Editor's Note: This article originally ran on LDS Living in August 2018.
From presidents and popes to rappers and authors, the Book of Mormon has come into the hands of some incredible public figures.
Elvis didn't relish his title of King. As he said, “there is only one King, and that is Jesus Christ."
Deeply religious and a heavy reader of spiritual topics, Elvis often spoke with his close friend and bodyguard, Ed Parker, about spiritual topics. Parker, a Latter-day Saint, reportedly gave Elvis several books by Latter-day Saint authors. In addition, former missionary Bobby Kauo claims that he taught Elvis missionary discussions while the King was filming Paradise, Hawaiian Style at the Polynesian Cultural Center.
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Elvis received a copy of the Book of Mormon from Olive Osmond—who had several close ties to the rock icon.
While there is a Book of Mormon preserved in the historical collections of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that reportedly belonged to Elvis and has many hand-written notations, scholars have discovered the book is likely a forgery.
While Johnny Depp was at the town hall of Creede, Colorado, signing autographs after filming sections of The Lone Ranger, two missionaries walked in: Elder Trudo and Elder Wilde.
The two were attending the event with their branch mission leader, Lyle Tuoti, on June 22, 2012, when Johnny Depp asked the group of missionaries about their name tags.
"Elder Wilde asked Depp if he would accept a Book of Mormon. He said, 'Sure,' and then autographed another one they had as well," Tyanya Mortensen Smith says, who is a member of the Del Norte branch in Creede and who attended the event.
Depp was patient and friendly throughout the event, telling the missionaries, "Thanks for the book, man," according to Smith.
As far as historical records can tell, no one gave Abraham Lincoln a Book of Mormon; he sought it out himself. Early in 1862, Lincoln’s 11-year-old son lay dying even while the United States was fractured and on the verge of the darkest and bloodiest days of the Civil War. Prospects for the northern states were grim. Lincoln found himself in charge of an army that had yet to obtain a major victory, in continual clashes with the army’s head general, and at odds with much of his cabinet and White House staff.
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In the midst of these dark times, Lincoln had in his possession a copy of the Book of Mormon that he requested from the Library of Congress, which he kept for eight months. Though there is no irrefutable proof that Lincoln actually read the Book of Mormon, there is evidence to suggest that the president not only read the book but that he was influenced and maybe even comforted by its teachings.
Church member Bob Wilke was no doubt surprised when he ran into Muhammad Ali in a Dallas airport, but he didn’t let this boxing legend intimidate him. After a friendly discussion, Wilke handed Ali a personalized copy of the Book of Mormon. Ali returned the favor by giving Wilke an autographed “What is Islam” pamphlet, adding, “I’ll read your book if you’ll read mine” (Brother Paul’s Mormon Bathroom Reader, Paul B. Skousen, 2005).
After receiving backstage passes to a Kelly Clarkson concert in March 2006, All In podcast host Morgan Jones Pearson was ecstatic as she began brainstorming what she could give her music idol during their meet and greet.
“What do you give someone who could literally buy anything they wanted?” she wondered.
Pearson writes of her experience, "Then, I remembered an interview I had seen where Clarkson said that she really enjoyed reading books about different religions."
And that's when the perfect answer came to Pearson: a Book of Mormon. "While I didn’t understand everything in the book, I knew that it had helped me in my life and I remember thinking that if it had helped me, maybe it could help Kelly, too," Pearson says. "I felt like it was really the only thing I could offer her that she might not be able to get on her own. So I wrote my little teenage testimony on the inside cover and wrapped it in tissue paper."
After the concert, Pearson waited in anticipation to meet Clarkson face to face. "I will love Kelly Clarkson forever because she could’ve reacted in a million different ways to being given a Book of Mormon, and in truth, she probably thought my gift was incredibly weird. But she couldn’t have been nicer, and maybe that’s why I still love her to this day," Pearson remembers. "She immediately told me that one of her best friends growing up was a Latter-day Saint and then began to ask me questions about what I believed. She asked me about the book and about Latter-day Saint temples."
