A retired Memphis police captain, who became well acquainted with Elvis Presley, went on the record to reveal how the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” really felt about police officers.
Many would be surprised to learn that Elvis Presley’s dream as a young man was to become a police officer. In fact, Denver’s retired Deputy Chief Robert Cantwell was assigned to guard Presley many times while in concert, and that’s when he learned of his lifelong ambition.
“He always thought he would become a police officer, but these were his words, ‘God blessed him with a voice,'” Cantwell said. That love of law enforcement stayed with the legendary entertainer all of his life. According to Graceland.com, “If Elvis had not grown up to be the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, there’s a chance he would have been a police officer. After he graduated from high school, Elvis saw a lot of his classmates become firefighters and officers, so their friendships carried over.”
“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.” Retired Memphis Police Department Captain Robert Ferguson was asked after Elvis Presley’s death to finally reveal how the iconic singer was a true American patriot who revered the “rank-and-file officers.”
“Elvis didn’t want to be a chief or a sheriff,” said Ferguson. “He wanted to be a policeman, and this identified himself with the patrolmen on the force.” According to reports, Elvis 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.
“Elvis was a down-to-earth person in our presence — a man who just happened to be famous,” said Ferguson. “He actually appeared to be in awe of us, rather than the other way around. It was a special time that none of us will ever forget, and I’d like to share it with you.” Of course, most have heard of Elvis Presley giving away Cadillacs to his good friends, but what most don’t know about is his love of his country and the police officers that protect it.
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. When Woodward died suddenly of a heart attack in 1960, it broke Elvis’ heart, and he paid for Woodward’s casket and funeral services. Elvis’s heart broke again when he learned another police officer had been killed in the line of duty. Denver patrolmen Merle Nading was shot and killed by a gunman in 1971.
Officer Nading had been working on building a gym for his police department. That’s when the King stepped in and cut a check to complete the gym construction and name it in Nading’s honor. In another example of Elvis’s respect for “beat cops,” he routinely gave out $100 dollar bills to the Memphis patrolmen who were working around Graceland. One hundred dollars from 1960 is equivalent to about $1000 dollars today.
“If Elvis were alive, he would support the police,” said retired police officer Jimmy Meeks. “Elvis would stand up for the police.” That type of sentiment is backed up by Elvis’s own military service. When drafted in 1958, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll was at height of his fame. There is no doubt he could have arranged an exemption. Instead, Elvis chose to serve as a regular soldier and was honorably discharged at the rank of sergeant.
“People were expecting me to mess up, to goof up in one way or another,” Elvis said of his decision to serve. “They thought I couldn’t take it and so forth, and I was determined to go to any limits to prove otherwise. Not only to the people who were wondering but to myself.”
Elvis Presley was an American patriot, and few people better represent what it is to be an American than Elvis. He performed and recorded numerous songs related to his love for his country, including “America the Beautiful” and “An American Trilogy.” He is missed by many, but his legacy lives on.