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Pat Boone Talks Friendships with Elvis, Reagan: 'God Gave Me a Platform'

Michael Foust | Crosswalk Headlines Contributor | Updated: Apr 12, 2024
Pat Boone Talks Friendships with Elvis, Reagan: 'God Gave Me a Platform'

Pat Boone Talks Friendships with Elvis, Reagan: 'God Gave Me a Platform'

A discussion with 89-year-old Pat Boone isn’t merely a trip down memory lane. 

The energetic singer and actor -- who is celebrating 70 years in entertainment -- is still busy. He has a new album, Country Jubilee, with 25 songs, including the whimsical tune Grits. He has a new faith-centric book, If, that urges readers to consider their eternal destiny. 

He plays Thomas Jefferson in an upcoming film, An American Miracle: Divine Providence in the Rise of the Republic. And Boone’s character is portrayed in the new movie Reagan, which stars Dennis Quad as the former president and is scheduled for an August release.

Even so, Boone has plenty of stories if you want to take a trip down memory lane.

For example, he once headlined a concert where a young singer named Elvis Presley opened for him. They became friends.

“We were two Tennessee boys. I was from Nashville, and he was from Memphis,” Boone told CrosswalkHeadlines.

Years later, Boone befriended a rising California politician named Ronald Reagan. Their children went to the same school. On Election Night 1980, when Reagan won the presidency in a landslide, Boone phoned Reagan. The Gipper answered.

“I said, ‘May I be the first to refer to you as Mr. President?’”

During Reagan’s presidency, Boone visited the White House.

Boone led Bible studies for Hollywood stars at his home during the height of the Jesus Movement of the 70s.

“More than one ended in baptisms in our pool,” he said. (Boone’s wife, Shirley, told him more than 300 were baptized, he said.)

Boone has sold more than 45 million records and was a so-called teen idol of the 1950s and 1960s, and during a multi-year stretch ranked second only to Elvis in album sales. Boone even had his own ABC TV show: The Pat Boone Chevy Showroom.

But while other music stars were falling into temptation -- if not dying in drug overdoses -- Boone stayed true to his Christian faith. Raised in the church, Boone had a wife and children as he was rising to stardom. His public image became one of a church-going rock star.

“I was so blessed. …This platform was given to me miraculously -- and for a reason,” Boone told Christian Headlines. “I sensed it. I knew that God gave me a platform from which I could express my own faith and my own life, my lifestyle, without having to make any explanations.”

He recorded an album of hymns, Hymns We Love, in the late 1950s. It sold more than 1 million copies.

“I knew the kids would buy anything I or Elvis recorded,” he said. “...I knew I was having an influence on millions of kids to make sure that that influence -- as best I could manage with God's help -- was a good one,” he said.

Elvis opened for Boone at a Cleveland show in 1955.

“He was not known across the country yet. I had heard of him only on a jukebox in Dallas,” Boone said.

Boone introduced himself to Presley before that Cleveland concert, but Presley had little to say, Boone remembers.

“I asked him about that later, when we were sharing homes in Bel Air and making movies at 20th Century Fox,” Boone said. “I said, ‘You know that first night we met in Cleveland, Elvis, you seemed so shy [and] nervous.’ He said, ‘Well, I didn't know how to talk to you.’ ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘You were a star.’”

Throughout his public life, Presley was “starving spiritually,” Boone said, and missed the church experience he enjoyed as a child.

“After one of his shows, he said, ‘I wish I could go to church like you do.’ And he meant it. And I said, ‘Well you can -- why not?’ [Elvis replied,] ‘Oh no -- if I go to church, the kids are going to scream for autographs and they're going to distract from the sermon and the preacher.’”

Nevertheless, Boone encouraged Presley to attend church. Once, Presley expressed an interest in meeting Oral Roberts, the evangelist. Boone helped arrange it.

“He wanted a wife and kids and family and church. His record -- his whole career -- made him a prisoner from some of the things that he most wanted,” Boone said.

Boone believes Elvis died with a faith in Christ. After Presley died, Boone said he found a copy of his album, Pat Boone Reads From The Holy Bible, in a stack of what was supposedly Presley’s favorite records at Graceland.

“In the latter part of his career,” Boone said, “he was singing How Great Thou Art, and he sang it in a way that we didn't know he could sing.”

Boone turns 90 June 1. He’s already planning a celebration that will include his four daughters, 16 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.

“I’m blessed,” he said.


Image credit: Grits music video PR pic

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

Pat Boone Talks Friendships with Elvis, Reagan: 'God Gave Me a Platform'