Book of Mormon stories: How Elvis, Mark Twain, Lincoln, Khrushchev and others reacted to copies of it

The Book of Mormon helped to convert or strengthen almost all active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, so they love to give the book to others.

The church’s signature scripture — which will mark the 190th anniversary of its publication next March — has been put into the hands of all sorts of people, including a lot of celebrities.

Many of those monarchs, dignitaries, athletes, authors, soldiers and even dictators may not have read its account of ancient people and prophets in the Americas. Some did. Their reactions to the missionary efforts that gave them the book often were fascinating.

So here’s a look at a dozen famous people who obtained or were given a copy of the Book of Mormon.

(Rusty Kennedy | AP file photo ) On Jan. 10, 1974, Muhammad Ali punches a bag in his Deer Lake, Pa., training camp where he was preparing for his rematch with Joe Frazier.

Muhammad Ali

The boxing champion counterpunched a Latter-day Saint missionary move with one of his own for Islam, according to “The Skousen Book of Mormon World Records.”

Latter-day Saint Bob Wilke saw Ali in a Dallas airport. After a friendly discussion, Wilke handed the boxer a personalized copy of the Book of Mormon. In return, Ali gave Wilke an autographed “What is Islam?” pamphlet about his religion.

“I’ll read your book," Ali told him, “if you’ll read mine."

(AP file photo)This undated photo shows author Samuel Clemens, who wrote under the pen name "Mark Twain."

Mark Twain

The celebrated author, whose real name was Samuel Clemens, gave a caustic but comic review of the book in his travel novel “Roughing It,” in which he also talked about a visit with Brigham Young. He obtained his copy in a visit to Salt Lake City.

“It is chloroform in print,” Twain wrote. “If Joseph Smith composed this book, the act was a miracle — keeping awake while he did it was, at any rate.”

Yes, he knew Smith said he translated it from ancient records, and “the work of translating was equally a miracle for the same reason.”

Twain wrote that whenever Smith “found his speech growing too modern — which was about every sentence or two — he ladled in a few such scriptural phrases as ‘exceeding sore,’ ‘and it came to pass,’ etc., and made things satisfactory again. ‘And it came to pass’ was his pet. If he had left that out, his Bible would have been only a pamphlet.’”

He concluded his chapter on the book writing, “The Mormon Bible is rather stupid and tiresome to read, but there is nothing vicious in its teachings. Its code of morals is unobjectionable — it is ‘smouched’ from the New Testament and no credit given.”

Leo Tolstoy

The Russian novelist was a bit more impressed by the book than the American Mark Twain. He received a copy from Susa Young Gates, an activist daughter of Brigham Young, and it is still in a museum at his old estate.

Museum curators say Tolstoy wrote in his diary that she had sent him the book and that he read it.

Andrew Dickson White, co-founder of Cornell University, wrote that Tolstoy later told him, “If Mormonism is able to endure, unmodified, until it reaches the third and fourth generation, it is destined to become the greatest power the world has ever known.” That is often quoted in a variety of Latter-day Saint books and talks.

(AP file photo) Elvis Presley, the King of Rock 'n' Roll, performs in 1972.

Elvis Presley

He received copies from his friend and bodyguard, Ed Parker, and from Olive Osmond, mother of the famous performing family.

Parker wrote that he and Presley had many discussions about spiritual topics — which once led Presley to attend an early morning-seminary class, where high-school-age Latter-day Saints have lessons, according to LDS Living magazine.

After Parker and Presley drove overnight from Las Vegas to Pasadena, Calif., Parker said, he invited the star to meet his two daughters. They did as they were about to enter seminary. Presley asked permission to enter and talk to the students. He complimented them for taking the time to learn about the one true king, Jesus Christ.

Of note, one copy of the book supposedly owned by Presley was given to the church and for a time created a stir because of its many handwritten notes. Alas, scholars eventually declared those writings a forgery.

Abraham Lincoln art work

Abraham Lincoln

Although the 16th U.S. president met Mormons when they had their headquarters in his home state of Illinois, he obtained his copy of the Book of Mormon by borrowing it through the Library of Congress.

On Nov. 18, 1861, the Executive Mansion borrowed the Book of Mormon and several other texts on the religion. The Book of Mormon was kept for eight months before it was returned, but there is no definitive proof Lincoln himself read or studied it.

Historians note, however, that Lincoln was considering a new appointment of a territorial governor in Utah at the time and was weighing the territory’s latest application for statehood.

(Markus Schreiber | AP file photo) Britain's Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales arrives for a four days visit in Germany, at the airport Tegel in Berlin, Tuesday, May 7, 2019.

