It is a widely-chronicled fact that Elvis Presley worshipped his mother, Gladys. When she died in 1958 aged 46 and his father remarried less than two years later, it is hardly surprising that the singer never got along with his stepmother, Dee Stanley Presley. Elvis declined to attend their wedding, although he did have a decent excuse – he was in the army at the time, in Germany.
According to Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, the young girl Elvis would later marry, "he couldn't stand her [his stepmother]". It is often said that the loss of his mother, and discomfort with his stepmother, led to the creation of the so-called Memphis Mafia – not crooks, just an entourage that Elvis built around him like a wall – leaving him largely insulated from the real world until his death in 1977.
Elvis was already massive as a singer and sex symbol when his father married Dee Stanley in 1960. Still grieving for his mother (as he did for the rest of his life) he could be forgiven for thinking that his new stepmother was a gold-digger. Had he been alive, he would no doubt have disliked his "stepmom" even more after she claimed, in a book about "the dark side of Elvis" after his death that he had shared a bed with his birth mother. It was a shocking claim, clearly aimed at selling a book and cashing in on the Presley name. In the same book, she also accused Elvis of being "immoral and out of control."
She was one of the first to reveal Elvis's abuse of prescription drugs, sleeping pills and the like, and she claimed – again, after his death – that he had been responsible for turning her own three sons, his stepbrothers, on to drugs. Whether the latter claim is true, who knows?
Davada Mae Elliot, always known as Dee, was the daughter of James Wright Elliot and Bessie Mae Heath. She was born in 1925, in Waverly, Tennessee, a small town named by its founder, an admirer of Sir Walter Scott but whose spelling was not quite up to the standards of the great Scottish writer, who wrote the Waverley series of novels. The town, an old Wells Fargo stagecoach road, lies on Route 70 between Memphis and Nashville. Details of her early life are sparse – Elvis's PR people helped to keep it that way – but she is known to have first married Billy Stanley, a master-sergeant in the US military, and had three sons (her first two babies were stillborn).
In 1959 she was in West Germany, married to Billy Stanley, while Elvis was in the country as part of the Third Armoured Division. Because of his star status, Elvis had his father, Vernon, around much of the time. It has been written that Dee Stanley was infatuated by Elvis – as many women around the world were at the time – but when the singer expressed no interest in an older woman, she became close to his father. They married in 1960, much to Elvis's frustration – some who knew him called it "rage."
After Elvis returned from the army, his relationship with his stepmother remained on the deep-frozen side of chilly. He did, however, develop a close friendship with Dee's three sons and gave them jobs among his entourage, as drivers or bodyguards. By then a worldwide star, he also bought a home for his father, Vernon, and his stepmother on Dolan Drive, Memphis, close to the singer's own mansion, Graceland. The teenage schoolgirl Priscilla Beaulieu, whom Elvis had met in Germany, was conveniently allowed to live with Vernon and Dee, with back-door access to Graceland away from the paparazzi. Elvis would later marry Priscilla and have a daughter, Lisa Marie.
One of Dee's sons, David Stanley, wrote after the singer's death, "I have never seen a human being in my life abuse drugs like Elvis. I am not talking about street drugs. I am talking about prescribed drugs. Some of the doctors were out for the almighty buck." One of Elvis's bodyguards, Sonny West, once said he and Dee's three sons were all taking drugs and that Graceland became "a veritable drug emporium."
According to Dee, commenting on Elvis's drug-taking, long after his death, "There wasn't a person in the world that would say no to him. If there was a woman or man strong enough, Elvis would be alive today."
Davada Mae Elliott, stepmother to Elvis Presley: born Waverly, Tennessee 16 June 1925: married firstly William Stanley (marriage dissolved; three children, and one child deceased), 1960 Vernon Elvis Presley (divorced 1977); died Nashville 28 September 2013.
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