Elvis Presley, Nixon And The Origins of The DEA

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MEDIA ROOTS  October 3rd, 1970, Elvis Presley wrote the following letter to Richard Nixon:

“First, I would like to introduce myself. I am Elvis Presley and admire you and have great respect for your office. I talked to Vice President Agnew in Palm Springs three weeks ago and expressed my concern for our country. 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 will be here for as long as long as it takes to get the credentials of a Federal Agent. I have done an in-depth study of drug abuse and Communist brainwashing techniques and I am right in the middle of the whole thing where I can and will do the most good. I am Glad to help just so long as it is kept very Private.”

On December 21st, 1970, Elvis Presley was invited to the White House for a personal meeting with Richard Nixon and his advisors.  To pre-empt said meeting, Nixon was given a briefing that stated:


To thank Elvis Presley for his offer to help in trying to stop the drug epidemic in the country, and ask him to work us in bringing a more positive attitude to young people through-out the country...

Suggestions for Presley activities: 

*Encourage fellow artists to develop a new rock musical theme, ‘Get High on Life'”

After this fruitful meeting between the two men, Nixon sent a letter in response to Elvis:

“It was a pleasure to meet with you in my office recently, and I want you to know once again how much I appreciate your thoughtfulness in giving me the commemorative World War II Colt 45 pistol, encased in the handsome wooden chest. You were particularly kind to remember me with this impressive gift.” 

President Nixon had presented Elvis with an ‘honorary’ badge granting him superficial status as a drug enforcement agent, predating the formation of the DEA.  The seeds planted in this meeting and orchestrated PR campaign eventually lead to the formation of the Drug Enforcement Administration.  When Elvis received the badge, the Washington Post described the scene (via January 27th, 1972):

“By presidential dictum, Elvis Presley, the swivel-hipped singer, has been issued a federal narcotics badge. The Emotional Presley was so overwhelmed at getting his own genuine, gold-plated badge that tears sprang from his eyes, and he grabbed President Nixon in a Hollywood bear hug.”

Officially the agency known as the Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, was established on July 1st, 1973, with a signing order by President Richard Nixon.  The act effectively combined the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD) and the Office of Drug Abuse Law Enforcement (ODALE) under one umbrella.  We will continue to write more about the origins of the DEA on Media Roots in the coming months, but for now enjoy this actual happening as surreal as it may seem. 

Robbie Martin for Media Roots


When Nixon Met Elvis

Photographs Public Domain

Read a PDF and Photographic Archive of When Elvis Met Nixon Here


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