"Here is the leader of the Western world and the king of rock ‘n’ roll in the same place, and they’re clearly enjoying each other. And you think, 'How can this be?'"
The photo is iconic.
Two well-known figures from the 20th century, President Richard Nixon and king of rock and roll Elvis Presley, standing side by side in the Oval Office.
However, as iconic as the Elvis and Nixon photo is, the story is even more so.
It all started a few days before the photo was taken. In December of 1970, Elvis Presley spent $100,000 on Christmas presents — 32 handguns and 10 Mercedes-Benzes. His wife, Priscilla, and his father both reprimanded the king, telling him that maybe $100,000 was a little much to spend all at once.
So, naturally, Elvis needed to get some space from all that negativity and did what anyone would do. He took his presents and hopped on the next available flight out of Memphis, and headed to Washington D.C. Then, he got bored and hopped on another flight to Los Angeles.
During all of this traveling, Elvis realized that what would really help him feel better was a badge from the federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. He had a collection of various police badges that had been given to him as gifts over the years, but he didn’t have one from narcotics yet.
He also believed that a badge from narcotics would allow him to fly outside of the country with his collection of handguns, should his boredom ever escalate beyond the continental U.S.
“The narc badge represented some kind of ultimate power to him,” Priscilla wrote later, in her memoirs. “With the federal narcotics badge, he [believed he] could legally enter any country both wearing guns and carrying any drugs he wished.”
So, just one day after arriving in Los Angeles, Elvis headed back to D.C.
While on his flight, Elvis penned a handwritten note to President Nixon, as one does, when requesting a personal meeting.
“Sir, I can and will be of any service that I can to help the country out,” he said. And, in return, he wanted a federal agent’s badge, which he was willing to wait for.
“I will be here for as long as it takes to get the credentials of a federal agent,” he said, finishing his letter.
Once in D.C., Elvis checked into the Washington Hotel under the name Jon Burrows. Then, he took a limo to the White House and dropped off his letter. On his way back to his hotel, Elvis stopped by the offices for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, to personally request the badge, just in case the letter to Nixon didn’t work out.
They denied his request.
However, back at the White House, good news was awaiting Elvis. His letter, miraculously, had found its way into the hands of one of Nixon’s aides named Bud Krogh.
Luckily for Elvis, Krogh was a big fan. Excited by the idea of getting Elvis and the president together (and possibly by doing so being in the same room with the king), Krogh persuaded the Chief of Staff to set up a meeting.
Just six hours after arriving in D.C., Elvis arrived back at the White House for his meeting. In true Elvis fashion, he was decked out in a purple velvet suit and a gold belt buckle. He also came bearing a gift, a mounted Colt .45, which he had taken right off of the wall of his Los Angeles home.
Unfortunately, the Secret Service confiscated the King’s gift before he could pass it onto the president. However, once they thoroughly checked him out, they escorted him into the Oval Office.
Ironically, this is one of the conversations that Nixon had that wasn’t recorded, as the infamous recording system had not been installed yet.
According to staffers, the meeting was a brief one, during which Elvis showed off his collection of police badges, and told Nixon that he was in full support of his regime. At the end of the meeting, Elvis asked for a narcotics badge.
To his surprise, Nixon granted his wish.
To Nixon’s surprise, Elvis hugged him.
After the meeting, Elvis went home with his badge, which of course, yet unbeknownst to him, did not actually permit him to cross borders with firearms or narcotics. At the request of Elvis, the meeting was kept secret for a year, and not even highly publicized until after his death by overdose years later.
Today, the Elvis and Nixon photo remains iconic, depicting a moment where two public figures from seemingly different walks of life came together for a hilarious reason.
Even years later, Krogh believes it’s the sheer absurdity of the Elvis and Nixon image that keeps it so popular.
“It’s a jolt seeing them together,” he said. “Here is the leader of the Western world and the king of rock ‘n’ roll in the same place, and they’re clearly enjoying each other. And you think, ‘How can this be?'”
Enjoy this article on Elvis and Nixon? Next, check out these photos of famous people, taken just before their deaths. Then, read about how Nixon prolonged the Veitnam War.