The meeting between two of the most improbable cultural icons of the
1970s lasted all of 30 minutes, but it has fascinated the nation for
A photo of a cloaked and bejeweled Elvis Presley solemnly
shaking hands with a grim-faced President Nixon remains the No. 1
requested document from the National Archives, nearly four decades
after the secret meeting took place on Dec. 21, 1970.
Now, on what would be the King’s 72nd birthday, the Richard
Nixon Presidential Library & Birthplace is giving the curious
public a good, long look at the relics of the coming together of The
King and The President – and it’s got Elvis fans all shook up.
The free exhibit Monday includes the outfit Elvis wore (a
black velvet overcoat, a gold-plated belt and black leather boots);
Nixon’s outfit (a gray woolen suit, tie and size 11 1/2 black shoes);
letters; and a World War II .45-caliber Colt revolver that Elvis gave
“The two of them together somehow is almost
incomprehensible,” said Bud Krogh, Nixon’s former deputy counsel who
set up the impromptu meeting that day 36 years ago. “The king of rock
and the president of the United States shaking hands in the Oval Office
doesn’t compute for a lot of people.”
The chain of events that led to the meeting began when a
stretch limousine carrying Elvis pulled up outside the White House. One
of his guards handed over a letter from Elvis addressed to Nixon
requesting a meeting to discuss how the rock star could help Nixon
fight drugs – including getting credentials as a “federal agent at
“I will be here as long as it takes to get the credentials of
a Federal Agent,” Elvis wrote. “I have done an in-depth study of drug
abuse and Communist brainwashing techniques and I am right in the
middle of the whole thing where I can and will do the most good.”
The Secret Service agents alerted Krogh. A self-confessed
Elvis fan, Krogh met with Elvis, decided he was sincere and scrambled
to get him into a noon meeting with Nixon.
About 2 1/2 hours later, Elvis walked into the Oval Office
wearing his flamboyant outfit, as well as sunglasses and two huge
medallions. But when Elvis entered the Oval Office, Krogh recalls, he
“I think he was just awed by where he found himself. I ended
up having to help him walk across over to the president’s desk,” he
Elvis and Nixon talked for about 30 minutes, during which
Elvis showed Nixon pictures of his daughter and a pair of cufflinks
given to him by Spiro Agnew. He also showed Nixon police badges from
around the country and asked again for a badge from the U.S. Bureau of
Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
Nixon agreed to give him the badge – but only after learning
that the chief of the narcotics bureau had turned down the same request
earlier that day and told him the only person who could overrule his
decision was the president.
“Oh man, we were set up! But it was fun,” said Krogh. “He
said all the right words about trying to do the right thing and I took
him at his word, but I think he clearly wanted to get a badge and he
knew the only way he was going to get it.”
At Elvis’ request, the meeting remained secret for more than
a year – until The Washington Post broke the story on Jan. 27, 1972.
Since then, the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace has
more than made up for Elvis’ ruse: T-shirts, cups, notepads and watches
bearing the famous black-and-white photo remain the top-selling items
at the museum’s gift shop.
“We’ve known for years that that photograph is an icon
image,” said Sandy Quinn, the museum’s assistant director. “It is The
President and The King.”