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In 1958, Elvis Presley’s mother, Gladys Presley, died of a heart attack. Elvis and Gladys shared a uniquely close relationship, and her death came as a terrible blow to the young singer. According to those who knew him, Gladys’ death seemed to fundamentally change Elvis as a person. His bodyguard Red West believed Elvis’ life may have taken a completely different direction if Gladys hadn’t died.

Elvis Presley’s life changed after his mother’s death

In the summer of 1958, Gladys Presley’s health took a downturn. Doctors discovered she had hepatitis and, after a hospital stay, she died. This came as a horrible shock to Elvis. He and Gladys had been extremely close in her lifetime, with both of them even believing they shared a psychic connection

A black and white picture of Elvis smiling as he stands between his parents.
Gladys, Elvis, and Vernon Presley | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In the years after Gladys’ death, Elvis changed greatly. While this could have had to do with the pressures of fame or simply just changes that came with age, West thought otherwise. He believed Gladys’ death altered the course of Elvis’ life. 

“I just can’t help feel that if she had lived, Elvis wouldn’t have gotten into some of the habits he did,” West said in the book Elvis: What Happened? by Steve Dunleavy. “There was always that thought in the back of his mind: ‘What would Mama say if she knew I was doing this?’”

Priscilla Presley also believed Elvis was different after his mother’s death

Priscilla Presley hadn’t known Gladys, but she heard a great deal about her from Elvis. She came to agree with West. Gladys had been a guiding moral figure in Elvis’ life. Without her, he seemed lost.

“When his mother, Gladys, was alive, Elvis had one person to answer to, whom he respected and who constantly reminded him of his values and his roots,” Priscilla wrote in her book Elvis and Me. “It was Gladys who kept Elvis aware of the difference between right and wrong, of the evils of temptation, and the danger of life in the fast lane.” 

He was more willing to push the boundaries of what was right in the years after her death.

“Since Gladys’s death, there were no boundaries for Elvis,” Priscilla wrote. “She was the force that kept him in line. Now that she was gone, he was continually in conflict between his own personal ethics and the temptations that had surrounded him.”

Red West said Elvis took Gladys’ death extremely hard

The Presley family laid Gladys to rest at a cemetery in Memphis. Elvis visited her grave every time he was in the city.

“Elvis erected a great big monument at the Memphis cemetery in Forest Lawn. It’s a beautiful monument. Big but showy,” West said. “There’s a big marble statue of Jesus erected over where she is buried. When Elvis is in Memphis, he always goes there to pay his respects. He never forgets. There are always fresh flowers there.”

A black and white picture of Elvis wearing a polo shirt and standing with his hands on his hips.
Elvis Presley | Earl leaf/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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West believed Elvis felt the loss of his mother more profoundly than most people.

“Everybody breaks up when he loses a mother or a father,” West said. “With Elvis I think it was a lot deeper. It was a heck of a shock to lose her when she was so young. Elvis had planned so much for her. He was going to take her to Germany with him, they were going to tour Europe together. She was going to be the best-looked-after mother in the world. And then this.”