When Elvis Met Nixon

From the Archives: A bizarre encounter between the president and the king of rock and roll

"I'm on your side, " Elvis told Nixon. Then the singer asked if he could have a badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. (Ollie Atkins / Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum)
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After Krogh took him to lunch at the White House mess, Elvis received his gift—the narc badge.

At Elvis' request, the meeting was kept secret. A year later, columnist Jack Anderson broke the story—"Presley Gets Narcotics Bureau Badge"—but few people seemed to care.

In 1988, years after Nixon resigned and Elvis died of a drug overdose, a Chicago newspaper reported that the National Archives was selling photos of the meeting, and within a week, some 8,000 people requested copies, making the pictures the most requested photographs in Archives history.

These days, the Archives gift shop sells T-shirts, coffee mugs, refrigerator magnets and snow globes emblazoned with the image. And Chris DerDerian, the Archives' director of retail, is thinking of adding an Elvis-Nixon souvenir charm.

Why is the photo so popular? DerDerian figures it's the incongruity: "There's this staid president with this rock 'n' roll figure. It's a powerful image."

Krogh agrees. "It's a jolt seeing them together. Here is the leader of the Western world and the king of rock 'n' roll in the same place, and they're clearly enjoying each other. And you think, 'How can this be?'"

Peter Carlson is the author, most recently, of K Blows Top, a travelogue on Nikita Khrushchev's 1959 tour of the United States.


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