This Day in Rock Music History: Dec. 21, 1970 – The Strange Meeting Between Elvis and Richard Nixon

Photographs of President Nixon and Elvis Presley, 12/21/1970, shot by Nixon’s chief photographer, Ollie Atkins. Courtesy National Archives.

It was December 21st, 1970, just about four years before I was born, and two of America’s most famous people had a meeting; one of them would become infamous in the coming years, but that’s a story for another day and another site.

Elvis Presley Meets President Richard Nixon

Elvis is most well-known for his music but also for his drug use and eventual death. The reason given for that death was a cardiac arrhythmia, which was suspected to be caused by an interaction of an antihistamine, codeine, and the painkiller Demerol, as well as Valium and several other tranquilizers. Prescription drug use can sometimes result in fatal reactions; even the King of Rock ‘n Roll wasn’t safe from it. This makes the following story all the stranger but true, nonetheless.

The Story

Elvis took a red-eye flight from Los Angeles to our nation’s capital, and while on board, he wrote a letter intended for President Nixon; this letter contained what I feel is an odd request, but we’ll get to that shortly.

Once inside his limousine, Elvis told his driver to head to Pennsylvania Avenue, which for those that are unaware, is where The White House is located. Upon arriving there, Elvis handed the letter he had written to the Secret Service agents stationed outside.

According to an article posted by Washingtonian on the 50th anniversary of this day, there was a bit of a different reason that had less to do with law and order and more to do with his collection: “What Elvis really wanted was a special badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs to add to his personal collection of police badges. Jerry Schilling, a close friend of Elvis who joined the visit to Washington, later described the King’s penchant for flashy signals of authority in a conversation with the Nixon Presidential Library: “It was kind of a James Bond thing to him as well, but with a lot of respect for it.”

The gift that Elvis mentioned in the letter was a commemorative WWII Colt 45 and autographed photos of Elvis’s family, which seems like an odd gift to give someone, but Elvis wasn’t exactly a conventional individual.

The meeting took place, and Elvis was given exactly what he came for, a photo of which is attached. There is also a photo of their initial handshake, which has since become the most requested photo in the National Archives, even beating out The Constitution.

President Nixon never took up Elvis’s request to assist the Bureau, but this day has gone down in the history of rock oddities anyway.

It’s hard to imagine that Elvis would die seven years later with a system full of the very thing he told President Nixon he wanted to help stop. I think it was more about the badge collection than being involved in the “war on drugs.” The irony makes this story seem all the stranger.

This article was written by Tom Hanno, who has been writing reviews for the last 7 years but has been sharing his love of music for the majority of his life. Originally starting out at the now defunct Chimera Magazine, he is currently contributing to Doomed and Stoned, The Sleeping Shaman, The Doom Charts, Tom’s Reviews, and The Third Eye. Read more of Tom’s reviews by checking out his Linktree.

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