Did Elvis Presley Have the Oedipus Complex?

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Baz Luhrmann’s biographical film ‘Elvis’ opens a window to the relationship between legendary musician Elvis Presley and his mother Gladys Presley. When Gladys lost a son, Elvis’ twin brother, soon after his birth, she started pouring all her love into her surviving child. They loved each other immensely and several biographers of the musician consider Gladys’ demise as the most significant event in his life because of the impact of the death on him. Over the years, several writers and psychoanalysts have considered the possibility of Elvis having the Oedipus complex due to the closeness he shared with his mother!

The Rumors and the Truth

Elvis and Gladys Presley’s bond has always been a topic of complex discussion. Rumors concerning an incestuous relationship between them started to spread after, as per multiple reports, Elvis’ stepmother Dee Stanley claimed that his father Vernon Presley insisted that the musician and his mother had sex. First of all, there isn’t any evidence to prove Dee’s apparent claim. People close to Elvis at the time discarded Dee’s statements, including the musician’s friends Lamar Fike and Marty Lacker.

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“The Presleys were so poor all three had to sleep in the same bed. And Elvis slept with her when Vernon was gone, until he was 13, when they moved to Memphis. But this stuff Dee told the National Enquirer about Elvis and Gladys being lovers is nuts. I don’t care what Vernon said. That never happened,” Fike said about the rumor, as per the Irish Independent. “Many young boys sleep with their mother, especially when they’re scared. Elvis’s father was in prison for a long time and I’m sure that was a frightening situation but to say that Elvis got off on sleeping with his mother, or that she molested Elvis, is a lie,” Lacker added.

Priscilla, Elvis’ ex-wife, also discarded any rumor that portrayed the musician as his mother’s lover as “sensationalist.” But she admitted that Gladys was Elvis’ “love of life” in her memoir ‘Elvis and Me.’ “I was to learn that Elvis’s mother, Gladys, was the love of his [Elvis’] life. […] He expressed how deeply he loved and missed her and how in many ways he dreaded returning to Graceland without her there,” reads the memoir. In addition, Elvis had difficulty having sex with Priscilla after the latter became a mother after the birth of their daughter Lisa Marie Presley. “He [Elvis] told me it was difficult because I was a mother. Elvis tried to make love to me but was uncomfortable with the act,” Priscilla said, as per Irish Independent.

A Psychoanalytic View on Elvis and Gladys’ Relationship

Oedipus complex is defined as the “desire for sexual involvement with the parent of the opposite sex and a sense of rivalry with the parent of the same sex,” as per Britannica. In Elvis’ case, many individuals who knew him remembered how his father Vernon was excluded from his relationship with Gladys.

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“It was like [Vernon Presley] 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’ girlfriend during his teenage years, said about the family, as per Peter Guralnick’s ‘Last Train to Memphis: The Rise of Elvis Presley.’

Dixie’s words, however, don’t mean that Elvis had the Oedipus complex. Psychologist Peter O. Whitmer, who wrote ‘Inner Elvis: A Psychological Biography of Elvis Aaron Presley,’ chose to use other terms to describe his relationship with Gladys. According to him, because there was no evidence to prove that “frank sexual contact” existed between Gladys and Elvis, the musician can be seen as a “victim of a syndrome called ‘lethal enmeshment,’ ‘psychosocial incest,’ or ‘nonsexual incest.’”

In ‘The Ultimate Elvis: Elvis Presley Day by Day,’ Patricia Jobe Pierce further simplified the psychoanalytical or psychosexual analysis of Elvis and Gladys’ relationship. “In the final analysis, Elvis trusted no one after Gladys Presley died. She remained his only true confidante, even though he abandoned her for his career at the end of her life. No matter how many friends or lovers he had, no relationship paralleled that of Elvis with his mother. She was truly the only woman in his life,” the author wrote.

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