By mid-1968, Presley's recording career was floundering; he had become deeply unhappy with his career. In the summer, he made a Christmas telecast on NBC. Later dubbed the '68 Comeback Special, and airing on December 3, 1968, the show featured lavishly staged productions, but also saw Elvis clad in black leather, performing live in an uninhibited style reminiscent of his rock and roll days. Rolling Stone called it "a performance of emotional grandeur and historical resonance." Its success was helped by director and co-producer, Steve Binder, who worked hard to reassure the nervous singer and to produce a show that was not just an hour of Christmas songs, as Col. Parker had originally planned.
Buoyed by the experience, Presley engaged in the prolific series of recording sessions at American Studios, which lead to the acclaimed From Elvis in Memphis (Chips Moman was its uncredited producer). It was followed by From Memphis To Vegas/From Vegas To Memphis, a double-album.
The same sessions lead to the hit singles "In the Ghetto", "Suspicious Minds", "Kentucky Rain" and "Don't Cry Daddy".
In 1969, Presley made record-breaking appearances in Las Vegas. He then toured across the U.S. up to his death, with many of the 1,145 concerts setting venue attendance records. He also had hit singles in many countries. Presley's song repertoire was criticized, indicating he was still distant from trends within contemporary music.
On December 21, 1970, Presley met with President Richard Nixon at the White House (Presley arrived with a gift—a handgun. It was accepted but not presented for security reasons). Presley was somewhat bizarrely wanting to express his patriotism, his contempt for the hippie drug culture and his wish to be appointed a "Federal Agent at Large". He also wished to obtain a Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs badge to add to similar items he had begun collecting. He offered to "infiltrate hippie groups" and claimed that The Beatles had "made their money, then gone back to England where they fomented anti-American feeling." Nixon was uncertain and bemused by their encounter, and twice expressed concern that Presley needed to "retain his credibility".
MGM filmed him in Las Vegas for a 1970 documentary: Elvis: That’s The Way It Is. As he toured, more gold record awards followed. MGM filmed other shows for Elvis On Tour, which won a Golden Globe for Best Documentary, 1972. A fourteen-date tour started with an unprecedented four consecutive sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden, New York. After the tour, Presley released the 1972 single "Burning Love"—his last top ten hit in the U.S. charts.
In 1973, Presley had two January shows in Hawaii. The second was broadcast live, globally. The "Aloha from Hawaii" concert was the first satellite broadcast, reaching at least a billion viewers. The show's album went to number one and spent a year in the charts.
Off stage, Presley had continuing problems. In spite of his own infidelity, Presley was furious that Priscilla was having an affair with a mutual acquaintance—Mike Stone, a karate instructor. He raged obsessively: "There's too much pain in me... Stone [must] die." A bodyguard, Red West, felt compelled to get a price for a contract killing and was relieved when Presley decided: "Aw hell... Maybe it's a bit heavy..." The Presleys separated on February 23, 1972, agreeing to share custody of their daughter.
After his divorce in 1973, Presley became increasingly isolated and overweight, with prescription drugs affecting his health, mood and his stage act. Despite this, his "thundering" live version of "How Great Thou Art" won him a Grammy award in 1974 and he continued to play to sell-out crowds. A 1975 tour ended with a concert in Michigan, attended by over 62,000 fans.
By now Presley had "no motivation to lose his extra poundage... he became self-conscious... his self-confidence before the audience declined. Now Elvis was overweight. Headlines such as 'Elvis Battles Middle Age' and 'Time Makes Listless Machine of Elvis' were not uncommon." According to Marjorie Garber, when Presley made his later appearances in Las Vegas, he appeared "heavier, in pancake makeup... with an elaborate jeweled belt and cape, crooning pop songs to a microphone ... [He] had become Liberace. Even his fans were now middle-aged matrons and blue-haired grandmothers, who praised him as a good son who loved his mother; Mother's Day became a special holiday for Elvis' fans."
Almost throughout the 1970s, RCA Victor had been increasingly concerned about making money from Presley material: they often had to rely on live recordings because of problems getting him to attend studio sessions. RCA Victor's mobile studio was occasionally sent to Graceland in the hope of capturing an inspired vocal performance. Once in a studio, he could lack interest or be easily distracted; often this was linked to his health and drug problems.