The late Elvis Presley had such a distinct look, one which made him one of the most recognisable people on the planet. With that in mind, the idea of him becoming a secret agent would seem beyond farcical and disastrous—but that didn’t stop him begging Richard Nixon to make it happen.
Elvis even managed to secure himself a meeting in The Oval Office on December 21st, 1970, a conversation which remains one of the most bizarre incidents to have ever taken place in between those four walls—which have seen their fair share of strange scenes over the years. The face of popular culture looking at the face of politics, a factor which every in theory rock ‘n’ roll should be rebelling against, is a peculiar meeting of minds that found Presley begging to become a secret agent.
The King’s spending had gone through the roof and his family had even tried to hold an intervention to try to calm him down just a few days prior, but there was one thing that money couldn’t buy — an ID badge from the Washington-based Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
He then came up with an elaborate plan to get his hands on the badge and he decided to fly out to Washington from Los Angeles with one thing on his mind, getting his hands on that one item that his riches alone couldn’t get him. On his flight, somewhat miraculously, was Californian senator George Murphy who told Elvis to write the President offering his services in the war on illicit drugs as a method for securing the badge he desired.
This was a topic that Elvis felt genuinely passionate about and prescription drugs would eventually cause his own death a number of years later, even if this was a habit that he was trying his best to hide at the time.
“The drug culture, the hippie elements, the SDS [the radical organisation Students for a Democratic Society], Black Panthers, etc. do not [underlined] consider me as their enemy or as they call it ‘the establishment’. I call it American and I love it,” he wrote in his letter.
“I can and will do more good if I were made a Federal Agent at Large and I will help out by doing it my way through my communications with people of all ages. First and foremost, I am an entertainer, but all I need is the Federal credentials. 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,” Elvis continued.
Initially, Nixon wasn’t keen to meet The King and felt as if there was an ulterior motive for him reaching out to. However, one of his top aide’s, Egil Krogh, was a huge Presley fan so tried his hardest to convince the president to change his mind—which somehow worked. Krogh noted how Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix had both died of overdoses recently, a factor which he claimed was a good reason to have Elvis on board in an attempt to enforce societal level change in a bid to turn people against drugs.
The duo spent 30 minutes together, talked about youth culture among other things which led to Presley bringing up his disdain for The Beatles. According to Krogh, Elvis “indicated that he thought The Beatles had been a real force for the 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”.
When Elvis plucked up the courage to finally ask for the badge, Nixon obliged and it was done, with Elvis becoming an Honorary Agent At Large—Presley then hugged Nixon out of pure elation.
“Oh man, we were set up! But it was fun. 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,” Krogh later recalled.
Elvis’ gift of the gab was just as much of a talent as his musical ability as this tale of him blagging his way to the Oval Office to get his prized possession is a testament of, once The King set his eyes on something there was nothing stopping him from getting his way.