Meeting a king is no big deal for a president, but when the “King of Rock and Roll” shows up at the White House asking to come inside … that is a big deal!
This actually happened forty years ago today, when Elvis Presley, traveling under the name “Col. Jon Burrows,” walked up to the White House, presented the guards with a five-page handwritten letter, and asked to meet with President Nixon.
The story begins three weeks earlier when Presley was in Palm Springs hanging out with Vice President Spiro Agnew (huh?!) and decided he wanted to enlist in the “War On Drugs.” He soon found himself flying to Washington in the company of California Senator George Murphy (huh?!) writing the letter he would later present to the White House on American Airlines stationery.
In it, Presley stated that he was fully aware of the “communist brainwashing techniques” that were eroding America and offered to report back on a host of America’s enemies, stating “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.” He hoped to be made a “Federal Agent At Large” by Nixon, a position that didn’t officially exist.
The letter was passed to David Chapin, one of the president’s aides, who wrote a memo to Nixon’s Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman recommending that Nixon meet with Presley later that same day. The White House then called the Washington Hotel, where Elvis was staying with two of his bodyguards, to offer the invitation. At the time of the call, Presley was at the FBI Headquarters hoping to meet with J. Edgar Hoover (huh?!) but left for the White House when the invitation to the Oval Office arrived.
Presley was escorted in to meet the president, but was barred by the Secret Service from presenting him with the chrome-plated World War II .45-caliber pistol that he brought along as a gift. He then spread out his own collection of police badges on the president’s desk and asked for an FBI badge of his own, which the president okayed. The two men spoke of ways Presley could help the president’s efforts in thwarting the radicals, and Elvis even took a few shots at the Beatles, who he felt were spreading an “anti-American” message. A few pictures were taken of the meeting, which have since become some of the most requested photographs in the entire National Archives collection. After an awkward hug between the two men (and again, huh?!), the Presley party was given a tour of the White House and served lunch. At the conclusion of their visit, “The King” got his presidential Christmas present in the form of his new badge.
Nixon sent a letter to Presley on December 31, thanking him for the visit, and for the gift, which is now on display at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda.
Elvis, of course, died of a drug overdose in 1977 at the age of 42.
Nixon and Presley. Just about the only Christmas-time pairing in history weirder than that Bing Crosby/David Bowie duet.