But one of the most touching parts of this exchange came after Pearson met with Clarkson. Another fan she had met in line came up to Pearson, tears streaming down her face. “I’m a Latter-day Saint,” she told Pearson. “I never would’ve thought to give her [a Book of Mormon], but thank you.”
"I know there is always a reason that we feel prompted to share the things we hold dear," Pearson writes. "Maybe it’s just for our own personal development, to help us feel in our hearts that we really do believe, or maybe it’s for the girl behind us in line."
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When Alex Boye received a copy of the Book of Mormon from his ward mission leader along with a challenge to give the book away during the week, he never imagined fulfilling this duty could create national headlines.
Later that week, Boye found himself in London performing for a charity that celebrates the accomplishments of inner-city kids called “The Prince’s Trust.” One day during the tour, Boye heard a frantic voice yelling from the hallway, “Quick, hurry! Prince Charles wants to meet everyone” ("Prince Charles and the Book of Mormon," Alex Boye, 2012). Boye thought it was little more than a joke until he saw a scarlet helicopter with the royal family’s crest landing on the lawn.
Scrambling to get dressed, Boye ran downstairs, anxious and flustered to meet the heir and possible next monarch of England. But, as Boye stood on ceremony with his band members, he felt a persistent urge to return to his room. Unable to shake the feeling, Boye asked his band to save his place as he sprinted upstairs.
Boye stared blankly at his room, confused by the prompting until his eye fell on the copy of the Book of Mormon his mission leader had given him. Boye tucked this inexpensive, mass-produced copy of scripture into his back pocket and headed back downstairs for his audience with Prince Charles.
As Prince Charles walked along the line of staff and celebrities, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries, Boye searched for something witty or unforgettable to say, but his mind went blank. The prince came and went, leaving Boye standing there with a navy blue book still sticking out of his back pocket.
As Prince Charles and his entourage prepared to board the helicopter, Boye knew he couldn’t let this moment pass. He began waving his hands in the air and screamed out for Prince Charles to stop.
Embarrassed, but gathering a small measure of confidence and composure, Boye reached for the book in his back pocket. At this motion, security guards started to descend, thinking Boye was reaching for something more lethal. But, Boye managed to pull his Book of Mormon free and offer it to Prince Charles, forgoing all rules of proper protocol.
Prince Charles accepted the book graciously, saying he thought it would prove some interesting reading. That next Sunday, when Boye stood to report on the challenge from his ward mission leader, very few members believed him. That is, until they saw footage of him handing Prince Charles a Book of Mormon on the news later that night.
To read Alex Boye’s personal account of his encounter with Prince Charles, check out this article from the Deseret News.
Photo from Twitter
Shortly after Justin Bieber released his first full-length album, which featured "Baby" and took the world by storm—debuting at or near number one in several countries—Bieber received an unexpected gift: a Book of Mormon with two testimonies written inside.
When Latter-day Saint Ashley Raymond won tickets to a meet and greet with Justin Bieber on July 10, 2010, she invited her friend Sammie Parkinson to come as her plus one. "We were obsessed with Justin at that age," Parkinson says with a laugh.
Before the meet and greet, Raymond and Parkinson learned that people often gave Justin Bieber a gift at these meet and greets, and they began brainstorming together, wondering what they could give Justin Bieber that he didn't already have.
"[Ashley and I] have always been strong in the Church," Parkinson says. "We love this gospel. I was blessed to grow up in a family who were always striving to be missionaries even out of the 'mission field.' So having that example in both of our lives, we thought it would be cool to give him something that played such a big part in our lives." That's why Raymond and Parkinson decided to give Justin Bieber a Book of Mormon, their testimonies carefully inscribed inside the front cover.
"I don’t remember all the details of what we wrote, but we basically said this book would bring true happiness and would give his life more meaning," Parkinson says. "We thought it would be cool if he read it and was able to spread the gospel further."
At the meet and greet, Raymond and Parkinson were only able to speak with Bieber for a minute, but they handed their gift to his bodyguard, who promised he would give the book to the pop icon.
