On December 21, 1970, a visitor arrives at the gates of the White House. It is Elvis Presley, who presents the guards with a letter to President Richard Nixon and asks to meet the president in person. Elvis writes:
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.
So I wish not to be given a title or an appointed position. I can and will do more good if I were made a Federal Agent at Large and I will help out by doing it my way through my communications with people of all ages. . . .
Elvis also says in his letter that he has a gift for the president. Nixon’s aides are convinced that Elvis is sincere, and they grasp the value of Nixon meeting “bright young people from outside the government” (although Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman responds, “You must be kidding”). A memo is quickly drafted for Nixon containing some talking points, and Elvis is admitted to the White House.
From presidential aide Egil Krogh’s memo describing the meeting:
Presley indicated that he thought the Beatles had been a real force for anti-American spirit. He said that the Beatles came to this country, made their money, and then returned to England where they promoted an anti-American theme. The President nodded in agreement and expressed some surprise. . . .
Presley indicated to the President in a very emotional manner that he was “on your side.” Presley kept repeating that he wanted to be helpful, that he wanted to restore some respect for the flag which was being lost. . . . He also mentioned that he is studying Communist brainwashing and the drug culture for more than ten years. He mentioned that he knew a lot about this and was accepted by the hippies. He said he could go right into a group of young people or hippies and be accepted which he felt could be helpful to him in his drug drive. . . .
Elvis presented Nixon with a chrome-plated Colt .45 and some photos. In return, he received a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
Years later, the irony of this meeting is almost crippling. When Elvis said he had been studying the drug culture for more than 10 years, he wasn’t lying—although his studies had mostly involved consuming entire pharmacies while at the same time criticizing drug-influenced rock music. He was probably overstating his personal influence, too. Although he had recently enjoyed a creative and commercial renaissance, many members of the the generation coming of age in the late ’60s were too young to have idolized him in the ’50s. His embrace of Las Vegas glitz also ran against the values of the counterculture. Nixon and his aides were savvy enough to understand Presley’s potential usefulness, although nothing came of the ideas they proposed. There was no Elvis-narrated TV special explaining drug-oriented lyrics to parents and no anti-drug record album or public-service announcements.
All that’s left is the tale of the meeting itself, and the photos taken of it. They are the most-requested items from the files of the National Archives.
(From my WNEW.com archives.)
6 thoughts on “Elvis Presley, Federal Agent”
I like how he stabbed the Beatles in the back. The same guys he hosted in Southern California five years earlier. I’m also amused that Nixon needed talking points. If only this meeting had been recorded, but I don’t think Nixon’s taping system was yet in place.
How come Elvis’ meeting with Spiro Agnew in Palm Springs has not been extensively probed? That must have had a few classic moments of its own.
(I imagine Agnew saying, “Yeah, sure! Any time you’re in D.C., just drop in to see The Boss. Bring him a little somethin’. He likes that.”)
I read somewhere that Elvis finagled that badge to grant himself amnesty from airport searches, thereby leaving him free to carry Dr. Nick’s little treats wherever he went. As for throwing the Beatles under the bus, I blame professional jealousy. The Fabs had creative and commercial carte blanche throughout the Sixties; Elvis couldn’t wipe his ass without “colonel” Parker signing off on the toilet tissue. As I opined on a Mellowmas thread earlier this week: I love Elvis, but he’s mortal.
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