Elvis Presley and the Police
Source: Elvis Australia
October 21, 2023
As the world's most recognizable celebrity from almost the very beginning of his career, Elvis needed security almost all the time, so he spent plenty of time, and became friends with, the officers who ensured his safety.
Elvis always had a deep respect for law enforcement, although as you can see from the images below and right, things did not always go his way. (You can click each image to view and read more). On December 23, 1954, Elvis, Scotty and Bill were stopped for speeding on their way home from Shreveport. Elvis recalled in an interview: 'I thought: Here goes my Christmas money for a traffic ticket. But the officer let us go with a warning. After the officer left, the 3 of us got out of the car and counted our money by the car headlights. The money was mostly in dollar bills, Man, that was the most money I ever had in my pockets at one time! I blew the whole bundle the next day for Christmas presents'.
But Elvis had some fun too, in the 1970s, he was known to actually pull over speeding drivers and flash one of his various badges and lecture them. Then, give an autograph and speed away, leaving behind a stunned person with an awesome story. To achieve this Elvis actually had a flashing blue light that he would put on the roof when required. Elvis also obtained a police radio and a revolving blue light to put on top of his Lincoln Mark IV. He began to patrol the streets of Memphis. Sometimes, listening to the scanner, he would jump on his motorcycle and make it to an accident or the scene of a crime before the police did. He would help out or direct traffic until they arrived.
Above, an excerpt of speeding ticket Elvis received in 1955. Click to view full PDF.
As a teenager living at Lauderdale Courts in Memphis, he'd hang out at Fire Station #4, across the street from the Suzore Theater on Main Street. The firemen remember Elvis hanging around, often with his guitar. After he graduated from high school, Elvis saw a lot of his classmates become firefighters and officers, so their friendships carried over. He was fascinated with police work and respected the officers for their service.
'I don't care where he was, whenever he saw the police, Elvis always stopped and talked to them', said Memphis patrolman Jim Hammers. 'He would drive up beside them in the street and get them to pull over. He would spend hours at a time talking with them in different places'.
Elvis also often stopped by police stations late at night and on holidays to visit the officers who were serving the public instead of spending time with their families. One night, Elvis came up on a traffic accident and got out to help the cops direct traffic. It worked well for a while until fans started noticing it was the one and only Elvis Presley who was directing traffic. He made friends with officers wherever he traveled, and he loved collecting badges from across the country. He often donated to Police Associations and departments across the nation.
Elvis Presley with members of the Memphis Police Department.
Elvis had this picture taken for his Memphis Police badge in the TV Room at Graceland.
As a Memphis resident, he was especially close with Memphis Police and Shelby County Sheriff's departments.
Elvis purchased equipment and uniforms for the Memphis Police Department's softball team. At Christmas, he gave $100 to the Memphis patrolmen who were working in the Whitehaven neighborhood, where Graceland is located. He gave a Mercedes-Benz to then-Shelby County Sheriff Bill Morris, who was a close friend. Morris was the man who nominated Elvis as one of the Jaycees' Ten Outstanding Young Men awards, the only award Elvis ever personally accepted. Morris also deputized Elvis as a member of the Shelby County Sheriff's Department.
Elvis' Memphis police badge, using the photo taken in the TV Room.
Early in his career, Elvis became friends with Memphis police officer Fred Woodward. He started providing security for Elvis when he was in town, starting at the earliest of Elvis' career. Woodward died suddenly of a heart attack in 1960, and it broke Elvis' heart. He paid for Woodward's casket and funeral services.
In 1976, Elvis lost another friend when Officer Eugene Kennedy died. Kennedy was an officer for the Denver, Colorado Police Department and brother of Captain Jerry Kennedy. Elvis postponed a recording session to pay his respects. He attended his funeral in a specially tailored Denver police captain's uniform and arranged for J.D. Sumner and The Stamps Quartet to perform at the services.
Elvis hangs out with Nick Adams, left, and Captain Woodward.
As Elvis himself would say, 'thank you, thank you very much' to police officers who serve and protect.
Above, Elvis grabbed the cap off a policeman and had fun impersonating the officer who didn't mind a bit. When Elvis returned the cap to the officer's head, Elvis' polite 'thank you' was clearly audible. November 14, 1970, at the L.A. Forum. (From 'Elvis: Taking Care Of Business - In A Flash).
The Elvis Presley I Knew: Beyond The Headlines To The Heart Of The Superstar
Details from the book:
Elvis had a well-documented fascination with police badges and uniforms. He showed officers his gun collection, bought a Denver police uniform and was photographed in it by Cantwell. 'He always thought he would become a police officer, but these were his words, 'God blessed him with a voice', Cantwell says.
Elvis Presley gave away cars, including a Cadillac to Cantwell, who worried about the message it might send. Cantwell only accepted the car after Elvis became upset that he wanted to turn down the car and insisted Cantwell accept the gift as a token of true friendship.
Upon hearing that Denver police officer Merle Nading was killed on East Colfax Avenue in the line of duty on Oct. 3, 1971, Elvis Presley donated $5,000 to help complete a memorial gym for officers.
Cantwell said upon hearing of Elvis' death, he went to Graceland with his police partner. The two found themselves at the side of Elvis' casket and Cantwell touched Elvis' body. He foresaw that rumors would emerge about whether Elvis had really died. 'Somebody's going to say something and I'm going to say, 'Yeah, I touched him. I know. He was cold', Cantwell says.
Elvis Presley with retired Denver police Deputy Chief Robert Cantwell and Jody Cantwell. (Courtesy Robert Cantwell).
Elvis Presley proudly displaying a collection of guns for his friends in the Denver Police Department.
(Courtesy Robert Cantwell).
Elvis Presley, as an honorary captain in the Denver police force. (Courtesy of Robert C. Cantwell).
