Red West, the longtime confidante and bodyguard of Elvis Presley, died Tuesday night after suffering an aortic aneurysm at Baptist Hospital. He was 81.
Robert Gene West was born in Memphis, Tennessee to Lois and Newton Thomas West. An excellent athlete and former U.S. Marine, West played football for his high school and junior college (Jones County Junior College) teams and was a boxer in the Golden Gloves championships.
Red West was one of Elvis' closest friends. He first met Elvis in High School and went on to work for Elvis as a bodyguard until 1976. Elvis and Red West became close friends when Red volunteered to help drive Elvis, Scotty Moore, Bill Black and DJ Fontana around the southern US states for their early tours of 1955-1956.
He contributed to several songs written by Elvis Presley in 1961 and 1962. He received help from Elvis Presley in writing two songs in the early 1960s, which were collaborations: "You'll Be Gone" and "That's Someone You Never Forget." "You'll Be Gone" was also co-written with Charlie Hodge, and appeared on the Girl Happy soundtrack album and as a 45 single in 1965. The single reached number 35 on the Canadian singles chart in 1965.
"That's Someone You Never Forget" was the final track on the 1962 album Pot Luck and was released as a 45 B side single in 1967 and was featured on the Artist of the Century compilation. Red also co-wrote "If You Think I Don't Need You" with Joey Cooper for the motion picture Viva Las Vegas. He teamed up with Joey Cooper again on "I'm A Fool", which Ricky Nelson recorded. "I'm A Fool" later became a hit for Dino, Desi and Billy, the partnership of Dean-Paul "Dino" Martin, Desi Arnaz Jr., and William "Billy" Hinsche.
Red West also co wrote the song "Separate Ways" for Elvis in 1972. The song was the title of an Elvis album released on RCA's budget album line, Camden, in Jan. 1973. The song "Separate Ways" was the B side release of the single "Always on My Mind" in November 1972. The single reached #20 on Billboard's Hot 100. It reached #16 on the Country Music Billboard chart. Again, largely due to the success of "Always On My Mind". Both songs struck a sad, melancholy tone thought to largely depict Elvis' mood and outlook following the recent separation of him and his eventual ex-wife Priscilla.
In 1976, West was involved in a series of heavy-handed incidents in Las Vegas with aggressive fans that got out of hand, drawing criticism by the media. More than that, West was becoming more vocal about Presley's drug problem and how he needed help. As a result, West, his cousin Sonny West, and a third bodyguard named David Hebler were fired by Elvis's father, Vernon Presley, who hated most of, if not all, the members of his son's entourage.
Red West was fired by Presley and subsequently helped write the book Elvis: What Happened, which was published weeks before Presley's death. The book, according to West in the book, was an attempt to help Presley, but believed by some to be an attempt to retaliate and earn an income after being fired.
This is what The Commercial Appeal (Memphis) ran on his passing:
Red West, the longtime and sometimes critical confidante and bodyguard of Elvis Presley who became a successful film and television actor after the singer's death, died Tuesday night after suffering an aortic aneurysm at Baptist Hospital. He was 81.
Born in Bolivar, Tennessee, the athletic Robert Gene "Red" West befriended Elvis at Humes High School, where the 6-foot-2 redhead protected the smaller pre-fame Elvis from bullies on at least a couple of occasions, according to Presley lore. He worked for Elvis for some 20 years, occasionally taking small roles in such films as “Flaming Star” and writing or co-writing such memorable Elvis songs as the 1972 hit "Separate Ways," the holiday favorite "If Every Day Was Like Christmas" and the 1975 masterpiece of infidelity, "If You Talk in Your Sleep," recorded at Stax.
West also composed or contributed to songs recorded by other artists, including Ricky Nelson, Pat Boone and Johnny Rivers.
An ex-Marine, Golden Gloves boxer, karate instructor and genuine tough-guy-with-a-heart-of-gold (at least in his later years), West said it was his protective streak that motivated him to co-write "Elvis: What Happened?," a tell-all best-seller published only two weeks before Elvis' death on Aug. 16, 1977, that documented the singer’s drug dependency and unhealthy lifestyle,. West and his co-authors, fellow “Memphis Mafia” members and Elvis bodyguards Sonny West (a cousin) and David Hebler, assisted by Steve Dunleavy, a journalist, said the book was an attempt to encourage Elvis to give up his dangerous ways, but some outraged fans said the memoir was written out of spite, since the three men only a year earlier had been fired from Elvis’ employ by Elvis’ father, Vernon Presley.
As Elvis' friend, driver and bodyguard, West was among Presley's closest associates during the singer's meteoric rise, Army tour of duty, Hollywood stardom, late 1960s so-called comeback and 1970s decline. West's father, Newton West, died the same day as Elvis' mother, Gladys Presley, which only strengthened the men's bond. When Elvis was in the Army, West traveled to Germany to be nearer the singer, at Presley's request.
West, Elvis and others would frequently spar at the old Tennessee Karate Institute in Midtown, co-owned by West. "He was a tough son of a gun," said former kickboxing world champion Bill "Superfoot" Wallace, one of the studio's co-owners.
