Vernon Presley was the doting father of Elvis, and the man who ensured his career reached the epic heights that it did.
Behind every superstar there are parental figures who help them. That was certainly the case with The King, Elvis Presley. His father, Vernon Presley, had a huge influence on his life from an early age and into adulthood.
Vernon was born on April 10, 1916, in Fulton, Mississippi. In 1933, at the age of 17, he married Elvis’s mother who was four years his senior at age 21. Vernon worked various odd jobs to make ends meet. He frequently worked with his older brother on the farm, and he also drove a wholesale grocery delivery truck to retail stores throughout Mississippi.
Elvis Is Born
Elvis came into the world on Jan. 8, 1935. In an interview with Good Housekeeping in 1978, after his son died at age 42, Vernon Presley said how much he looked forward to being a father.
“My love for my son began even before he was born. 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. I was only 18 years old, but throughout Gladys’ pregnancy it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to take care of her and the baby.”
What is not generally known about Elvis as a baby was that he was actually a twin. His slightly older sibling, named Jesse after Vernon’s father, died stillborn. When asked if Elvis’s life might have been different having a twin brother, Vernon said he always knew his boy was special no matter what.
“When Elvis was about ten years old…I can only say that God spoke to my heart and told me that Elvis was the only child we’d ever have and the only child we’d ever need. Elvis was a special gift who would ﬁll our lives completely. Without little Jesse who was born dead, without the other children we’d hoped to have, we understood that we were an extraordinarily complete family circle. As soon as I realized that Elvis was meant to be an only child, I felt as though a burden was lifted. I never again wondered why we didn’t have additional sons and daughters. It’s hard to describe the feelings Elvis, his mother and I had for each other.”
Vernon said he rarely spanked Elvis, and some activities that Vernon loved Elvis decided to avoid. When the elder Presley wanted to take his son hunting, Elvis replied, “Daddy, I don’t want to kill birds.”
Vernon left it at that and respected his son’s feelings.
Elvis Makes It Big
One thing the Presley family did do together was sing. They attended church, where Vernon was a deacon for the Assemblies of God, and his wife sang. The three of them would gather around the piano and sing gospel songs.
This love of church music, coupled with happy family memories, surely helped a young Elvis Presley turn into The King of Rock and Roll.
The elder Presley said his son wanted to be an entertainer shortly after he got out of high school. Vernon said his son wanted to try gospel singing. You can see and hear Vernon Presley talk about his son’s early career in clips from the documentary Elvis on Tour during interviews in 1972.
“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.”
Clearly, fame changed the minds of many people about Elvis’s abilities, but it was too late. Elvis was a solo act and his dad made sure of it. He told Elvis to stick to what he’s got, and the rest is history.
When the King became famous, Vernon was not far behind. Vernon managed his son’s affairs from Graceland, where the Presleys lived since Elvis was 17. Not only did Vernon oversee Elvis’s finances to a large extent, he also went on tour with his son.
Vernon also visited Elvis on the sets of his movies. He had a role as an extra in Live a Little, Love a Little.
The two men were inseparable during Elvis’s entire life, and they clearly relied on each other for help.
When Elvis died in 1977, Vernon became the executor of his estate and earned $72,000 a year making sure the King’s last will and testament came to pass. The elder Presley died two years later of a heart attack in June of 1979.
Some believe Vernon Presley died of a broken heart. No father should have to endure the death of a child, especially when he felt so close to his boy his entire life. Even though the death of Elvis was tragic and horrible, at least the two Presley men weren’t apart for long and they are both at peace.