Elvis Presley Famously Met With Richard Nixon in 1970: Story Behind the Photo

by Chris Haney

Monday marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most interesting presidential meetings in the history of our nation. On Dec. 21, 1970, President Richard Nixon welcomed iconic singer and actor Elvis Presley to the Oval Office.

The meeting was odd, to say the least, and left The King of Rock and Roll‘s fans confused as to why he would meet with the controversial president. Their meeting and the photos that followed sparked interest around the world. In fact, a photograph of the famous pair shaking hands became the most-requested photo in US National Archive history.

The unlikely pairing comes with an equally interesting story as to how their meeting came about. According to the National Archives, Presley boarded an American Airlines flight that morning with the intent to meet the president. He took the flight to Washington D.C. unannounced with no official appointment with Nixon.

Additionally, the King’s only plan was to personally deliver a hand-written letter that he wrote on the airline’s stationery in hopes of gaining an audience with Nixon. Presley arrived in Washington and indeed delivered his letter at the White House gates to a security guard.

Part of Presley’s note to Nixon read: “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 3 weeks ago and expressed my concern for our country.”

Elvis Presley Requests Federal Agent Credentials

In his letter to Nixon that the guard passed on, Elvis Presley gave a bit more detail on his true intent. He said that he wanted to give Nixon a gift. In addition, he wanted to receive credentials as a federal agent in the war on drugs as well.

The “Heartbreak Hotel” singer was determined to get his own badge from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. His wife at the time, Priscilla, said her husband thought the federal badge “represented some kind of ultimate power to him.”

Presley did have genuine concerns about the current state of America in 1970. He feared “drug abuse and Communist brainwashing techniques” were becoming a real issue across the nation. The famous entertainer thought he could use his worldwide popularity and influence to reach people of all ages and help combat the growing issue.

After receiving Presley’s letter, Nixon and his aide Egil Krogh believed in the sincerity of his message. They also thought he could be helpful and had potential value in the fight against drugs, especially when it came to young people. Krogh asked Presley and his bodyguards to return to their hotel and wait for their phone call.

The Meeting Between Presley and Nixon

Shortly after, Nixon approved the meeting and Krogh drafted an agenda for their 12:30 meeting. Elvis Presley arrived back at the White House in full regalia. He wore a purple velvet suit, a gold belt with a huge belt buckle, and large sunglasses. The King had arrived for his presidential meeting in style. Krogh met him and his bodyguards at the White House gates and escorted them into the Oval Office.

The unlikely meeting mainly revolved around Presley’s desire for the federal badge. After some talks, the legendary singer convinced Nixon that he could be of use to the war on drugs. In return, Nixon approved Presley’s request and had Krogh work out the details.

Supposedly, Presley reacted in an ecstatic manner and was very thankful for Nixon’s help. Sure enough, later that afternoon, the King received his federal badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Basically, what the King wants, the King gets. Several days later, Nixon wrote to Presley and thanked him for their meeting and wished him well in the new year.

Krogh took detailed notes during the meeting and later wrote a book called The Day Elvis Met Nixon, which released in 1994. Presley may have gotten what he came for when he received his federal badge. However, according to Krogh’s book, Presley regretfully never did work with the White House.

The famed White House meeting between Nixon and Presley is still one of the most fascinating presidential encounters to this day, even 50 years later.