We can surely tag the infamous handshake photo as the curious case of Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon. But what was the handshake about? How did they wind up together for that historic photograph? Was there a deeper connection between the ‘King of Rock and Roll’ and the conservative President of the US? We finally might have the answers to these questions.

Elvis Presley and Richard were the two most controversial personalities of the past century. Nonetheless, they were prime figures of their time who brought colossal changes within American society. Their biographies are intricately woven into the American tapestry. Both these figures helped in shaping the politics and culture of the nation during three consecutive decades: ’50s to ’70s.

So why is the photograph of the two eminent figures so infamous? It’s because both didn’t start their journey on the same road. Both had very different backgrounds which we’ll discuss in a while. And you’ll notice why the fateful photograph taken at a White House meeting in December ’70 became such an instigator of controversy.

Elvis Presley And Richard Nixon: A Short Biography

Presley was a rebel from the start. He was born in Tupelo Mississippi and later shifted to Memphis, Tennessee when he was 13. Both these conservative home-areas started seeing Elvis as a rebellious figure because of his new style of music. His political alignment since the beginning of the later stages is crucial in understanding the depth of the infamous photograph with Richard Nixon.

Elvis Presley And Richard Nixon

Presley loved country music since his childhood. Later he developed and derived from that. His music was largely uptempo, a backbeat-driven fusion of country music and blues. Elvis was a part of the gospel singers at the church and was deeply steeped in the blues-scene in Memphis. This brought him closer to the Blacks. But although he was a beloved there, the White conservatives considered him a threat/enemy.

Nixon, on the other hand, was serving as the Vice President of President Eisenhower when Elvis was on the rise in the ’50s. His conservative ideals were already raging across the nation. With Nixon’s gradual rise and fame, more and more conservative Whites started getting scandalized by Elvis Presley’s style and form. While his dynamic performances attracted hollering teenagers and made him a nationwide success, conservatives condemned him as a threat to the nation. He was even tagged as one who was trying to bring a revolution.

Elvis Presley never explicitly stated his political choices except for once. This is crucial as it renders a different picture of Presley. Reports suggest that once he declared that he supported Democrat Adlai Stevenson in the Presidential elections of 1956. This is the same man who was up against Eisenhower (and Nixon by extension) twice, during elections.

With this history in mind, it’s difficult to comprehend what led to the White House meeting between Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon on 21st December 1970. During that time, Richard Nixon, the then President, was in the midst of orchestrating a crusade against drugs and counterculture. Elvis Presley pledged his support in his letter to the White House. This came as a drastic shock to those who knew of Elvis’ origins and rebel backdrop.

Elvis Presley And Richard Nixon: The Story Behind Their Famous Handshake Photo

Elvis Presley’s Private And Public Transformation In The ’60s

In 1958, Elvis Presley was enlisted to serve a military tenure. After two years of military service, he returned to a changed nation. By that time, Nixon had already lost a bid in the 1960 Presidential Elections against John F. Kennedy and a gubernatorial election of ’62.

In his second bid in 1968, Richard Nixon was successful. This initiated his journey on behalf of the “silent majority” to re-establish law and order in the nation.

During this point, Elvis Presley went through some major changes as well. He was running against artists like Bob Dylan who was singing protest folk and The Beatles who were rocketing to fame within a very short span. Counterculture was taking its roots in young minds. In comparison, Elvis Presley was now backdated and old-fashioned. He spent a lot of time making movies and songs but somehow they didn’t speak for the changing times. They were seen as corny and irrelevant. His audience quickly shifted from teenagers to middle-aged people.

Elvis Presley And Richard Nixon: The Story Behind Their Famous Handshake Photo

There’s no doubt that Presley was the pioneer of a change. Jerry Schilling, Presley’s friend said in an interview that now he was face-to-face with a different byproduct of counterculture. He neither promoted it nor liked it. He was against drug-influenced music and people wearing torn jeans. The counterculture that Presley pioneered was totally different.

Elvis Presley And Richard Nixon: Story Of A Police Badge And A Gun

In a country with growing tension between the two factions of the society, Presley was a man of a different time. He liked engaging with police officers and collecting badges and was also fond of firearms. He had a personal collection of different rifles and guns. Ultimately, it was his passion for these collectibles that led him to call for a meeting with President Nixon in 1970.

We’re aware of Elvis Presley’s net worth. He was flush with money and liked living a lavish life. Once, his Christmas bill was over $100,000 as it included 10 Mercedes Benzes and 32 guns. His extravagance became a point of criticism. He was deeply passionate about police badges. His former wife mentioned in her memoir that Presley particularly liked the Narcotics Badge. He believed that it would give him ultimate power.

Presley also wrote a letter to President Richard Nixon asking him to make him a federal agent. He stated in this letter that “the hippie elements”, drug culture, the SDS, and the Black Panthers trusted him. So it would be easy for him to infiltrate their positions. He also wrote about his views against “communist-brainwashing” and “drug-abuse” asking him to employ him as a federal agent in his war against the radical left.

Elvis Presley And Richard Nixon

The letter didn’t reach Nixon; rather it went to Egil Krogh who later made arrangements for the King and the President to meet.

At the meeting, Presley indicated that he was on his side. He mentioned that he thought The Beatles were polluting the American spirit and that he wanted to be useful in restoring the respect of the American Flag which was getting lost in the crisis. Both of them shared gifts. Presley gifted an engraved pistol to the President. In return, he got an honorary narc badge from him. Both spoke about their passions and the meeting resulted in the infamous photo of Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon.