Though Elvis Presley’s name may be well known to Mormons, his personal connections to Mormonism are less familiar.
One such connection is a copy of the Book of Mormon, believed to be given to Presley by a fan named Cricket Butler, was donated to the Church some time ago by a member of the Osmond family, who also knew the famous singer.
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Presley’s LDS bodyguard, Ed Parker, also gave Presley a Book of Mormon, and perhaps several other LDS books. He even took the famous musician to visit Parker’s daughters’ early morning seminary class.
But perhaps “The King's” most well-documented connection with the Latter-day Saints was his visits to the Polynesian Cultural Center. The center, owned and dedicated by the Church, is an important site that blends and preserves cultures from the Pacific Islands. The center is closely tied to the Church still today and is largely staffed by students at nearby BYU-Hawaii.
Presley loved Hawaii and filmed three movies there. A few scenes from Blue Hawaii were filmed on Oahu at the Polynesian Cultural Center, and in 1966, he spent a week at the Center filming Paradise, Hawaiian Style. As part of that production, Presley transposed the Polynesian Cultural Center’s signature song, “Bula Laie,” into one of the featured songs of the movie, “Drums of the Islands.” Marie Nin Paongo was one of the lucky movie extras working at the center at the time of Presley’s Paradise, Hawaiian Style visit. "In between dancing we were able to rub shoulders with him, talk story, and get acquainted with him," she recalls.
Bobby Kauo, an LDS missionary in Hawaii during the filming of Paradise, Hawaiian Style, says he also got to interact with the “King of Rock n’ Roll” by teaching him the missionary discussions. Kauo later confirmed this story while serving as a high councilor for the BYU 9th Stake. It’s unknown if another copy of the Book of Mormon was given to Presley by Kauo.
Before Presley left the Center at the end of the shoot, a party was given in honor of the film.
But that wasn’t Presley's last visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center. Presley continued to visit the center on different occasions. It is said that he especially loved the dance performances at the Polynesian Cultural Center—usually performed by BYU-Hawaii students. According to several sources, he even visited the center as a tourist during his last trip to Hawaii in March 1977, just months before his death. In a book about his friendship with Presley, Ed Parker remembers helping arrange the visit in the evening, after dark, to avoid Presley being recognized.
And while the rumor that Presley had plans to be baptized before he died is probably nothing more than an LDS urban legend, his devotion to religion and his love of Hawaii and the Polynesian Cultural Center was clear:
“He just loved the students at the Polynesian Cultural Center,” Paongo shares. "To me, Elvis Presley was a very warm, charming individual, and I know he was deeply religious."