Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis Presley biopic ‘Elvis’ opens a window to the life of the legendary singer and his relationship with his father Vernon Presley. Vernon serves as the business manager of the singer and accompanies his son throughout the latter’s career. After Elvis’ mother Gladys Presley’s death, their relationship becomes less affectionate and more business-oriented. In reality, Elvis and Vernon seemingly didn’t have the best relationship after they bid adieu to Gladys together. The significant turning point was Vernon’s relationship and eventual marriage with Dee Stanley. Vernon married Dee two years after Gladys’ death and the event changed the course of the former’s connection with his son.
The Troubled Relationship Between Elvis and Vernon
Since Elvis’ childhood, the renowned singer was closer to his mother Gladys, especially since Vernon was in prison for a considerable while upon getting convicted of forgery. Even after Vernon’s release, he couldn’t be included in the relationship formed by his wife and their son. “It was like [Vernon] was an outsider, really, he wasn’t really part of Elvis and Mrs. Presley’s group. I mean, it sounds weird, but they had such a strong love and respect for each other, and I don’t think there was a lot of respect for [Elvis’s father] during that time. It was almost like Elvis was the father and his dad was just the little boy,” Dixie Locke, Elvis’ ex-girlfriend, said about their relationship, as per Peter Guralnick’s ‘Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley.’
After Gladys’ death, Elvis and Vernon’s relationship further deteriorated, according to the individuals who were close to the singer. The tensions that existed between the father and son were mainly based on Vernon’s relationships after his wife’s demise. “Vernon had been seeing younger women, and it was too damn quick after Gladys’s death. Elvis resented the hell out of it,” Billy Smith, Elvis’ cousin, told Alanna Nash for her book ‘Elvis and the Memphis Mafia.’
Lamar Fike, one of Elvis’ best friends, recollected Vernon having a sexual relationship with a woman soon after Gladys’ death to Nash for the same book. “Now look! Mama ain’t been in the ground a week! We’re going to have some changes here!” Elvis told Vernon, according to Fike’s recollection of the incident. When Vernon accompanied his son to Europe while the latter was serving in the Army, the father and son further dealt with conflicts, mainly due to the introduction of Dee. “The ‘Dee thing’ turned Elvis away from his daddy,” Smith added to Nash.
Elvis didn’t approve of Vernon and Dee’s marriage. “[…] he [Elvis] shared his grief with me, he was very insecure, and he felt very betrayed by his father, that he would even fall for such a woman [as Dee Stanley]. He used to literally babble about how this couldn’t be his father,” Elvis’ ex-wife Priscilla said about her husband’s feelings toward his father, as per Guralnick’s ‘Careless Love: The Unmaking of Elvis Presley.’ Elvis didn’t attend Vernon and Dee’s wedding after telling his father that he “didn’t want to take away from the attention that should go to Dee.” “Both of them [Elvis and Vernon] knew that what he said wasn’t what he really meant, but neither of them knew how to address their true feelings,” reads Guralnick’s book.
Dee eventually caused controversies by claiming that Vernon told her that Elvis and Gladys were lovers. Smith and Fike dismissed the claim as false after it was published in the National Enquirer. “Elvis said some harsh things to his daddy about her, things that made Vernon extremely angry. It wouldn’t surprise me to know that Vernon had said some things to her about him when he was mad,” Smith told Nash about the controversy.