Prior to being fired, West and some of Presley's other bodyguards had received criticism for what the reference book "Elvis: His Life from A to Z" describes as "heavyhanded tactics" involving "too much physical persuasion," in an attempt "to keep the weirdos away from Elvis." West always defended his work for Elvis, while Vernon Presley said the firings were an attempt to cut Presley's expenses.
Post-Elvis, West became a full-time actor, earning a regular role opposite star Robert Conrad in the late 1970s series “Black Sheep Squadron" (originally titled "Baa Baa Black Sheep"), about a squadron of World War II fighter pilots.
West's most famous role was in the 1989 Patrick Swayze cult classic “Road House,” but major critical acclaim eluded him until late in life, when he landed his first top billing and the first lead role of his career in the acclaimed independent drama “Goodbye Solo” (2008), which critic Roger Ebert labeled "a masterwork" and The New York Times called "a near perfect film."
“It took me 59 years to be an overnight success,” West told The Commercial Appeal, in a 2009 interview timed to the local release of the movie, in which he portrayed a taciturn old-timer contemplating suicide.
“I started out in this business as a stuntman, and it’s taken its toll on me,” West added. “I’ve had knee replacements, and I’ve got big calcium deposits in my neck from falling on my head so many times. So this is just in time.”
Eastwood never called, but others did. West appeared in such movies as Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Rainmaker” and Ira Sachs’ “Forty Shades of Blues,” both shot in Memphis, as well as Robert Altman’s made-in-Mississippi “Cookie’s Fortune,” Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers,” Bahrani’s “At Any Price” (with Dennis Quaid), the horror sequel “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer” and the true-sports story, “Glory Road.”
On TV, he could be found in episodes of “Mannix,” “The Six Million Dollar Man,” "Magnum P.I.” and “The A-Team.” A 2015 appearance in the series “Nashville” was his final credit.
In a 2011 episode of "Memphis Beat," a TNT crime series set but not shot in Memphis, West played a cancer-stricken inmate serving time for the murder of the father of the series' star, an Elvis-impersonating police detective played by Jason Lee.
Red West and his wife, acting coach Pat West, had celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary on July 1. A Messick graduate who met her husband while she was working as a secretary for Elvis, Pat West said Red had complained of pains Sunday afternoon and was taken to Baptist Hospital. Early in the evening, he died after suffering what she described as an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
“From the very start, we had a bond that was just unusual,” Pat West said of her husband. “He was just a straight shooter.”
Pat West said she and her husband usually skipped "Elvis Week," but they had been planning to participate in some activities organized this year by friend and longtime Elvis associate George Klein. "We wanted to go this year, this special year," she said, referring to the 40th anniversary of Presley's death.
According to most sources (including Wikipedia and the Internet Movie Database), Red West was born on Nov. 20, 1936, which would make him 80 at the time of his death. But Pat West said his actual birthday was March 8, 1936.
In addition to his wife, West is survived by two sons, actor John Boyd West, of Tampa, Florida, and Brent West, of Memphis; a brother, Harold West of Olive Branch; and six grandchildren. Memorial Park Funeral Home will handle services.
- The DVD 'Elvis – The King Of Rock’n’Roll – 30 Hit Performances And More' dropped from #10 to #30 on the Australian Music DVD chart.
- The 6-DVD-Box 'The Elvis Collection' climbed from #45 to #36 on the Official UK Music DVD chart.
Scottish craft brewery BrewDog has lost a trade mark dispute concerning their grapefruit infused IPA named ‘Elvis Juice’. UK IPO held that the registered trade mark rights of the Elvis Presley estate have been infringed by drawing a link between the star and the alcoholic beverage. As a result, the registration of the ‘Brewdog Elvis Juice’ and ‘Elvis Juice’ marks has been refused and the company may be forced to find a new name for their product.
This decision comes after two of the BrewDog’s founders went to great lengths in order to prove the name in question is not exclusive to the late King of Rock and Roll, by legally changing their forenames to Elvis. It is now clear that this move did not bring about the desired outcome, but it brought attention to a wide-spread issue – wrongful association between two undertakings, where one of them enjoys good reputation, and the other is perceived as taking unfair advantage of such reputation.
The reasoning behind the UK IPO’s decision to rule in favour of the Presley estate was based on the combination of two factors described in the Section 5 of the Trade Marks Act 1994. Firstly, the ‘Elvis’ (trade mark registered by the estate), ‘BrewDog Elvis Juice’ and ‘Elvis Juice’ marks were found to be highly similar. Secondly, although the goods in question are not identical or similar to the goods the estate produces or licences the production of, the reputation of the ‘Elvis’ mark was held to be strong enough to outweigh this. Moreover, UK IPO was of the opinion that the consumers may believe the ‘Elvis Juice’ beverage has been endorsed by the Presley estate, resulting in wrongful association.
Looking at the current legal framework and the legendary status of Elvis Presley’s name, this outcome is hardly surprising. However, BrewDog managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat by turning this seemingly hopeless situation into a great publicity stunt. The brewery gained a significant amount of attention from the media, their products were promoted, and the Presley estate’s reputation may end up suffering due to its participation in this David versus Goliath fight. The question thus remains: Who is the real winner here?
(Source: Essential Elvis / FECC / WikiPedia / The Commercial Appeal / The King's World / Lexology)