"8 years ago today me and @AshBashRay met @justinbieber and gave him a book of Mormon hahahaha THANK YOU FOR STEALING THE LOML FRICKIN HAILEY BALDWIN." — Sammie Parkinson (@SammieParky) posted on Twitter July 11, 2018
"[Justin Bieber] came out with the song 'Pray' a few months later," Parkinson says. "We love to joke and say it was because he read the Book of Mormon."
Rainn Wilson, best known for his role as Dwight K. Schrute from The Office, posted a picture of sister missionaries on his Instagram in 2017, saying, "I was visited by some very nice Latter-day Saint missionary Sisters this morning."
While tracting near Church members' houses, Sister McGuire and Sister Riggs knew that Rainn Wilson lived in the area, but they had no intentions of meeting with the TV star. "We just started walking down the street and I heard a voice from by his house, and I stopped and waited," Sister Riggs explained. Wilson was in his yard and came over to the fence, wanting to talk with the two sisters.
"It was a huge surprise," Sister McGuire says, with Sister Riggs adding, "He talked to us right away and told us about how much respect he has for missionaries and everything we do! We did not think we would meet him so it was an incredible surprise and made us so happy!"
Despite their excitement, the sisters played it cool. "We actually pretended we didn't know who he was at first because we didn't want him to feel bombarded or like that is all we do (because it is for sure not!)" Sister Riggs shares.
But it turns out, Wilson already knew a little about the sacrifices missionaries make and the beliefs they teach. In fact, he already had a copy of the Book of Mormon and had read part of it.
"He was so down to earth and nice! He talked to us about his beliefs and we talked a little about ours. He loves what we do as missionaries! We talked a little about the show, The Office, … and he loves the cast and only had good things to say about everything we talked about," Sister McGuire says.
Sister Riggs adds, "It was an incredible experience to learn his take on religion and what religion he considers himself. He was very open and willing to talk with us. He has read some of The Book of Mormon and said he has one! He was super open to what we had to say and had very positive things to say about the Latter-day Saint religion."
When Wilson asked if he could take Sister McGuire and Sister Riggs' picture to share on Instagram, the two missionaries saw this as another avenue to share the gospel.
After an April fools hoax claimed Snoop Dogg was converting to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2008, a staged picture of the rapper with a Book of Mormon popped up all over the web.
But now, six years later, a new photo has emerged on social media that put Latter-day Saints and Snoop Dogg back in the limelight.
After receiving permission from her mission president to watch her brother play in a high school football game, Sister ‘Otukolo and her companion, Sister Andelin, learned that Snoop Dogg’s son also played on the team. So, at the game, these two ambitious missionaries went on the lookout for Snoop Dog and managed to snatch a candid photo of the rapper with the Book of Mormon that they posted to the Latter-day Saint Missionaries Facebook page.
As a comment on this post so aptly observed, “bow wow wow yippi yo yippi yay, The Book of Mormon will go forth in the latter-day!!”
Nikita Khrushchev’s family
During the Cold War, Ezra Taft Benson—then U.S. Agriculture Secretary—hosted Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and his family during their visit to Washington D.C. in 1959. While driving to some of the Capitol’s most cherished sights, a conversation about the Tabernacle Choir came up. President Benson’s son, Reed—not allowing himself to be intimidated by the rocky Cold War politics—took advantage of the opportunity and began what turned into a 40-minute discussion about the Church and Latter-day Saint beliefs. Later, Khrushchev’s son-in-law invited Reed to “Come to Russia and do some missionary work for your Church” (Brother Paul’s Mormon Bathroom Reader, Paul B. Skousen, 2005). Reed later took advantage of this call to missionary work to send Nikita Khrushchev and his family six copies of the Book of Mormon.
President Ronald Reagan is, to date, the U.S. president who has developed the best relationship with the Church. While serving his first term as Governor of California in 1967, Church members in the California Legislature teamed up with the missionaries to present Reagan his first copy of the Book of Mormon.
