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c. 1970

Elvis Presley, Federal Agent at Large

When you're the King, and you want to see the President, you just walk up to the White House gates

President Richard Nixon meets with Elvis Presley December 21, 1970 at the White House. (Photo by National Archive/Newsmakers)

You’ll struggle to tell from these monochrome photographs, but the velvet suit sported by the King (that’s Presley, rather than Nixon, for the avoidance of doubt) is purple. Elvis offset the indigo ensemble with a gold medallion, a gold chain, and, looking rather like a serving dish, an oversized gold buckle.

Presley had thrown together this look earlier the same day, December 21st, on the off-chance he might be granted an audience with the President of the USA. 

How to achieve that goal? Well, he simply walked right up to the White House gates and asked the guards to get him to the President. (There’s perhaps a lesson in there for us all).

In his hands, Elvis clutched a letter of introduction—written by himself, the previous night, while on a flight from LA to Washington, on American Airlines embossed paper. The letter ran to some six pages, and began thus:

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“Dear Mr President, I am Elvis Presley and admire you] and Have Great Respect for your office… I would love to meet you just to say hello if you’re not to [sic] Busy.”

The guards, presumably raising more than a few eyebrows, duly passed the letter on to people, who passed it on to other people, who passed it on to Nixon. 

Nixon… wasn’t sure. Was this a joke? Advisors assured him it was genuine, and tentatively suggested he should, perhaps meet Elvis.

Nixon… wasn’t sure. Was this a joke? Advisors assured him it was genuine, and tentatively suggested he should, perhaps meet Elvis.

Because Presley’s sudden appearance, at that moment, was rather a godsend. Nixon’s administration wanted to connect their boss to a younger generation. What better way than a photo-op with the King of Rock and Roll himself? (Presley was 35.)

And Presley was, it seemed, exceptionally keen to be of service. Very specific service. He wanted to contribute to the war on drugs. Presley had done his research, according to his letter: ‘I have done an in-depth study of drug abuse and Communist brainwashing techniques.’

Nixon’s aide, Egil “Bud” Krogh, could see where the King was coming from – kind of. Krogh wrote a briefing note for Nixon, adding his own thoughts as to what Elvis might bring to the table.

For example, this might be a chance to “ask him to work with us in bringing a more positive attitude to young people”. Maybe the star could be persuaded in “encouraging fellow rock musicians to develop a new theme”. And Korgh had an idea for a theme. How about ‘Get High on Life‘?

So in Elvis came—and opened up that purple jacket to reveal his massive collection of police badges. But he was very eager to purloin another—a badge from the President himself, no less. Elvis saw himself being made a ‘Federal Agent at Large’.

Could they do that? They could.

Presley was given his badge—and was so overjoyed he embraced Nixon. He also wanted his two bodyguards to share the moment, and they were duly invited into the Oval Office.

Seven years later, Elvis was dead. On his body, he had his Presidential badge.

1970
National Archive / Newsmaker / Getty Images
1970
National Archive / Newsmaker / Getty Images
1970
Thomas S. England / The LIFE Images Collection / Getty Images
1970
National Archive / Newsmaker / Getty Images
1970
National Archive / Newsmaker / Getty Images
1970
National Archive / Newsmaker / Getty Images
1970
National Archive / Newsmaker / Getty Images
1970
National Archive / Newsmaker / Getty Images
1970
National Archive / Newsmaker / Getty Images
1970
National Archive / Newsmaker / Getty Images
1970
National Archive / Newsmaker / Getty Images

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