ELVIS & GLADYS
The beautiful 32-year-old Lucille died of a ruptured spleen and sclerosis of the liver in the same hospital where she had given birth to Jimi eleven years before. She had been found beaten unconscious in an alley behind a Seattle bar.
Before his own violent end, Jimi confessed: “Once in a while I may say ‘love’ to a girl, but I don’t mean it. … I’ve never truly been in love, the kind of love that lasts. The only person who ever really loved me was my mother. And she’s long dead.”
A broom is drearily sweeping up the broken pieces of yesterday’s life, he sang in The Wind Cries Mary for her, Somewhere a queen is weeping, somewhere a king has no wife.
Now King Al only had Jimi and his brothers and sisters – but wasn’t even sure if they were his own children. After he’d left for the army, Lucille had run off with her pimp leaving the four-year-old Jimi in a foster home. On discharge, Al reclaimed the son he had never met, but Jimi recalled: “No one could ever know how I felt going off with this strange guy. I cried and cried. It was the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
After the death of his own mother, Elvis, like Hendrix, said: “I lost the only person I ever loved.” As they lowered her into the ground he had wept: “Goodbye, darling. I love you so much. I lived my whole life just for you.”
Years later, his father blamed him for her death. They were in Memphis Memorial Hospital together – Elvis again detoxing from narcotic addiction, Vernon recovering from a heart attack – when the old man told his son: “You worried your mama right into the grave!”
“Elvis broke down and cried,” remembered his cousin, Billy. “It about killed him.”
“After Elvis became famous, Gladys was never happy another day,” remembered her best friend, Lillian. “She never had peace no more.” Her mother and father had both died young, and tragedy had befallen many other family members. Elvis’s relentless touring, his explosive fame, and his hysterical fans terrified Gladys. “If you don’t slow down, you won’t live to 30!” she kept telling him. Gladys started popping pills to sleep, speed to wake up, and increasing quantities of vodka to cope until she drank herself into the ground like Lucille Hendrix.
When John Lennon was 16, his mother was run over by a drunk, off-duty policeman. “It was the worst thing that ever happened to me,” he recalled. I can’t get it through my head, he later sang in My Mummy’s Dead. It’s hard to explain. So much pain.
His father, Freddie, who himself had grown up in Liverpool’s Blewcoat Orphanage, had abandoned him at the age of five. Father, you left me but I never left you, he sang. I needed you but you didn’t need me. He later told an interviewer: “I soon forgot my father. It was like he was dead.”
Jerry Garcia was the same age when his father, Joe, drowned in the Trinity River while fishing. The loss “emotionally crippled me for a long time,” Jerry confessed. Calling himself “pathologically anti-authoritarian,” the boy broke windows in police stations, set wildfires, and started doing “candy” – dope. At wit’s end, his mother turned him over to her parents to raise. “Jerry was bereft… feeling that he was not loved, and that he was not worthy. These scars would never fade,” wrote the Dead’s biographer, Dennis McNally.
After graduating high school, Jerry stole his mother’s car, got busted and the courts gave him the same ultimatum they gave Hendrix in Seattle and for the same crime: jail, or the Army. No sooner had the two outlaws enlisted than they were deemed “psychologically unfit for military service” and discharged.
Months after his release, Jerry was nearly killed in a car accident which claimed the life of his best friend. “It [the crash] was cosmic,” recalled the founder of the Grateful Dead. “It was where my life began. Before then I was always living at less than capacity. I was idling. That was the slingshot for the rest of my life.”
Fellow survivor, Alan Trist (future head the Dead’s publishing company), agreed: “This was when we were all coming into adult life. It had a profound effect on Jerry. It made him aware of life’s fragility. Of how things could be taken away.”
Nine years later, Ruth Garcia drove off a cliff.
JERRY & RUTH