One night in December 1970, Elvis had a spontaneous impulse to fly to Washington DC. As legend has it, the whole purpose for him going there was to try to meet President Nixon. But the truth is that Elvis originally flew to Washington DC for a different reason.
The famous black and white photo of Nixon shaking hands with Elvis, wearing a dark outfit and cape, is one of the most requested photos at the National Archives. Fueled by his passion for guns and police badges, Presley was on a mission to get an official federal narcotics badge.
However, the hype and glamour of the meeting has often overshadowed the real reason why Elvis wanted to fly to Washington in the first place. On December 19, Elvis was confronted by his father, Vernon, and his wife, Priscilla, about his out-of-control spending habits. Elvis, not one to be told what to do, felt ganged up on and stormed out of the Graceland mansion in a rage. That night, he did something he had never done before since becoming a superstar: he left on his own and did not tell anyone where he was going.
Elvis’ fame had forced him to always travel with bodyguards and assistants. But on this night, Presley had no time to call his entourage. He decided to board a commercial flight on his own and visit girlfriend, Joyce Bova, a staffer on Capitol Hill.
The last time he saw Joyce, they had gotten in a fight in Las Vegas in August and Bova stormed out of Elvis’ suite and hadn’t spoken to him since. Elvis, who had lost his twin brother at birth, felt a strong connection to Joyce, possibly fueled by the fact that she had an identical twin sister.
Elvis flew from Memphis to DC that night and checked into the Hotel Washington. He soon realized that he was stuck at a standstill in trying to reach Joyce since he had thrown away her number after their fight. Realizing he needed help with his search, he decided to leave Washington that same night and fly to Los Angeles to see friend, Jerry Schilling. He asked Schilling to come back to DC with him to help him find Bova.
However, while in L.A., Elvis must have realized he could multitask on his trip and visit with some government officials in addition to seeing Joyce. Before leaving for the airport, he grabbed a World War II Colt 45 pistol framed with bullets off the wall of his Hillcrest Drive home and took it back to DC with him.
“Swear I didn’t think of seeing him [Nixon] till after I was here and couldn’t find you,” Elvis told Joyce. “Like I said, it was on the plane coming back with Schilling that I got the idea ‘bout Nixon. Started writin’ a letter to him right then and there.”
The night of December 20, Elvis and Jerry took a red-eye from Los Angeles to Washington. During the plane ride, Elvis talked with a soldier returning from Vietnam and also U.S. Senator George Murphy of California who happened to be on the same flight. Elvis asked Murphy how he could get a federal narcotics badge and Murphy suggested going straight to the President. Then, on American Airlines stationery, Presley started writing an impassioned five-page letter to President Nixon. Here’s an excerpt:
“The drug culture, the hippie elements, the SDS, Black Panthers, etc. do not consider me as their enemy or as they call it the establishment. I call it America and I love it. Sir, I can and will be of any service that I can to help the country out. …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.”
The historic, if not unusual, meeting between The King of Rock and Roll and President Richard Nixon at the White House took place on December 21, 1970. Earlier that morning after arriving on the red-eye, Elvis personally delivered his handwritten letter to White House security guards requesting a meeting with the President. This set off a chain of events that hours later had The King of Rock and Roll shaking hands with the most powerful man in the world.
At 12:30 pm, Elvis Presley was welcomed into the Oval Office of the White House.
According to Egil Bud Krogh, Deputy Counsel to the President, who was present at the meeting, Presley quickly began trying to convince Nixon that he was on his side and “that he wanted to be helpful, that he wanted to restore some respect for the flag which was being lost.”
To justify his position, Presley specifically named The Beatles as a threat to America’s youth. However, music fans should not take this to mean that Elvis hated The Beatles.
While Presley’s statements may have appeared to be an outright attack on The Fab Four, it is not likely that Elvis had it out for The Beatles. According to Jerry Schilling, Elvis “loved The Beatles.” Schilling explained that Elvis was just trying to look more patriotic to the President and, in effect, used The Beatles as a scapegoat.
Whatever Elvis’ true motive for calling out The Beatles in this historic meeting, the end result was in his favor. He received a Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs badge from President Nixon.
As The Washington Post reported: “‘See that he gets it,’ the President directed his top enforcement adviser, Egil (Bud) Krogh. Unable to suppress his excitement, Elvis hugged the startled Nixon.”
Meanwhile, Schilling was successful in tracking Joyce Bova down at her job on Capitol Hill. That night she came to the Hotel Washington at Elvis’ request and they patched things up. He told her about his meeting with Nixon that day: “I knew he’d want to see me. He’s a smart guy. I knew he’d be glad I wanted to help him.”
Elvis showed her his new badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (now the DEA). “The President’s a good dude, man. He knows I can get to the kids and tell ‘em what’s goin’ on with drugs.”
Joyce Bova dated Elvis on and off for 2-1/2 years. In 1971, she helped nurse him back to health at Graceland when he was suffering from an eye ailment. Not able to deal with his unconventional lifestyle, Bova stopped seeing Elvis in early 1972.
For more fascinating Elvis Presley stories, check out the author’s book, ELVIS: Behind The Legend: Startling Truths About The King of Rock and Roll’s Life, Loves, Films and Music