SONNY WEST INTERVIEW Sonny West, cousin to Red West’s first met Elvis at Humes High play football Sonny (Delbert) West 1938 Cousin to Red West. He first saw Elvis at Humes High and later met him at the Rainbow Rollerdome where he was introduced by Red West, Sonny West who had been working at the Ave Appliance Store in Memphis quit his job and went to work for Elvis taking care of Elvis vehicles and lived in a converted apartment at Graceland
“The Eagle” was Sonny’s karate nickname, which was given to him by Elvis. Elvis served as best man and Priscilla s the maid of honor at Sonny West and Judy Morgan’s wedding on December 28, 1971 at the Trinity Baptist Church in Memphis during which Elvis carried a flashlight. West’s brother-in-law was Bill Thorpe who was the all schools boxing champion in Memphis during the 50’s Elvis bought West a black Cadillac convertibles, in addition to a motorcycle, a pickup truck and other vehicles, He played small rolls in a number of Elvis films, including the 68 movie Stay Away Joe West was fired by Vernon Presley on July 13, 1976.
Hi Lea, You have asked some very good questions, of which there are no simple answers. You may or may not be surprised by some, if not all of my answers, but they will be my true feelings. 1. In hindsight do you regret writing the book ELVIS WHAT HAPPENED? because of the impact it had on Elvis & his fans? In response to the first question regarding regrets over the book: I can understand the fans reactions to the book, after all the years I spent with him, I was well aware of how Elvis’ legions of fans loved him. But, I didn’t write the book for the fans approval.
I wrote it out of love for the man and my concern over his health, which was getting worse with each day. I wanted it to be a wake-up call to him as to how bad it had gotten. I don’t know if you are aware of a bellhop at the Las Vegas Hilton making a statement that, “Elvis was strung out on drugs…,” also stating that he …”delivered bags of drugs almost everyday to Elvis’ suite. Elvis’ reaction to this when he heard about it was to put the guy down during his shows and threatening to hurt the guy if he found out which one of the bellhop said it. The other side of that coin was how Elvis did his remaining shows at that particular engagement. He “kicked butt” as the saying goes. He was out to prove that he wasn’t on drugs to his fans. In other words he made the bellhop to appear to be a liar.
When I did the book, that guy, whoever he was, came to my mind as to how we could get Elvis mad at us and make us look like liars. He did get very angry at us, but the other side of it was he didn’t choose to do anything about it. Nobody out there, other than family and very close friends, really knows how much pain we went through when Elvis died. If you think the pain his fans went through over his death, which was an immense loss to them, I have to tell you, it falls short over my loss of him. I sincerely hope that you understand the book was not to hurt Elvis, but a challenge to wake up and see where he was headed.
As to the book itself, I think it was written with a lot of sensationalism and with a kind of writing as you might find in one of the “rag sheets”, which by the way is what Steve Dunleavy was, a writer for the STAR publication. It’s true that we initialed the manuscript page by page, when it was finished, but did so with an urgency to get it out, as we had been in contact with a couple of the guys that Elvis was getting worse.
This was confirmed by the last special filmed in 1977. 2. Did Elvis ever realised what your were trying to achieve via the message within your book? I don’t know for sure, but there are statements to me by Billy Smith, Elvis’ cousin, who spent the last year being with Elvis almost exclusively, except when he was on tour, then he needed the rest of the guys to perform their jobs, wardrobe, security, etc.. Otherwise, he didn’t want them hanging around the house. He had one guy stay there 24 hours a day in case he needed them to run an errand for him.
This duty was split up by several of the younger guys working in shifts. Billy told me that at times Elvis would express anger at us over the book, other times, he talked about he might be taking a little to much medication. Also, in the taped conversation with Red in October or November of 1976, Elvis stated he was not afraid of the book on his behalf, but was concerned about others in the book of getting hurt. Red assured him that we were not going to hurt anybody and we didn’t.
Did you have issue with Albert Goldman when he alleged that you had a relationship with Priscilla? I did take an issue with Albert Goldman’s book. I would never have given him an interview if I had known where he was going with it. I was told by him that he was doing an in-depth book on Elvis, but nothing crossed my mind he was going to write such a terrible book that could not be justified in my mind. I did the interview because Lamar asked me to do it for him. When I first heard about the negativity in the book, I grabbed the book that Albert Goldman had sent me, but I had not read it.
