The Time Elvis Became an Undercover Federal Agent

Elvis illustration by Sean Morgan

At the height of his popularity, many police departments across the United States bestowed honorary titles and shields upon Elvis Presley. The King took pride in his growing collection of police badges, but according to his ex-wife Priscilla, what Elvis desperately wanted was a special agent badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Drugs (predecessor of the DEA).

“The narc badge represented some kind of ultimate power to him,” she wrote in her memoir, Elvis and Me. “With the federal narcotics badge, he [believed he] could legally enter any country both wearing guns and carrying any drugs he wished.”

It was one of the few things money couldn’t buy the rock ’n’ roll legend. Yet, oddly enough, it was Elvis’ outrageous spending habits that ultimately led him to a secret meeting with President Richard Nixon and a specially made federal badge.

According to Smithsonian Magazine, the entire story stems from an argument about money. Elvis’ wife and father were giving him the third-degree about the large sum he had spent on Christmas presents — $100,000 for 32 handguns and 10 Mercedes-Benz vehicles. Fed up with the complaints, Elvis took off, fleeing his Memphis home and taking a number of flights before eventually ending up in Washington, D.C., on December 21, 1970.

It would turn out to be one of the most bizarre days the White House has ever seen — on record, that is.

While on the plane (his guns and police badges in tow), Elvis decided it was time to take matters into his own hands in regard to getting a federal narcotics badge. According to records and documents from the National Archive, the singer wrote Nixon a six-page letter on American Airlines stationary, requesting a meeting with the president and a “Federal Agent-at-Large” badge.

As soon as his flight landed, Elvis took his letter straight to the White House. He dropped it off at the entrance gate at 6:30 a.m. By 12:30 that afternoon, the king of rock ’n’ roll (clad in a purple velvet jumpsuit with matching cape) and the leader of the free world were shaking hands in the Oval Office.

Nixon’s aide Egil “Bud” Krogh took notes during the meeting, and according to his official White House memorandum, Elvis immediately began showing Nixon his wide array of badges and spouting off anti-drug, anti-hippie nonsense.

“Presley indicated that he thought the Beatles had been a real force for anti-American spirit,” Krogh wrote. “The President then indicated that those who use drugs are also those in the vanguard of anti-American protest.”

Elvis reportedly told Nixon that he was on his side and explained that he had been “studying the drug culture and Communist brainwashing” before asking the president for a Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.

Nixon asked Krogh if Elvis’ request was feasible, Krogh said yes and Nixon immediately ordered the badge for The King.

“In a surprising, spontaneous gesture,” Keogh continued, Elvis “put his left arm around the President and hugged him.”

Believing that public knowledge of such a meeting would hurt his image, Elvis requested that the encounter be kept a secret, and it remained so until a reporter broke the story a year later. The White House didn’t release official documents from the meeting until 2012.

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