The Secret Elvis Presley FBI Files: Memos Detail Threats, Blackmail, Kidnapping Plots & More

Declassified documents detail the singer’s life behind the scenes.

A 1960 photo of American rock 'n' roll legend Elvis Presley.

Declassified FBI documents detail Elvis Presley's life behind the scenes, including threats, blackmail, and kidnapping plots.

Photo by: Bettmann via Getty Images

Bettmann via Getty Images

By: Aaron Rasmussen

The FBI, starting under the direction of John Edgar Hoover, kept files related to public figures, including Elvis Presley. The now declassified documents related to the singer and actor, which were gathered between 1956 and 1980, give a glimpse into his life of stardom — and some of the drama he endured behind the scenes.

Elvis appeared to be a big fan of the FBI.

Unlike other stars, Elvis was never the subject of an official FBI investigation. In fact, the agency appeared to largely support him and vice versa. One document from 1971 shows Elvis held Hoover in high esteem and considered him the “greatest living American.” Elvis even requested to tour FBI headquarters while in Washington D.C. for a meeting with then-President Richard Nixon on Dec. 31, 1971. After the trip was complete, Hoover wrote Elvis to express regret he had missed meeting him. Following Elvis’ death, one released FBI memo claims he was open to becoming an informant for the agency. “Despite his rather bizarre personal appearance, Presley seemed a sincere, serious-minded individual who expressed concern over some of the problems confronting our country, particularly those involving young people,” M. A. Jones, chief of research in the FBI's crime records division, wrote in the memo.

Elvis had his own ideas about who the FBI should investigate.

According to a memo, although Elvis scandalized many Americans as he rose to fame — one concerned mother of five daughters wrote Hoover to tell him she believed “he has done more harm in his style of dancing, to our young people than any one element in our society.” The files, however, show the “King of Rock and Roll” was concerned about the influence of some other major celebrities. The singer told agents, a memo alleged, that he believed the Beatles “filthy unkempt appearances and suggestive music” were the problem, not him. He also allegedly took issue with the Smothers brothers, Jane Fonda, and other entertainers “of their ilk” who “have a lot to answer for in the hereafter for the way they have poisoned young minds by disparaging the United States in public statements and unsavory activities,” the memo states.

The FBI detailed death threats made against Elvis throughout his career.

As a controversial public figure, Elvis weathered more than just criticism. In 1956, one memo shows, he received a postcard that read: “IF YOU DON'T STOP THIS S*** NOW WE'RE GOING TO KILL YOU.” Other FBI documents detail an unrealized kidnapping plot as well as a disturbing incident: “At 6:15 A.M., 8/28/70 wife of a confidante of [Elvis] who is with him in Las Vegas, received anonymous call attempting to contact her husband and stated Elvis was going to get it tomorrow night; 45 minutes later same caller again called and stated a killer, who is a madman, was going to shoot Elvis, that he had a gun with a silencer.”

Elvis was the victim of extortion while performing overseas.

At the end of 1959, Elvis was entertaining troops stationed in West Germany when Laurens Johannes Griessel-Landau, of Johannesburg, South Africa, falsely claimed to be a doctor specializing in dermatology and treated the singer. According to a memo, Elvis confronted Griessel-Landau after learning the phony doctor made passes at those around Elvis. Griessel-Landau responded by claiming he had compromising photos and recordings of the celebrity and threatened to expose him as a homosexual, the files state. Elvis denied the claim, but the memo notes he paid Griessel-Landau hundreds of dollars for the treatments and a plane ticket for the blackmailer to fly from West Germany to England. Elvis had no further issues with Griessel-Landau, the documents show.

The FBI files contain numerous memos on a private jet Elvis owned.

In 1976, one year before his death, Elvis bought a 1962 Lockheed Jetstar L-1329, and many of the FBI files detail how the plane may have been stolen after he passed away. The aircraft was eventually located in Roswell, New Mexico, and recently sold at auction for $430,000.

For more on the life of the rock ’n’ roll legend, go see the Elvis movie, premiering in theaters June 24, 2022.

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