Prince Charles

“Ward mission leaders” in local congregations often give copies of the faith’s foundational text to members with a challenge to give it away and report back the next week about how it went. Prominent Latter-day Saint singer Alex Boye may have come up with the best such story of all time.

The week after being given a copy, he was touring in England for a charity called “The Prince’s Trust.” Prince Charles showed up and wanted to shake everyone’s hand. Afterward, as Charles headed to his helicopter, Boye breached protocol by yelling for him to stop.

“As I reached for the book in my back pocket, security went crazy, assuming I was reaching for something more dangerous. I managed to get the book from my pocket and extend my hand to give it to him,” Boye wrote. “He looked at it, brought it close to his chest and said to me that he thought it would prove some interesting reading.”

Boye added that no one in his congregation initially believed the story.

Rainn Wilson

Rainn Wilson, a member of the Baha’i faith, is best known for playing Dwight Schrute on “The Office” TV series. He posted a picture of female Latter-day Saint missionaries on his Instagram account in 2017, saying, "I was visited by some very nice Mormon missionary Sisters this morning.”

The missionaries told LDS Living magazine that Rainn was in his yard and called them over to his fence as they walked nearby. He told them he already had a Book of Mormon and had read part of it. The missionaries reported he had positive things to say about it and the church.

(AP file photo) FILE - Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill gives his world famous V-sign, as he drives through Metz, France, during Bastille Day celebrations on July 14,1946.

Sgt. Alvin York

The famous World War I hero welcomed two missionaries who drove up to his Tennessee farm in 1949, according to the LDS Church News at the time.

Elders Burke Bastian and L. Kent Bard talked to him as he tended his cattle. York mentioned that he once participated in a program with the youngest daughter of Brigham Young, where he first heard about the Book of Mormon. The missionaries took the opportunity to give him a copy.

They reported he said, “I have been wanting to get one of these books. I’ll take it home and study it some.”

(AP file photo) Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and President John F. Kennedy talk in the residence of the U.S. Ambassador in a suburb of Vienna on June 3, 1961.

Sir Winston Churchill

So how would a person somewhat famous for his heavy drinking react when given a Book of Mormon? With a toast, of course.

A three-member delegation of Latter-day Saints visited his estate in 1954 to offer him — as thanks for his service — a leather-bound “triple combination,” with the church’s Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price. Churchill welcomed them, offered them drinks and exchanged pleasantries, the LDS Church News reported.

Churchill thumbed through the volume and thanked the givers by raising his glass and making a toast to their good health.

Nikita Khrushchev and family

During a visit by the Soviet premier to America in 1959, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ezra Taft Benson — who was then also a Latter-day Saint apostle— hosted him part of the time.

When the conversation turned to Utah and the then-named Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Benson’s son Reed offered the family copies of the Book of Mormon in Russian.

Khrushchev’s son-in-law gave Reed an address where six copies were delivered, according to the LDS Church News.

Queen Victoria

Sometimes sharing a Book of Mormon can make a church member wax poetic, as it literally did with one of the faith’s most famous female leaders.

Lorenzo Snow, then an apostle, was granted an audience with England’s Queen Victoria in 1841 and presented her a richly bound copy of the Book of Mormon. In return, she autographed one of Snow’s copies.

Snow’s famous sister — Eliza R. Snow, who would lead the church’s Relief Society and was a poet and writer of hymns — penned verses about that meeting.

Some sample lines: “O would she now her influence bend, The influence of royalty; Messiah’s Kingdom to extend, And Zion’s nursing mother be.”

Queen Liliuokalani

Surely, some Latter-day Saints dream of a sovereign actually joining the church after introduction to the Book of Mormon. It actually happened with Hawaii’s last monarch. But it didn’t turn out as bright in the long run as members likely hoped.

Liliuokalani reigned for two years before she was deposed and the United States annexed Hawaii. She had many Latter-day Saint friends. Apostle George Q. Cannon, who translated the Book of Mormon into Hawaiian, once gave her a blessing. She requested that Latter-day Saint services be held regularly in her palace.

She was baptized in 1906, when she was no longer queen, by friend and fellow royal family member Abraham Fernandez.

Historian R. Lanier Britsch wrote that the queen “did not become an active member, however, and Mormonism never became her exclusive religion. Liliuokalani appreciated and affiliated with several different churches.”

He wrote she likely included Mormonism because she had many Latter-day Saint friends and because she “deeply resented the role played by the sons of Protestant missionaries, the so-called ‘mission boys,’ in the revolutions of 1887 and 1893. It is possible that she sought company with people and a church that were not so closely associated with her downfall.”