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The Irony of the Nixon-Presley Meeting

A discrete perspective into Elvis Presley’s motivation to meet the 37th President of the United States.

A matchless meeting, one would say, because of the iconic roles President Richard Nixon, and the “King of Rock and Roll,” Elvis Presley, held in the global society of the 1970s. And yet, it is exactly this premise that made them the perfect match for an event that would go down in history.

You would believe the most requested photograph from the National Archives is an image of the moon landing when it’s actually President Nixon and Elvis Presley in the Oval Office. It’s the first insight into this story that Wide Angle’s host, Brendan Fallon, brings forth on this episode of the “This Day in History” special edition.

In the early morning of December 21, 1970, Elvis was at the gate of the White House, leaving the guards a letter he wrote for the president during his flight from L.A. to D.C. "Sir, I can and will be of any service that I can to help the country out," the letter said. Through this “unusual request” he was trying to obtain a badge from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. This would have been a nice addition to his police badge collection, but Elvis also wanted to become a federal agent.

Thinking about a big publicity opportunity, the meeting with the president became possible through Egil “Bud” Krogh, an official in the administration, and a big Elvis fan. Although their conversation was awkward at first, it became coherent when the “King of Rock and Roll” brought forth the subject of American society’s destruction through drugs and the new developing culture. This was unexpected, coming from a person that by this time was known to have a “drug-charged eccentricity.”

Nixon stated, “Drug users are at the forefront of the anti-American movement!” “I’m on your side,” replied Elvis. One of the things I appreciate about Wide Angle episodes is the subtlety with which some aspects are put into perspective. Going back to our story, probably Nixon didn’t consider it would be too big of a concern if the King would carry a federal badge, so he eventually got one for him.

Fate wasn’t kind to both of them though. Four years later the Watergate scandal broke out, and Nixon became the first president that would resign from office. Meanwhile, Elvis started to feel the effects of long-term opiate abuse.

Elvis had a gift from God that made him loved across the globe. His signature voice and creativity made him the first artist to chart at least 100 times on Billboard's Hot 100. The King started his career with faith songs, with three Grammy awards in the gospel category. But not everybody loved Elvis. After his rise to fame, the East German Communist Party leaders saw him as a threat and considered him a “weapon in the Cold War,” so they came up with an official dance called the Lipsi in an attempt to counter Elvis’s rock and roll. This made the youth of East Germany express their support even more openly for the King, demonstrating in the streets, with some of them getting arrested. It is not a stretch to say that Elvis’s influence was one of the decisive factors in the building of the Berlin Wall.

It was not their tyrannical control that led to Elvis’s demise though. The same ultra-liberal culture that he denounced during his meeting with President Nixon was the one that charmed him, keeping him captive in the current of drug use, and liberty without morals. On August 16, 1977, Elvis was found dead in his Graceland mansion. Further investigation revealed his sudden death was due to heavy use and mixing of different types of drugs.

“His talent was nurtured in humble beginnings. His brilliance snuffed out by excess and vice,” fades out the episode. Actually, this ending makes me want to learn more about Elvis Presley’s life, character, and influence, only to find that differentiating virtue from vice is not enough.


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Watch the full video:

(Why Did Nixon Give Elvis a Federal Narc. Agent’s Badge? )

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