One hundred and fifty years ago, you could have left
The photo of Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon meeting in The White House is one of the most iconic photographs of the twentieth century; Nixon, yet to become reviled for his involvement in the Watergate scandal, and Elvis, the King of Rock And Roll, in the twilight of his abbreviated life, on the cusp of falling into crippling prescription drug addiction.
The pairing was strange at the time, and it seems somewhat comical now given the story behind the photo and the meeting. A new film is on the way, starring Kevin Spacey as Nixon and Michael Shannon as Elvis.
So, why did Elvis show up at the President’s door?
The bizarre encounter took place on December 21, 1970, but let’s back up. Elvis’ strange behavior prior to the meeting is even weirder. After being chastised by his wife, Priscilla, for buying Christmas gifts in excess of $100,000 (this included dozens of guns and ten… 10!… Mercedes’), Elvis left Graceland in Memphis and took a flight to Washington.
This makes sense it seems, right? He is in Washington and decides to meet with the President because he is, in fact, Elvis.
No. Instead, Elvis boarded another flight across the country to Los Angeles and met up with one of his managers, Jerry Schilling. This being 1970 and all, Elvis had been traveling with a cadre of weapons and police badges he had collected over the years. This sparked the idea in Elvis, that what he really wanted was a badge from the federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. Back in Washington. Where he had just been.
Despite this bizarre behavior, Schilling accompanied Presley all the way back to D.C. On the flight, Elvis wrote a letter to President Richard Nixon requesting a meeting, and that he would be in the area until he was granted permission to meet with him. After delivering the note to The White House in the morning, Presley was eventually granted permission to meet with Nixon.
Elvis showed up to his meeting with the leader of the free world wearing a purple velvet suit with a gigantic gold belt buckle. He also brought a present for the President: a Colt .45 pistol in a display case.
While that infamous recording system had not yet been installed in The Oval Office by Nixon, presidential aide Egil “Bud” Krogh remembered the interaction:
“Presley indicated that he thought the Beatles had been a real force for anti-American spirit,” Krogh remembered. “The President then indicated that those who use drugs are also those in the vanguard of anti-American protest.”
Nixon then asked Krogh if they could get the King a badge, and Krogh said it was possible. Elvis was over the moon with this news and put his arm around Nixon and gave him a hug. The two men then had a private meeting that was never detailed.
The photographs of Elvis & Nixon went on sale from the National Archives in 1988, and they quickly became the most coveted photos to ever be sold by the archives.
Here is a version of the photo with color added:
And here is the first set photo from Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey in the upcoming film adaptation of the meeting, Elvis & Nixon: