Red West–The Original Memphis Mafia Member
Aortic aneurysm took his life in Memphis
Red West, 81, one of the original “Memphis Mafia,” friend and bodyguard for sixteen years with Elvis Presley, died Wednesday, July 18, 2017 in Tennessee. Born Robert Gene West on November 20, 1936, in Memphis, Tennessee, he is best known as one of a special group of people who worked and befriended Presley in the 1950’s until the termination of employment with Elvis in July 1976.
Fans around the world have in recent years mourned the loss of other Memphis Mafia members including Sonny West, who died 56 days prior to Red. Other prominent members who have died recently include Joe Esposito, Marty Lacker, Lamar Fike and Charlie Hodge. Red, along with his cousin Sonny (a Presley classmate from their days at Humes High School in Memphis), was primarily an Elvis body guard. Many in this group lived in or nearby Elvis’s home, Graceland over the years.
Many called Red the “Original Memphis Mafia” member. He died Tuesday night after suffering an aortic aneurysm at Baptist Hospital in Memphis. Elvis often recalled one of his first meetings with Red as students at Humes High School. When some boys threatened to hold Elvis against his will and cut off his hair in the boy’s restroom, Red walked in and warned them of the danger he was about to unleash on them if they didn’t let him go.
Red was a student council president, a Memphis Tigers football player, and Golden Gloves boxer. The boys released Elvis. After “That’s All Right Mama” and other Elvis songs became regional hits for Sun Studio Records, Red often drove Elvis, guitarist Scotty Moore, bassist Bill Black and drummer D.J. Fontana throughout the South for live shows in 1955 to 1956.
Elvis, with his parents Vernon and Gladys Presley, lived in the Lauderdale Courts Housing project. Red live with his mother, Lois West, at the nearby Hurt Housing project. One night while living at Lauderdale Courts, Elvis went sleepwalking. He suddenly woke up outside with just his underwear on. The girl he had a crush on was outside with others and they saw Elvis. According to Red, Elvis was “mortified.” Years later the event became an inspiration for a song Red wrote that was recorded by Elvis called “If You Talk In Your Sleep.”
Red joined the Marines in 1956 and served until late 1958. While Elvis was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas for his basic training, his mother Gladys died on August 14, 1958. This was the same day Red’s estranged father passed away.
After Elvis’ 1960 Army discharge Red began working as a bodyguard for Elvis. Later his cousin Sonny joined the security team. Over the years Red became a skilled songwriter and actor, with Elvis recording some of his songs including “Separate Ways”, “If Every Day Was Like Christmas”, “You’ll Be Gone” and “That’s Someone You Never Forget.” Red’s song “If You Think I Don’t Need You” made it in Elvis’ movie Viva Las Vegas, with Glen Campbell playing guitar in the studio recording.
When Elvis moved to Los Angeles while making movies in the 1960s, Red made appearances in Elvis films such as Blue Hawaii, Flaming Star, Wild in the Country, Follow That Dream, Kid Galahad, Girls! Girls! Girls!, It Happened at the World’s Fair and Fun in Acapulco.
Other Elvis movies he appeared in were Viva Las Vegas, Roustabout, Girl Happy, Tickle Me, Harum Scarum, Paradise-Hawaiian Style, Spinout, Clambake and Live a Little, Love a Little. Red became a stuntman and actor with television and movie roles for decades. He married Pat West, a secretary for Elvis and his father Vernon, on July 1, 1961. His song “Separate Ways” written for Elvis, won a BMI Award 1973. Red also appeared in three Robert Conrad TV series The Wild Wild West (1965), Black Sheep Squadron (1976) and The Duke (1979).