Several years following the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the United States was at the bleakest point of the Great Depression. Roughly 25% of the nation’s workforce found themselves employed, and those lucky enough to have steady employment saw a massive salary cut.

Things were just about the same for the professionals in the upper-middle class, such as lawyers and doctors, whose income took a sudden dive to around 40% down.

American families with financial security had an abrupt change to economic instability or bankruptcy.

Households had no choice but to adapt to the new grim reality quickly. The average American had no job, money, clothes, cars, or home. 

One of those Americans was the 18-year-old Vernon, whose wife Gladys was about to give birth to a child they later named Elvis.

All the future fame and wealth Elvis earned might have an impression that the family never struggled in life, but his father’s younger years were full of hardships and challenging circumstances.

In May 1938, he was convicted of forgery in Mississippi and had to serve a few years in state prison.


10 /10 A Humble Laborer

Vernon was born in 1916 in Fulton, Mississippi. He would be in his early 20s during the worst times of The Great Depression.

His son from his first marriage with Gladys Smith was born a few years before. In 1948, the family moved to Memphis with nearly their entire belongings crammed into a Dodge.

As their son grew older and became an international sensation, their circumstances took a giant leap of improvement, allowing them to live like royalties in Graceland, a mansion forever known as the home of Elvis A. Presley.

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9 /10 Graceland

In 1957 following Elvis’ commercial breakout, he gave his parents a budget of $100,000 to purchase a property. Elvis wanted a farmhouse-like home with some elbow room all around it.

They found a house matching the description, located just a few miles south of downtown Memphis. Back then, there wasn’t any large-scale housing project in the area.

Elvis bought the house and nearly 14 acres surrounding the mansion for slightly more than $102,500.

His parents, Vernon and Gladys, lived with him in Graceland, and Vernon also managed his son’s businesses.


8 /10 Mounting Bills

After Elvis died on August 16, 1977, Vernon didn’t have much to do apart from occasional public and media appearances, paying tribute to his son. There were no record contracts, film deals, and concerts anymore.

Since RCA bought the rights to Elvis’ recordings before his death, most (if not all) royalties were going to the company instead of his estate.

In 1979, the estate earned around a million dollars in annual income.

Without new albums, it dropped to below $500,000. On the other hand, maintaining Graceland costs about $480,000 a year.


7 /10 Executor Of The Estate

Elvis’s marriage with Priscilla ended in 1973. After his death, Vernon was named executor of the estate, for which he received an annual salary of $72,500. Lisa Marie, his only daughter from his marriage with Priscilla, is the sole heir.

A few months after his son’s death, Vernon’s marriage with Davida (second wife) also ended.

Things didn’t look too good for Vernon with the mounting taxes, Graceland’s expensive maintenance cost, and the bills from the 24-hour security guards to keep Elvis’ gravesite vandals-free.

6 /10 Vernon’s Death

On June 26, 1979, Vernon Presley died; some said of the sadness from having to bury his son.

At the time of his death, he was survived by his mother, Minnie Presley; three sisters, including Mrs. E.P. Biggs, Lorene Pritchett, and Gladys Dowling; and his granddaughter Lisa Marie who lived in Los Angeles with her mother, Priscilla Beaulieu (Elvis’ ex-wife).

Vernon was featured in two documentaries about his son: Elvis on Tour (1972) and Elvis in Concert (1977). He also made a cameo appearance on Hee Haw (Season 9, Episode 15, aired on January 7, 1978).

5 /10 About Elvis’ Marriage And Divorce

In an interview with Good Housekeeping in 1978, Vernon talked briefly about his late son’s marriage life.

Although the nation was seemingly enchanted by marriage, the couple’s relationship was anything but imaginary and meant to end abruptly after a brief period.

According to Vernon, the marriage ended because Elvis didn’t want to be married.

Elvis thought it wouldn’t be too practical for his wife to come along on every trip, even more so after Lisa was born. The almost constant separation was never good for the marriage.


4 /10 Priscilla Was Back

In Vernon’s will, the responsibility to be the executor of the state was given to Elvis’ former wife Priscilla and the family’s longtime accountant Joseph Hanks.

When Vernon died, money was running low to the point where Priscilla had to face the real possibility of having to sell Graceland.

She decided to open the property to the public, which proved to be a brilliant decision.

By 1982, Graceland was loaded with money, amounting to $100 million. Lisa Marie inherited the property and a good percentage of the business side when she turned 25.


3 /10 Before Fame

Before his son became an international cultural icon, Vernon never had much money.

He told Good Housekeeping in 1978 about how he felt like nobody was poorer than him and his wife, Gladys.

He was only an 18-years-old man when Gladys became pregnant. As he learned about fatherhood, he was still struggling to make ends meet.

She gave birth to twin brothers; Jesse and Elvis Presley. The former was delivered about 30 minutes before the latter, and Jesse was stillborn.

2 /10 Odd Jobs

It was unusual for a man to work odd jobs during the Great Depression, and Vernon earned little money from any work he could find.

The home he built for his new family had no electricity and indoor plumbing. He sold a hog to a man named Orville Bean, who gave him a check for only $4, much less than Vernon had hoped.

He ended up altering the amount on the bill. The number remains unclear whether Vernon wrote a new check with a fake signature or changed.

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1 /10 Incarceration

Regardless of the circumstances of the forgery, Vernon Presley was arrested for his crime.

He spent six months in jail awaiting trial. Eventually, on May 25, 1938, he appeared in court and was found guilty of forgery. He was sentenced to three-year imprisonment in Mississippi State Prison.

Vernon received an early release thanks to good behavior in February 1939. About a decade later, the family moved to Memphis, where Elvis would be known as the King of Rock and Roll.

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