He received several other copies of this sacred record throughout the years, including a copy given to him by President Hinckley during a tour of the Church’s welfare services in 1982.
Said Ronald Reagan, “I have always admired the tremendous personal integrity and self-initiative of the Latter-day Saint people, and on a number of occasions I refer to programs of your Church as outstanding examples of what I feel to be the true American way” (Brother Paul’s Mormon Bathroom Reader, Paul B. Skousen, 2005).
To learn more about Ronald Reagan’s and other presidents’ relationship with the Church, check out Presidents and Prophets.
John F. Kennedy
When Jackie Kennedy announced plans to begin building a library of first editions for the White House, Congressman Ralph R. Harding knew he had a book to contribute that had value beyond measure. In the summer of 1962, Harding met with President Kennedy amidst the vivid flowers of the Rose Garden to present him with a first-edition 1830 Book of Mormon. Along with this priceless gift, Harding gave President Kennedy a brief history of the Church.
In his travels through the Wild West, Mark Twain explored much of Utah’s vibrant landscape and history. He even met President Brigham Young. When Twain left Salt Lake City, he not only came away with a copy of the Book of Mormon, he read it so thoroughly as to write an almost 3,500-word review of the book. This essay, saturated with Twain’s usual satirical and caustic humor, didn’t give the most glowing review of either the prophet or the book.
Pope Pius XII
Driving around in a jeep painted with a beehive and the word “Deseret,” there’s no doubt Latter-day Saint chaplain Eldin Ricks stood out from other chaplains serving in WWII. While touring Italy following the war, Ricks met an old friend from BYU, Beth Davis, who was then working at the Vatican with the U.S. Mission to the Holy See. In a casual conversation, Ricks joked that he and his friend were going to meet with the Pope, having already planned to attend a public audience held by Pope Pius XII that day.
“Oh, would you like to see the Pope?” Davis asked (From the Battlefield to the Vatican to the Classroom: The Story of Eldin Ricks, Richard O Cowan). With those words, Ricks discovered that Davis and her supervisor could make such a meeting a reality.
The next afternoon, Chaplain Ricks and other Latter-day Saints sat in a private audience with Pope Pius XII. After receiving crucifixes and other mementos of their visit from the Pope, Ricks offered his own gift. All Ricks had at the time was a cheap GI version of the Book of Mormon, but he presented it to the Pope proudly, saying, “We too would like to leave a souvenir of our visit with you. We have visited St. Peter’s Cathedral, and there we see the treasures brought by the rulers and representatives of many nations. Our gift, by comparison, is of very little value in dollars and cents, but the message it contains is of infinite value” (From the Battlefield to the Vatican to the Classroom: The Story of Eldin Ricks, Richard O Cowan).
When Boston Mission President Frank Manson asked whether Senator Hatch would recruit Ted Kennedy to give a joint fireside to the missionaries, Senator Hatch decided he’d give it a try. Senator Hatch chose his moment with diplomatic wisdom, approaching Senator Kennedy late one night when he was in a good humor and a little tipsy (“Remembering Ted Kennedy,” Mark Bohn). When asked if he would be willing to speak to over 200 missionaries, Senator Kennedy said done.
After receiving a letter about the fireside the next day, Senator Kennedy had to have a little chat with Senator Hatch, just to see if there was anything else he had agreed to the night before. The answer was yes. Senator Kennedy had promised not only to speak at the fireside, but he had promised to secure Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall as the location.
Senator Kennedy delivered on both his promises, giving a stirring speech at the beautiful assembly hall. When asked if he had ever received a copy of the Book of Mormon, Senator Kennedy replied, “No, but I bet there’s a copy on my desk Monday morning” (Brother Paul’s Mormon Bathroom Reader, Paul B. Skousen, 2005).
Later, when Senator Kennedy was asked to help with the debate surrounding placing an angel atop the Boston temple, he promised, “All of western Massachusetts will see the Angel Gabriel on the top of the Mormon temple” (“Remembering Ted Kennedy,” Mark Bohn). When told it was actually the angel Moroni, Senetar Kennedy replied, “Does this mean I’m going to get another Book of Mormon for Christmas?” (“Remembering Ted Kennedy,” Mark Bohn).
