I’m stunned that after all this “If Shaq couldn’t get into the White House, who could?” talk that nobody has brought up the most legendary instance of such a thing actually happening. Elvis Presley, The King, did the very same thing O’Neal did, only 29 years earlier. It was rock n’ roll’s monarch asking to meet America’s commander-in-chief, for what would be one of the great odd couplings of the 20th Century. And he got in.
Elvis wrote Richard Nixon a six-page letter in 1970, declaring his admiration for the President and his desire to bring him a gift–a pistol encased in a wooden chest, of all things. On December 21st of that year, the King wandered up to the northwest gate of the White House, pistol and letter in tow. Presley’s letter also featured a bizarre request. He wanted to become a federal agent to help fight the war on drugs. I couldn’t have made this up if I tried.
Elvis’ morning visit ended with Nixon aide Egil “Bud” Krogh–who would eventually be one of the conspirators in the Watergate scandal–asked Presley to return to his hotel. The White House staff determined that King would be squeezed in for a 12:30 meeting, and that, yes, he would be declared a “Federal agent at large.”
Krogh took notes of the veritable cultural collision between the rock icon and the Quaker head of state:
Presley immediately began showing the President his law enforcement
paraphernalia including badges from police departments in California, Colorado and
Tennessee. Presley indicated that he had been playing Las Vegas the President
indicated that he was aware of how difficult it was to perform in Vegas.[…]
Presley indicated that he thought the Beatles had been a real force for anti-
American spirit. He said that the Beatles came to this country, made their
money, and then returned to England where they promoted an anti-American
theme. The President nodded in agreement and expressed some surprise.
The President then indicated that those who use drugs are also those in the
vanguard of anti-American protest. Violence, drug usage, dissent, protest
all seem to merge in generally the same group of young people.[…]
[Elvis] mentioned that he was just a poor boy from Tennessee who had gotten a lot
from his country, which in some way he wanted to repay. He also mentioned
that he is studying Communist brainwashing and the drug culture for over
ten years. He mentioned that he knew a lot about this and was accepted by
the hippies. He said he could go right into a group of young people or hippies
and be accepted which he felt could be helpful to him in his drug drive. The
President indicated again his concern that Presley retain his credibility.
After the meeting, Krogh and Presley had lunch in the White House and Presley left–federal badge in hand, sending a thank-you note several days later. Rumor has it that Presley would actually pull motorists over to the side of the road, waving his federal badge in the process.
Krogh would recount the famous meeting in his 1994 book, The Day Elvis Met Nixon. The encounter has been dramatized both in television and on film. And the photo above has been the most-requested image from the National Archives in its history. Elvis got in, in every sense of the word. But one would expect nothing less from the President meeting The King. via.