“Everyone loves their mother, but I was an only child and my mother was always right with me, all my life, and it wasn't just like losing a mother, it was like losing a friend, a companion, someone to talk to. I could wake her up any hour of the night and, if I was worried or troubled about something, she'd get up and try to help me."
--Elvis Presley on his mother’s passing
I love stories of filial devotion and this one tops the charts, as befits the King of Rock ‘n Roll. Elvis Presley’s twin brother was stillborn, which is often given as the reason his mother, Gladys, kept him so very, very close. Although his father, Vernon, was very much in the picture, it was his mother who gave him his first guitar, found the money for a few lessons, and always encouraged his ambitions.
When Elvis hit it big at a very young age, he did his best to make up to Gladys for the deprivations they had both experienced. He set up Gladys Music, a publishing company from which she would get the royalties, and made good on his childhood promise to buy her a Cadillac—bright pink was his choice—even though she didn’t know how to drive.
In the last years of her short life, Gladys was upset about the girls who threw themselves at her son’s feet and depressed about his induction into the army and deployment to Germany. By1958 her health had deteriorated so significantly from hepatitis that she had to be admitted to the hospital, where she died at the age of 46. The Army had granted Elvis leave to come home, and he cried out at her grave, “Oh, God, everything I have is gone. Goodbye, darling, goodbye. I love you so much. You know how much I lived my whole life just for you.” His fans grieved right along with him, sending more than 150,000 condolence cards, letters and telegrams and over 200 floral arrangements.
Elvis buried his mother at Graceland, marking the grave with a tombstone that read, Sunshine of our Home and Not Mine, But Thy Will Be Done. He followed her into death 19 years later, to be laid to rest at her side, where she always wanted him.
Here’s Elvis’s 1962 tribute to his mother, “Mama.”
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