Presley, in a relatively private ceremony, as revealed by People. “It was a very innocent time,” recalled Priscilla of their courtship. Don’t be fooled, however, as that’s where the tranquil imagery of the smiling couple ends. In the years that followed, even after Elvis’ untimely death in 1977, the public was still fascinated with his life — and that of his family, too.

From Lisa Marie Presley’s multiple failed marriages to Priscilla’s experience with a plastic surgeon from hell, the Presley family has been through a lot — and that’s just checking in to this Heartbreak Hotel. It’s time to sullenly take off our blue suede shoes and take a seat for the Presley family’s tragic real-life story.

Elvis Presley’s upbringing was not the kind you would expect for the future King of Rock and Roll. According to Mississippi History Now, the future “Jailhouse Rock” crooner was born on January 8, 1935, “in a two-room shotgun house in East Tupelo.” At the time, the neighborhood was sometimes referred to as the “roughest town in north Mississippi.”

ELVIS’S PARENTS (FAMILY)

Although they didn’t have much, Elvis’ parents, Gladys and Vernon Presley, still gave their son an abundance of love. “My love for my son began even before he was born,” Elvis’ father shared with Good Housekeeping in 1978 (via All That’s Interesting). “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,” he added.

Unfortunately for the happy couple and their baby boy, bliss didn’t last long. By the time Elvis was three, his family home, which had been built by Elvis’ father, uncle, and paternal grandfather, was taken away after Vernon landed in prison “for altering a four-dollar check.” Although Vernon was gone for eight months, Elvis was surely affected after he and his mother had to move in with extended family in Tupelo. According to one of his cousins, “his father’s imprisonment was traumatic” for the future star.

ELVIS’S BROTHER

Elvis Presley wasn’t an only child. In fact, he actually had an identical twin brother. According to History.com, his brother, Jesse Garon, came into the world “about 35 minutes” before the future crooner, yet unfortunately, he was stillborn. As the outlet writes, “The next day, Jesse was buried in an unmarked grave in nearby Priceville Cemetery.”

Elvis would go on to talk about his brother throughout his career, and as Peter Whitmer, author of the 1996 psychological biography The Inner Elvis explains (via the Billings Gazette), the singer’s mother, Gladys Presley, always thought that Jesse’s death was “the crucible that forged [Elvis’] ‘destiny to do great things.

Nevertheless, losing Jesse still affected the King deeply. Elvis’ close friend, Linda Thompson, quoted the singer on a bizarre dream that he told her about, wherein Thompson was Elvis’ brother: “I came out first, and you smothered to death trying to save me.” As Mississippi History Now explains, “losing a twin can deeply affect […] the surviving twin. Elvis no doubt later yearned for a brother to help him through the rough spots of his life — of which there were many.”

Elvis Presley’s mother, Gladys, gave birth to her son on January 8, 1935, shortly before dawn. According to Elvis Australia, earlier that morning, she delivered another boy, Jesse Garon, who was stillborn. As the outlet writes, by the time both mother and son returned home, “it was noticed by family members and friends that she was overprotective of her new born son,” perhaps due to a paranoia that something awful would happen to him, as well. Although suffering such a loss can affect both mother and the remaining sibling, (via Mississippi History Now), Elvis and Gladys developed an incredibly strong bond. Gladys was seen as “a strong and supportive presence in [her son’s] life,” so you can imagine how traumatized the crooner was after she passed away at 46 due to a sudden heart attack.

DEATH OF ELVIS’S MOTHER

Elvis Presley’s mother, Gladys, gave birth to her son on January 8, 1935, shortly before dawn. According to Elvis Australia, earlier that morning, she delivered another boy, Jesse Garon, who was stillborn. As the outlet writes, by the time both mother and son returned home, “it was noticed by family members and friends that she was overprotective of her new born son,” perhaps due to a paranoia that something awful would happen to him, as well. Although suffering such a loss can affect both mother and the remaining sibling, (via Mississippi History Now), Elvis and Gladys developed an incredibly strong bond. Gladys was seen as “a strong and supportive presence in [her son’s] life,” so you can imagine how traumatized the crooner was after she passed away at 46 due to a sudden heart attack.

Per People, the “Love Me Tender” singer had been drafted by the US Army five months earlier, but after Gladys fell ill, he was granted a seven-day leave to see her, two days before the heart attack claimed her. Of her passing, Elvis told the Associated Press (via People), “It broke my heart. She was always my best girl.”

During Gladys’ funeral on August 16, 1958, the AP reported that her son was “near hysteria” (via Elvis History Blog). Crying throughout the entire service, Elvis was later quoted as saying, “Oh God, everything I have is gone. I lived my life for you. I loved you so much.”

ELVIS’S DEATH, HOW HE REALLY DIED SO YOUNG

Elvis Aron Presley passed away on August 16, 1977, in his sprawling Memphis property, Graceland, at the age of 42. According to Town & Country, he was found by his girlfriend, Ginger Alden, unconscious in his master suite bathroom. “The last thing that was said to me — I told him not to fall asleep in the bathroom and he said, ‘I won’t,'” Alden wrote years later in her book Elvis & Ginger (via ET). “He turned, gave me a little wave, walked into the bathroom and I found him a little while later. It was a devastating day.”

So, what happened? According to People in 1980, Elvis’ death certificate stated that his death was caused by “hypertensive cardiovascular disease associated with atherosclerotic heart disease.” Simply put, a heart attack. Some fans (and one ABC-TV news producer), didn’t believe the sudden tragedy, claiming his death was related to “a lethal combination of powerful prescription drugs.” It was Tennessee’s chief medical examiner Jerry Francisco who brushed off those claims.

Only days after the King’s sudden passing, Francisco stated to the American Medical News (via People), “Elvis Presley died of heart disease, and prescription drugs found in his blood were not a contributing factor. Had these drugs not been there, he still would have died.”

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