Red West, a boyhood friend and member of Elvis Presley’s “Memphis Mafia” who appeared in many of the singer’s movies as well as in Road House, Black Sheep Squadron and Goodbye Solo, has died. He was 81.
West died Tuesday at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis after suffering an aortic aneurysm, his wife, Pat, told The Commercial Appeal newspaper.
West appeared as a stuntman/actor on dozens of episodes of CBS’ futuristic Western series The Wild Wild West in the 1960s and a decade later had a regular role as Sgt. Andy Micklin on another Robert Conrad-starrer, NBC’s Black Sheep Squadron.
He portrayed Red Webster, the owner of an auto parts store who gets his revenge against Ben Gazzara’s character, in the Patrick Swayze classic Road House (1989) and was Sheriff Tanner in the Walking Tall movies released in 1973 and 1975.
As a leading man, West garnered acclaim when he played an old-timer who forges a friendship with a Senegalese cab driver (Souleymane Sy Savane) in director Ramin Bahrani’s North Carolina-set drama Goodbye Solo (2008).
A native of Memphis, West played football in junior college, served in the U.S. Marines and became a Golden Gloves boxer and karate instructor. He first connected with Presley when both were students at Humes High School, he recalled in a 2008 interview.
“Elvis was always different,” he said. “We had crew cuts and wore T-shirts and blue jeans; Elvis had the long ducktail, the long sideburns, and he wore the loud clothes and naturally was a target for all the bullies. One day luckily I walked into the boys’ bathroom at Humes High School and three guys were going to cut his hair just, you know, to make themselves look big or make them feel big or whatever, and I intervened and stopped it.”
After Presley began his recording career, West served as his driver and then worked as one of his bodyguards for years. Meanwhile, he appeared alongside Presley in 18 films, including Flaming Star (1960), Blue Hawaii (1961), Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962), It Happened at the World’s Fair (1963), Viva Las Vegas (1964) and Live a Little, Love a Little (1968).
West also wrote or co-wrote such Presley songs as “Separate Ways,” “If Every Day Was Like Christmas” and “If You Talk in Your Sleep” and worked with singers Ricky Nelson, Pat Boone and Johnny Rivers as well.
One year after he was fired by Presley’s father and two weeks before Elvis’ death on Aug. 16, 1977, the tell-all book Elvis: What Happened?, co-written by West, was published and became a controversial best-seller.
West, who studied with the acclaimed acting teacher Jeff Corey, also appeared in at least two movies filmed in his hometown — Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rainmaker (1997) and Ira Sachs’ Forty Shades of Blue (2005) — and on a 2011 episode of the TNT series Memphis Beat.
His film résumé also included Two for the Seesaw (1962), The Americanization of Emily (1964), The Legend of Grizzly Adams (1990), Natural Born Killers (1994), I Still Know What You Did Last Summer (1998), Cookie’s Fortune (1999) and Glory Road (2006), and on TV he was seen on Bonanza, Mannix, Get Smart, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Fall Guy and Nashville.
Survivors include his wife of 56 years, Pat — who was one of Elvis’ secretaries — and sons John and Brent.