WASHINGTON - "Dear Mr. President," the King scrawled on American Airlines stationery. "First I would like to introduce myself." But the man who presented himself unannounced at a White House gate early on Dec. 21, 1970, a five-page letter in hand, needed no introduction. Elvis Presley was knocking on Richard M. Nixon's door.
He wanted a job: as a federal agent combating drugs.
"Sir," his missive said, "I can and will be of any service that I can to help The Country out."
Elvis asserted that "The Drug Culture, The Hippie Elements ... do not consider me as their enemy or as they call it The Establishment." He had met Vice President Spiro T. Agnew three weeks earlier in California. On the flight to Washington he was in the company of U.S. Sen. George Murphy, the former actor, with whom he discussed "the problems that our country is faced with."
Now he meant to see the president - "if you're not too busy."
Elvis strained to defer to Nixon. He listed his private numbers - in Beverly Hills, Palm Springs and Memphis. In the capital, where he intended to stay "for as long it takes," he was reachable at "the Washington Hotel" (actually the Hotel Washington), in rooms 505, 506 and 507, "registered under the name of Jon Burrows."
What better way, aide Dwight Chapin asked Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, to begin introducing the president to "bright young people outside of the Government"? Elvis was 35. "You must be kidding," Haldeman wrote neatly in the margin of Chapin's memo. But he initialed approval.
At 12:30 p.m. on the very day he delivered his letter, Elvis - in purple velvet cape, and white shirt open to his chest - was ushered into the Oval Office.
Nixon admired his cuff links. The King talked of playing Vegas. The president urged him to guard "his credibility." White House photographer Ollie Atkins shot 28 frames. The most famous captures them in front of military service flags, hands clasped.
Elvis suddenly wrapped his left arm around Nixon and hugged him tight. And then he was gone. He got his badge from the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs. But in four years, Nixon had resigned in disgrace. Three years after that, in 1977, Elvis was dead, ravaged, in part, by prescription drugs.
"He mentioned that he was just a poor boy from Tennessee who had gotten a lot from his country," White House aide Egil "Bud" Krogh wrote in a memo, "which ... he wanted to repay."