It happened today - December 20, 2015
On Dec. 20, 1957 Elvis Presley was drafted. It’s the sort of thing it is hard to see ending well. Surely someone could have taken the U.S. Army aside and said listen, everyone is expected to sacrifice for their nation, but a rock and roll star nicknamed “Elvis the Pelvis” cannot be soldier material.
Actually a lot of fans did write to the army saying precisely that. But Elvis, a fine if usually somewhat bewildered man, wouldn’t hear of it. He got a deferment to finish a film, a rare excuse but a solid one, and then showed up in Memphis to be inducted as a private, turning down army offers to be a Special Services entertainer.
It didn’t end well. Unlike Jimi Hendrix, who was given a choice of jail for car theft or enlistment in 1961 and successfully trained as a paratrooper but was honourably discharged on the manifestly justified grounds of “unsuitability” a year later, Elvis served out his time reasonably well, even reaching the rank of sergeant. Incidentally www.history.com reports that “After he got his polio shot from an army doctor on national TV, vaccine rates among the American population shot from 2 percent to 85 percent by the time of his discharge on March 2, 1960.” He really was such a nice boy.
When he left the army he was asked about his decision not to take the easy entertainer route and replied, “Actually, that's the only way it could be. People were expecting me to mess up, to goof up in one way or another. They thought I couldn't take it and so forth, and I was determined to go to any limits to prove otherwise, not only to the people who were wondering, but to myself”.
Unfortunately while he was in the army somebody introduced him to amphetamines to stay alert on maneuvers. And barbiturates. And karate. The karate was OK. But the other two began a long history of drug problems that, indeed, did not end well, contributing to his death at age 42.
I do not say he would have avoided these problems if he hadn’t been drafted. Indeed, his military career turned out a lot better for the army than you might have expected watching him perform, say, Jailhouse Rock in 1957. But it didn’t end well and honestly, there’s just no way you can say “Let’s draft Elvis” and expect anything else.