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Elvis Meets Nixon

By Patrick Mondout

On December 21, 1970, the man who once sang "Jailhouse Rock" met the man whose most famous quote is probably, "I am not a crook." Naturally, the story of how this bizarre meeting of minds came about is as improbable as the photo below. Elvis Presley boarded an American Airlines flight in Memphis bound for Washington D.C. just days before Christmas 1970. During the flight he summoned a stewardess and requested some paper and a pen. He then composed a five page letter to President Nixon requesting a meeting. What did The King want? An ambassadorship to Korea? Permission to marry Julie Nixon? Statehood for Graceland? No, no, and no. Presley hoped to obtain the credentials of a federal agent in the "war on drugs." Here are the first 1 1/4 pages of this historic document:

"Dear Mr. President. First, I would like to introduce myself. I am Elvis Presley and admire you and have great respect for your office. I talked to Vice President Agnew in Palm Springs three weeks ago and expressed my concern for our country. The drug culture, the hippie elements, the SDS, Black Panthers, etc. do NOT consider me as their enemy or as they call it The Establishment. I call it America and I love it. Sir, I can and will be of any service that I can to help The Country out. I have no concern or Motives other than helping the country out..."

An Armed Rock Star Wants to See the President

Soon after arriving in D.C., Elvis personally delivered the letter - written on American Airlines stationery - to the front gates of the White House. Did I mention Presley brought a gun with him? The King intended to present the president a gift of a World War II-era pistol.

White House aide Dwight Chapin fired off (pun intended) a memo to H.R. Haldeman suggesting Nixon meet with Presley and discuss with him what he could do in the war effort (the war on drugs, not Vietnam) and to see if some kind of agent-at-large honorary credential could be bestowed upon Elvis. He also suggested the Presley was just the sort of person Nixon should talk to if hoped to meet "bright young people" outside the government. In a rare moment of lucidity, Haldeman wrote "You must be kidding," in his copy of the memo.

Tricky Dick & the King

The Leader of the Free World & The King, December 21, 1970.

Photo by Ollie Atkins, courtesy of NARA

Together At Last

Despite all this and Presley's ever-present body guards, White House personnel arranged the meeting and Presley was admitted to the Oval Office. Elvis, always know for his conservative attire, was well dressed for the occasion. According to former White House staffer Egil Krogh, who wrote the 1994 book The Day Elvis Met Nixon,  "He was wearing tight-fitting dark velvet pants, a white silky shirt with very high collars and open to below his chest, a dark purple velvet cape, a gold medallion, and heavy silver-plated amber-tinted designer sunglasses with "EP" built into the nose bridge. Around his waist was a belt with a huge four-inch by six-inch gold belt buckle with a complex design I couldn't make out without embarrassing myself."


A hilarious made-for-cable movie about this meeting was made in 1997 and is hard to find.



According to Krogh's detailed notes, the meeting opened with several pictures taken of the two posing in front of several flags. Presley then showed the President law enforcement paraphernalia he had brought, including badges from police departments from several states. Presley expressed his belief that the Beatles had been a real force for anti-American spirit to which Nixon nodded in agreement. Presley indicated very emotionally to Nixon that he was "on your side." He also mentioned that he was studying Communist brainwashing and the drug culture. Presley claimed the hippies and young people accepted him and he could infiltrate a group of them and that this might be helpful in the war effort. Nixon indicated his concern that Presley retain his credibility.

Thanks, But No Thanks

With that, this historic Oval Office meeting was over. Presley would be disappointed to learn Nixon would not be appointing him to an official post. Think of the stories we'd be able to tell today if only Nixon had appointed him as the Drug Czar or an F.B.I. agent! And he could have recorded a downright surreal cover of Johnny Rivers' Secret Agent Man!



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Here is Presley's hand-written letter composed aboard an American Airlines flight.

Image courtesy of NARA

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