When you think of Elvis, you think Sun Records to Graceland in Memphis, the Tupelo hill country of his boyhood, the neon lights of the Vegas Strip. But the snowy slopes of Colorado? Think again. In the 1970s, John Denver might have had Colorado Rocky Mountain high, but the King of Rock ‘n Roll held court over Denver’s law enforcement community. He did pretty well as he pleased from the mountains to the city streets.
His generosity was legendary and, after his drug-related death, controversial for the Denver Police Department. Elvis was a fan of law enforcement. 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.
Elvis handed out gold necklaces as freely as if they were Mardi Gras throws. “Everyone was wearing them there for a time,” an unnamed police source told Denver Post reporter Jack Taylor 30 years ago. All the necklaces included a lightning bolt and the letters TCB, or Takin’ Care of Business, fat Elvis’ motto and the name of his band. The friendships took off after Denver cops provided security for show in 1970, according to accounts.
The necklaces alone — hardly the extent of The King’s gifts — were estimated to be worth $700 to $800 each in 1976, back when the average monthly rent was $220 and a home cost less than $13,000. He was also rumored to have taken officers on “blank check” shopping sprees.
In 1970, Presley 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 Presley, 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 a World War I-vintage Colt .45 pistol.
In 1982, the state Senate Judiciary Committee called Dill to testify about the gifts. Dill had made a name for himself in the department in 1961, leading an internal affairs investigation into a cop-run burglary ring. He brought 50 officers to justice.
Dill told senators the gifts officers accepted were “morally wrong,” but not illegal. He said he paid for a badge and uniform he gave Presley with his own money. Dill said he did not know why Presley 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 Presley 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.
At other times, Presley kept an even lower Colorado profile. Sources told the Post 30 years ago that he woe a ski mask on the slopes at Vail. Stories abound about rowdy nights on borrowed ski mobiles. He was allegedly once reported by Susan Ford, President Ford’s 18-year-old daughter.
In his 1991 book, “The Life and Cuisine of Elvis Presley,” author David Adler tells of Elvis making up his mind in the Jungle Room at Graceland, while entertaining two Denver cops, to take an immediate flight back to Denver to have the best sandwich he’d ever enjoyed, the Fool’s Gold Loaf at the Colorado Mine Company restaurant in Glendale.
“Before the lawmen knew what was happening they were seated inside Elvis’ stretch Mercedes along with another couple of Elvis’ buddies, and whisked to the Memphis airport,” Adler writes.”Elvis’ personal jet, the Lisa Marie, was waiting for them on the tarmac. As the four jet engines roared for takeoff, the excitement inside the plane revved even higher as Elvis and his guests were about to be flown the two hours to Denver for Elvis’ favorite sandwich, the most mouthwatering sandwich known to the King.”
He concluded the tale, “Elvis’ plane touched down at 1:40 a.m. at Stapleton Airport and taxied to a private hangar. The owner of the restaurant personally brought Elvis and his party the order on silver trays. For two hours in the Denver night, the feasting went on. It was typical of Elvis’ generosity that he insisted that the plane’s pilots, Milo High and Elwood Davis, join the fun.”