Hawaiian royals not only received a Book of Mormon, they also played a central role in the translation of this book into their native language, thus expanding the reach and accessibility of the gospel throughout all of Hawaii.
Since the first missionary, George Q. Cannon, arrived on the Hawaiian islands in 1849, the Church saw enormous growth and success—especially among notable native political figures. One of the first Hawaiian’s to accept the restored gospel was Jonathon Napela, a descendant of chiefly lineage and a magistrate at Wailuku. Later, he served as Cannon’s mission companion and together the two translated the Book of Mormon into Hawaiian, making Hawaiian the sixth language the Book of Mormon has been translated into since Joseph Smith first translated it into English.
This record played a crucial role in expanding the membership in Hawaii. One of the most notable converts in the Hawaiian royal family was the last reigning monarch, Queen Liluokalani, who was baptized in 1906.
When Arizona Governor and Latter-day Saint Evan Mecham met with Reverend Jesse Jackson in 1987 to discuss keeping Martin Luther King Day as a holiday, Mecham not only gave Jackson a copy of the Book of Mormon, he committed him to reading it.
Just four years after the first Latter-day Saint missionaries reached England, a Book of Mormon was placed in the hands of its longest reigning monarch, Queen Victoria. In 1841, then Elder Lorenzo Snow received an audience with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert where he presented a richly-bound Book of Mormon. Queen Victoria, in turn, autographed one of Elder Snow's own books.
In commemoration of this event, President Snow’s sister and notable song-writer, Eliza Snow, wrote the following poem:
"O would she now her influence bend, The influence of royalty; Messiah's Kingdom to extend, And Zion's nursing mother be. Though over millions called to reign, Herself a powerful nation's boast; 'Twould be her everlasting gain, To serve the King, the Lord of Hosts. The time, the time is near at hand, To give a glorious period birth: the Son of God will take command, And rule the nations of the Earth." ("On the Presentation of the Book of Mormon to Queen Victoria, BYU Studies.")
Pope John Paul II
After a concert in 1981, famous Latter-day Saint Polish pianist Vladimir Jan Kochanski met the Pope and handed him a Book of Mormon. In response, the Pope said, “This is a Mormon publication . . . Ah, yes. Beautiful young prophet” (Brother Paul’s Mormon Bathroom Reader, Paul B. Skousen, 2005).
Daughter of President Brigham Young, Susan Young Gates—who was lauded by R. Paul Cracroft as "the most versatile and prolific Latter-day Saint writer ever to take up the pen in defense of her religion"—struck up a correspondence with famous Russian writer, Count Leo Tolstoy, after sending him a Book of Mormon (“Negating the Myths of the Book of Mormon”). Having never met the count, Gates sent him a copy of these sacred records after reading a comment Tolstoy made about the Church in an American Magazine.
In her letter, she writes:
“I should like if I were only able, to give you a "Mormon's" view of the Mormon question. But naturally, I shrink from intruding that upon you which might be entirely unwelcome. You have doubtless heard "our story" all from the one side. Would you care for the "other side" to speak also? It would please me to forward to your address a copy of that Book, so much maligned and abused, but withal so simple and sweet, called by our enemies "The Golden Bible" by ourselves "The Book of Mormon." I would wish for one like yourself, standing on a far eminence, above men's passions and men's ambitions, to read this record of a people who once nourished and prospered in the new yet ancient land of America.” (“Tolstoy and Mormonism,” Leland A Fetzer)
Sir Winston Churchill
When Elders G. Edwards Baddley and Rodney H. Brady escorted a visiting dignitary to Winston Churchill’s 400-year-old estate, they brought with them something no missionary should be without. The elders presented Sir Churchill with a leather-bound triple combination of Latter-day Saint scriptures that Churchill accepted graciously, giving a toast to the missionaries’ good health.