“Don’t Be Cruel”: Elvis Presley’s Visit to FBI Headquarters

Today’s post is by Megan Dwyre, Special Access and FOIA Program Archivist at the National Archives at College Park, MD.

Many of us are familiar with this photo of Elvis Presley’s famous meeting with President Richard Nixon, which took place on December 21, 1970. It is the most requested image in NARA’s holdings and the story behind the image is documented in the When Nixon Met Elvis online exhibit. But did you know Elvis also toured the Headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) during that very same trip to Washington, DC? 

Photograph of Richard M. Nixon and Elvis Presley at the White House, 12/21/1970 (NAID 1634221); Series: Nixon White House Photographs; White House Photo Office Collection (Nixon Administration) (Collection RN-WHPO); Richard Nixon Library.

The National Archives and Records Administration’s Special Access and FOIA Program recently uploaded FBI file 63-HQ-3064 (NAID 207435076) to the National Archives Catalog. The file is not related to an investigation of Presley — it was created under the FBI’s Classification 63, the category for “Miscellaneous – Non-Subversive” subjects. Records related to his tour of FBI Headquarters are just some of the documents contained in the file.  

On December 22, 1970, Senator George Murphy (R-California) called the FBI office and explained that Elvis Presley had accompanied him on a flight to Washington, DC and expressed interest in meeting FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover during his visit. The FBI advised Senator Murphy that Hoover was out of the city and was not expected to return until around the first of the year and sent a letter of regret.

About a week later, one of Presley’s trip companions called to request a tour of the FBI facilities and again asked for “an opportunity to meet and shake hands with the Director” the following day. Although the FBI maintained that the Director was out of town, a memo in the file states, “Presley’s sincerity and good intentions notwithstanding he is certainly not the type of individual whom the Director would wish to meet,” adding, “It is noted at the present time he is wearing his hair down to his shoulders and indulges in the wearing of all sorts of exotic dress.” The FBI agreed to provide Presley and his party a special tour of the facilities, but reiterated “it will not be possible for the Director to see them.” 

Serial 7, Page 2 [FBI Headquarters] – 63-3064-v.1 [Classification – Miscellaneous Non-Subversive] [Elvis Presley] (NAID 207435076) (FOIA Tracking Number 53553); Series: Classification 63 (Miscellaneous Non-Subversive) Headquarters Office Case Files, 1/1/1952 – 12/31/1987 (Entry UD-13D 4); Record Group 65: Records of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; National Archives at College Park, MD. 

The tour for Presley and his party commenced the following day, December 31, 1970. The FBI reported that, “Despite his rather bizarre personal appearance, Presley seemed a sincere, serious minded individual.” He expressed concern about the country’s problems and youth and “stated that his long hair and unusual apparel were merely tools of his trade and afforded him access to and rapport with many people…who considered themselves ‘anti-establishment.’” Presley instructed that “should the Bureau ever have any need of his services in any way that he would be delighted to be of assistance” and that any correspondence addressed to him should be under the pseudonym “Colonel Jon Burrows.” He professed his admiration for J. Edgar Hoover, whom he called the “greatest living American,” but did not have kind words for the Beatles; in his opinion, they “laid the groundwork for many of the problems we are having with young people by their filthy unkempt appearances and suggestive music.” 

The file contains no evidence that the FBI took Presley up on his offer to assist their operations. The other records consist primarily of additional correspondence and newspaper clippings — in one letter, an anonymous writer claimed to have information about an alleged assassination plot targeting Presley in Germany. Ironically, whereas Presley blamed the Beatles for the country’s problems, the FBI file contains numerous letters from concerned citizens who wrote to the agency over a decade earlier to lodge similar complaints against Presley himself. In 1956, one concerned parent wrote to the FBI after hearing the details of a recent performance in his hometown described as the “filthiest and most harmful production that ever came to La Crosse for exhibition to teenagers.” He wrote, “I feel an obligation to pass on to you my conviction that Presley is a definite danger to the security of the United States.” 

[FBI Headquarters] – 63-3064-v.1 [Classification – Miscellaneous Non-Subversive] [Elvis Presley] (NAID 207435076) (FOIA Tracking Number 53553); Series: Classification 63 (Miscellaneous Non-Subversive) Headquarters Office Case Files, 1/1/1952 – 12/31/1987 (Entry UD-13D 4); Record Group 65: Records of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; National Archives at College Park, MD. 

One thought on ““Don’t Be Cruel”: Elvis Presley’s Visit to FBI Headquarters

  1. It’s too bad the FBI documents are not in color so you can see J.E. Hoover’s exclusive use of blue ink.

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