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.
As the world’s most recognizable celebrity, Elvis needed security almost all the time, so he spent plenty of time, and became friends with, the officers who ensured his safety. In honor of Peace Officer Memorial Day (May 15, 2015) and Police Week, we’re looking at Elvis’ fascination with police work and his friendships with officers.
Elvis always had a deep respect for law enforcement. 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.
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.
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 also purchased a beautiful blue Lincoln Mark IV for Captain Kennedy.
As Elvis himself would say, “thank you, thank you very much” to police officers who serve and protect.
Many pieces of Elvis’ police collection, including badges, lights and more, are on display here at Elvis Presley’s Graceland.