Ten things most Elvis Presley fans don’t know about Memphis Mafia member Sonny West

Sonny and Elvis Dec. 1970 (Texas Elvis Fan Club archives)

Sonny West worked for Elvis from 1960 through 1976.

Meeting the Beatles, Lisa Marie’s husbands and Sonny’s troubled son included in list.

The death on May 24, 2017 of Sonny West, one of the original “Memphis Mafia” friends and bodyguard of Elvis Presley, has caused much reflection among the King of Rock n’ Roll’s fans. Born Del West on July 5, 1938, in Memphis, Tennessee, he was best known as one of a special group of people who worked and befriended Presley of sixteen years between the 1950’s until the singer’s death in 1977.

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The Elvis world recently mourned the losses of other Memphis Mafia members including Joe Esposito, Marty Lacker, Lamar Fike and Charlie Hodge. Many in this group lived in or nearby Elvis’s home, Graceland over the years. Many fans have mixed thoughts about Sonny because of the book, “Elvis What Happened?” he co-wrote in 1977 exposing Elvis’ drug use prior to his death on August 16. Others describe him as a friendly man with much love for Elvis and his fans.

Ed Hebler, Red West and Sonny West in 1977. (Texas Elvis Fan Club archives)

Elvis and his wife Priscilla were the Best Man and Matron of Honor at the December 28, 1970 marriage of Sonny to Judy Jordan. Judy carried a white bounded Holy Bible, a gift from the Presleys, as she walked down the aisle. The Bible was inscribed by Priscilla, “Judy and Sonny, I hope all your days will be as happy as this day, and may God Bless you with all your wishes as two Special people deserve. Love Cilla (‘Beau’) and Elvis.” Published by the C.R. Gibson Company, the Bible was sold for $5,440 at a memorabilia auction a few years ago.

Here are ten facts about Sonny West that most Elvis fans do not know:

Cadillacs

Elvis gave Sonny a Cadillac in 1965 and 1966. In July 1973, Elvis purchased 39 cars in a week and half for over $200,000. Sonny was presented with a black 1973 Cadillac Eldorado in that buying spree.

Appliance Repairman

Sonny was earning $75 a week repairing washers, dryers and other equipment for Ace Appliance Store in Memphis when Elvis asked him to work for him. Sonny asked Elvis what kind of work?

“Anything I need,” replied Elvis.

King Creole (Texas Elvis Fan Club archives)

Favorite Elvis Movie

Sonny often said his favorite Elvis movie was the same pick the King had: “King Creole.”

Siblings

Sonny had four sisters and a brother. The brother “was a gambler,” Sonny said. “He lost everything: his family, his wife, everything, to gambling. So he put a gun to his head and ended his life.”

Meeting the Beatles

One of Sonny favorite memories was meeting the Beatles at Elvis’s Bel-Air, California home. Elvis wasn’t intimidated by the Beatles and said “there’s room for everybody,” Sonny once stated. “He was never threatened…”

Sonny and his cousin Red West (a high school friend and an original Memphis Mafia member) played pool with Ringo Starr. Sonny described Ringo as “kind of a loner, the rest of them and Elvis sat and chit-chatted all night and had a ball.”

The Protectors

Red and Sonny protecting Elvis 1975. (Texas Elvis Fan Club archives)

Sonny and Red took threats on Elvis seriously. Before one particular Las Vegas concert, the Hilton Hotel management and law enforcement told the Elvis team about a threat that looked real. Elvis told the West cousins that he was not going to stop a show because of the threats.

“But the lights were up in the audience more, the curtains were closer,” explained Red. “My cousin Sonny and I were a lot closer and that was one of the strangest feelings I’ve ever had because when he did his last song he went down into a very low karate stance to make him like a small target, and Sonny and I came rushing out and stood in front of him, and we’re standing there waiting for whatever was coming. That is a strange feeling but that’s what we were going through toward the end, so a lot of things were happening that people don’t know about.”

The Crap Table

The Bel-Air home had an authentic Las Vegas style crap table where Sonny admitted, “we shot craps and gambled a little bit.”

Lisa Marie’s Husbands

Sonny had a prepared answer for “fanatics” who insisted Elvis did not die in 1977: “If Elvis really was alive and in hiding, do you really think he would have remained so and allow Lisa Marie to marry Michael Jackson?”

“You don’t know Elvis and his strengths if you think his daughter would have done what she wanted regardless of what her father thought. No way. Period.”

He said he didn’t “ask that not as a racist question, but as a matter of fact that Elvis would not have allowed, or at least been very persuasive, to stop that wedding. He would not have allowed her to date someone in the entertainment field, especially a ‘pop idol’ like he was. Nor would he have let her marry Nicholas Cage, again for the same reason as Michael. No one in the entertainment business, as an actor, singer, etc., would have been granted the privilege of dating Lisa, much less marry her. Elvis could relate too much to them.”

“I know a lot of people will say that Elvis would have been in the same position as other parents were when it came time for their children to do what they told them,” Sonny added. “Let me tell you something. You don’t know Elvis and his strengths if you think his daughter would have done what she wanted regardless of what her father thought. No way. Period.”

Son Bryan Lee West

Bryan, son of Sonny and Judy West, April 2017. (Facebook)

Several people mentioned on Facebook that Sonny’s son was not able to make it to his father’s funeral because he was on “vacation” and his mother didn’t want to ruin that for him. But the truth is that during the last days of Sonny’s life, his son Bryan was incarcerated. According to a court documents Bryan has a history of legal troubles including a charge of “Assault-Bodily Injury” on a July 26, 1997 arrest. He was charged of attempted burglary, disorderly conduct and public intoxicated on Dec. 11, 1999. He was charged with assault on 9/21/2003. On February 10, 2010, on June 15, 2012 and again on October 6, 2012 Bryan was charged with theft over $1,000.

Davidson County, Tennessee Judges William Higgins, Aaron Holt, Cheryl Blackburn and Bob Mondelli were familiar with Bryan in their courtrooms. He eventually received a total sentence of 5 years but was given “jail credit 10/06/12 to 02/27/13.”

One court affidavit states Bryan “was employed by At The Top Roofing and he told a customer to write the check to him instead of the business for the remaining balance of a roofing job. The customer wrote the check and the defendant hand wrote a receipt on a piece of paper. The defendant cashed the check at Advance Financial and the customer cancelled the check, and notified At The Top Roofing. The business stated the check should have been made to the business, not the employee. The business would have been the victim of the financial loss, but the customer cancelled the check making Advance Financial sustain a financial loss due to the defendant cashing the check. The amount of the check made payable to the defendant was $1,400 and the defendant was captured on surveillance camera at Advance Financial cashing the check on 2/13/10.”

The Last Time

The last time Sonny saw Elvis was on July 5, 1976, his 38th birthday after the Mid-South Coliseum concert in Memphis. Walking from the stage to the limousine, Sonny commented that Elvis’s performance was a good one.

“Thanks, we’ll see you later,” Elvis replied. “And happy birthday Sonny.”

 

TIME TRAP movie (2017)

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