Starting at the end of the 80’s a story came to be told of a Book of Mormon written in by Elvis Presley. Over the years people retold the tale, including in the pages of newspapers, inspirational speaking and the like. Even the Osmonds got into the tale, telling people of the King’s interest in the Church. The tale frequently grew in the telling. Elvis was investigating the Church during a period of unease in his life. His book was given by the Osmonds. He was taking the discussions. He investigated on an off for years.
The problem was, all these stories were wrong.
The truth was he was given a copy of the Book of Mormon — but only 14 days before his death. Kurt Manwaring interviewed Keith Erekson on the subject. He recently published a thorough article in BYU Studies investigating Elvis’ Book of Mormon finding it was a forgery. Keith serves as the director of the Church History Library and so knows his sources and artifacts. He was able to carefully examine the book itself and see that the markings weren’t by Elvis at all. Further, Elvis likely didn’t have time to even read the book between the time it was given to him before his death. “…being read and digested from first page to last—does not fit within the constraints of a period in which he hosted his daughter, prepared for a tour, and responded to an exposé about his prescription drug abuse and erratic behavior.”
As I mentioned, the Osmonds themselves are part of the story. They told of Elvis writing in the book numerous times.
“When I shared the findings of forgery with Alan Osmond, he was both surprised and saddened . . . . Though clearly a victim of the forger, Alan quickly recognized the strength of the evidence and said, “The Church is true, and it doesn’t need Elvis’s name. I am thankful that you have checked this out. We want to put closure on this.” To me, Alan provides an inspiring example that it is okay to change one’s view when new evidence is uncovered.”
Did Elvis ever read from the Book of Mormon? He probably did. He actually was interested in religion, just as many versions of the story go. Ed Parker, Elvis’ karate teacher was a member of the Church. He trained Elvis up to the black belt level. He also was Elvis’ body guard in his final years. “Both Ed Parker and the Osmonds gave copies of the Book of Mormon to Elvis and reported discussing the text with him. To date, every claim of an active full-time missionary teaching Elvis has turned out to be false—the missionary did not serve in the right mission, or served in the right mission at the wrong time, or the missionary name did not even exist.”
Ed Parker knew Elvis quite well and had warned people of reading too much into Elvis’ comments on the Church. “Elvis ‘often told people what he thought they wanted to hear; not in attempt to be dishonest, but simply in an attempt to be accommodating.’” While he did discussion the Church a bit with the Osmonds and Parker, that doesn’t mean he was necessarily that interested.
While Elvis was given Book of Mormons, we don’t really know what he thought of it. Further the oft told story is itself an urban legend. It tells more about members wanting it to be true than being true. We find lots of other urban legends like this such as the oft told story of Steve Martin being baptized at one time. There definitely are famous ex-Mormons who have been successful in Hollywood. A much smaller number have made careers in Hollywood yet remained faithful members. The desire to connect to the entertainment elites remains with us culturally though.