When it comes to blunders, you can’t get much worse than karate-chopping Elvis Presley. The reasons are two-fold; firstly, he was the undisputed King of Rock and Roll, a title that states in plain English that he’s somewhat popular; secondly, he was a studious black belt. Fortunately, Brian Wilson wasn’t malicious in his attempt to karate chop Elvis’ arm, but it didn’t exactly go to plan.
Elvis was first introduced to karate in 1958 while stationed in Germany following his military draft. He began a diligent training regimen and earned his first-degree black belt in 1960. When he returned from his term with the US Army, Elvis kept up the hobby through the 1960s and even opened the Tennessee Karate Institute, Memphis, in 1974.
The King’s hobby was well known among his fans, so when Wilson, frontman of The Beach Boys, realised he was going to meet one of his musical heroes, he had a playful icebreaker up his sleeve.
During the early 1970s, Wilson was recording at RCA Studios in Hollywood when he heard Elvis was in the building working on a record with guitarist James Burton. A giddy Wilson asked his acquaintance Burton if he would take him along to meet Elvis. “He said, ‘Oh! Please, please take me to meet Elvis,’” Burton once told the Express. “I took him in, and he walked up to Elvis and was just looking at him. And Elvis stuck his hand out to shake hands, and [Wilson] couldn’t move.”
Wilson was starstruck, and as he stood there, the very private Elvis didn’t recognise the Beach Boy and became a little angered that his security team had let a stranger wander in.
“Elvis was very upset with us thinking, ‘How did this guy get in here, and who is he?’” Elvis’ friend Jerry Schilling recalled of the occasion. “So Brian said, ‘I’m recording next door. Would you come over and listen?’ And Elvis looked at us; it’s almost in spite of us since this guy had gotten through. He said, ‘Yeah, I’ll go over.’”
As the pair set off next door, Wilson moved to playfully karate chop Elvis’ arm to break the ice. In a programmed reaction, Elvis immediately swiped Wilson’s arm away with no look of joviality on his face.
“I knew he knew karate, and he karate chopped my arm so hard. And he goes, ‘I’m leaving, I’m leaving,’ and he split,” Wilson said during his visit to Late Night With Jimmy Fallon in 2012. “And that was it.”
Watch one of Elvis Presley’s karate demonstrations from 1974 below.