Elvis bought Denver Police Captain Jerry Kennedy a Lincoln Mark IV
Elvis Presley's generosity is almost as legendary as his sideburns and white jumpsuits. Case in point: Denver Police Captain Jerry Kennedy, who received a brand new Lincoln Mark IV courtesy of The King. Kennedy first met Elvis through the DPD, when the former was in charge of running the department's off-duty operations and The King needed security when he came to town. Elvis himself had wanted to be a policeman from the time he was a kid.
Elvis Presley, who recorded his first single ('That's Alright Mama') when he was nineteen, was clearly on a career path that would make it impossible to follow through with his law enforcement aspirations. More hit singles followed, and then the films, the groupies and everything else that made Elvis, well, Elvis. By the time the singer befriended Kennedy and other local officers in the early 1970s, he had vast reserves of money and an unquestionable flair for eccentricity. So what does a mega-pop star do once he's bought everything there is to buy? Elvis might answer: attempt to turn a childhood dream into reality.
That's why he liked to surround himself with officers -- Kennedy, Bob Pietrafeso and Bob Cantwell, chief among them. At one point, Elvis even had a double-breasted police coat made for himself by a tailor on 14th Street. He loved carrying a pistol and had cop-themed jewelry (including a gold police badge).
Above, Elvis with Police buddies Bob Cantwell and Chuck Wilson. From 'Elvis: Taking Care Of Business - In A Flash, a book that features plenty of stories and interviews about Elvis' twin fascinations of guns and police badges.
The Lincoln came about, in typical Elvis fashion, as the result of a series of spontaneous decisions. To hear Kennedy tell it, Elvis was sitting at home in Memphis one night, watching television with his road manager, Joe Esposito. He saw snow skiing on some channel and said he wanted to go to Aspen. And, just like that, Elvis was on a plane headed to Denver. Kennedy and other officers joined Elvis and Esposito for their winter vacation in the mountains, winding up in a posh rental house in Vail. Kennedy and his fellow officers wound up spending ten days with The King, and, by all indications, they had a blast. Near the end of Elvis' stay, he asked Kennedy what kind of car he drove. 'I said I got an Audi Fox', Kennedy recalls. He said, 'I wanna buy you a car like mine. I'll get you a Lincoln'.
Denver Police HQ with Jerry Kennedy ( in uniform ) and George L Seaton (seated).
It was that easy. Elvis asked Kennedy if he knew of any Lincoln dealerships in Denver, and he mentioned the Kumph Motor Car Company, formerly at 8th and Broadway. Kennedy called the dealership and asked if they had any brand new models in stock. They had a royal blue Mark IV that was part of the Bill Blass designer series. Kennedy said he'd take it. True to his word, Elvis wrote a personal check for the car, paying $13,386.69 for the new ride. 'He said his dad would shit his pants when he saw the canceled check for this', Kennedy recalls. (Elvis' father Vernon had been handling his son's finances by 1976.)
Elvis bought other cars for other friends and girlfriends, including a number of Cadillacs. Kennedy kept his for twenty years, selling it, finally, in 1996 to the Tupelo Automobile Museum. Kennedy sold it for the same price as what Elvis paid -- $13,300 -- and hasn't regretted it at all. 'It's in a better place now', he says.
Controversy for the Denver Police Department
His generosity was legendary and, after his death, controversial for the Denver Police Department. Besides at least two badges he wielded in Denver, he was an honorary chief deputy for the sheriff's department for Memphis and a 'federal agent at large' for Richard Nixon. In Denver, he showered gifts - Cadillacs, expensive jewelry, lavish ski vacations - on Denver police administrators and detectives, including narcotics investigators, a Denver Post investigation in 1982 found. In 1970, Elvis stroked a check for $5,500 to outfit a police officers gymnasium at East 35th Avenue and Colorado Boulevard. Police Chief George L. Seaton gave him a badge in front of a police photographer.
Art Dill, who succeeded Seaton in 1972, formed an even closer relationship with Elvis, later giving The King a badge and a captain's uniform. Dill refused a Cadillac - 'No way, I'm the chief of police', he reportedly told The King. He later accepted a World War I-vintage Colt .45 pistol.
In 1982, the state Senate Judiciary Committee called Dill to testify about the gifts. Dill told senators the gifts officers accepted were 'morally wrong', but not illegal. He said he paid for a badge and uniform he gave Elvis with his own money. Dill said he did not know why Elvis gave him the valuable pistol, or why the showman gave the gifts he gave to other officers. The next year, Dill retired. It was alleged but never proven that Elvis was allowed to go on a drug raid with Denver cops, and Elvis famously wore his Denver police uniform to go out in public incognito, even once attending a funeral in Colorado in DPD dress blues.
Elvis wearing his prized DEA badge.
Below are some of Elvis' police badges.
Reserve Captain's Badge for the city of Memphis.
Lieutenant Detective Badge for the City of Los Angeles.
Sheriff's Badge for Shelby County, Tennessee.
Deputy Sheriff's badge for Hinds County, Mississippi.
Deputy Sheriff's Badge for the city of Mobile, Alabama.
Police Badge for the City of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Constabulary Kent Badge for the City of Kent.
Deputy Sheriff's Badge for Cumberland County, North Carolina.
Elvis Presley's Badge and I.D. Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs
Elvis Presley on a plane to Denver to collect a police badge: November 1970
Elvis Presley with the daughters of the Denver Police Chief: November 25, 1970
Elvis Presley, Cadillacs and Don Kinney: Vail, Colorado 1976
View video of Elvis Aspen Colorado, January 24, 1976
Elvis Presley Vail, Colorado January 1976
Elvis on Holiday, Aspen Colorado
Elvis Presley 1975-1977
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