I looked up in the reference file of the book and looked at the pages where my name was mentioned or where I was saying something. My interview with him was based on the agreement that I would speak only on the subjects I wished to talk about and he was not to imply that I said something that I didn’t say or include me in something that I didn’t do. After looking up my name on each page that was listed in the reference list, I didn’t find anything that indicated he violated that agreement with me. But I don’t remember coming across anything related to me and Priscilla having any kind of relationship other than she was Elvis’ wife and I treated her with respect as such.
As far as my relationship with Priscilla today, there isn’t really one to speak of on my part, probably not on her part either. There was a situation that I’d rather not speak about in detail that occurred between Priscilla and myself (she knows) that wasn’t fair on her part and she apologized later for it. I accepted and it’s a done deal, but, it hurt me at the time for I couldn’t understand for the life of me why she would do something to someone who had never done anything wrong to her. In fact, on occasion I had protected her from harm and also tried to prevent problems between Elvis and her near the end of their marriage.
What are you views of on EPE Inc are marketing Elvis? This is an area where I really don’t want to go into detail as I’m not a marketing expert. I feel that fans are fortunate to share in Elvis’ memory by paying homage to him throughout the year but, especially to commemorate his passing and birthday. I have only been in Memphis three times during the Elvis Week in August and have met many fans and shared some wonderful memories with them. How have you coped with life without Elvis? This question is very personal to me. I lost someone I loved very much and spent most of my adult life trying to protect him from harm, intentional or un-intentional. I put him ahead of my family as far as spending time with him instead of my wife and son. It put a strain on my marriage at times and it only survived because I have woman who has stood by me through it all.
I would like to think that if I had it to do over again, I would spend a little more time with them when Elvis wasn’t working. I still miss him on a daily basis, as not a day goes by that something doesn’t happen in my life that makes me think of Elvis. Like maybe how he might sing a song that is a hit today, who his favorite singer might be today (I think Celine Dion) and how he would like all of the movies with action like Independence Day, Armageddon, Jurassic Park, etc..
He left this world much too early and the world is to whom he belonged. I was fortunate enough to be a close friend to the brightest star that will ever grace this planet in the entertainment field. Fans out there can never convince me that I did wrong by trying to help him live. I know where he is today that he knows my heart and my feelings for him. I can go to sleep at night and know that I wasn’t around the last 13 months of his life because I tried to help him, not because I tried to hurt him.
So it ended up getting nasty right? We went in to speak to this one guy and Red went through the door and the guy was hiding behind it and he broke his toe. The bottom of the door went over his toe and he was in a lot of pain but Red told him that if he needed to come back another time he was going to break more than just his toe, you know? Well, it just dried up and Elvis noticed that it did. One of the other guys finally told him why he wasnt getting the pills, he told him about us. He called a meeting with us, he had us come in so he could tell us that he knew exactly what was going on and that he wanted us to stop it. He told us that he was in control and that he knew what he was doing and that he could stop whenever he wanted to.
Sounds like a person thats in deep. Exactly, he was a person that was in denial that needed no help. Elvis told us to back off and Red said, well, what about the good old days when you didn’t need it? and Elvis replied, There are no more good old days. Right then I knew we were on a downward spin you know? Elvis then said, If you dont back off your going to be looking for other jobs. So we didnt hold back, we started to do more little things like emptying out drug capsules when they came, we re-filled them with aspirin and stuff. Six months later we were fired because we refused to stop.
How did Elvis go about firing you after almost 20 years? He told his father to give us just enough money to live on for two or three months because eventually he was going to hire us back but he had to show us he was still the boss. Linda Thompson was there and she gave the figure of $5,000.00 but instead of doing that, Vernon gave us three days notice, one weeks pay and told us he was cutting back on expenses. That wasn’t it at all. Elvis was getting pressure from different people in the organisation saying that we were really going to mess things up and I think that he had to have his stuff, he didn’t want us and so we left. We were very hurt and so we talked about it and decided that the only way to get things done was to give him a challenge… a challenge.
So the challenge came in the form of a tell-all book? We decided to write a book telling how he was hooked on prescription medication and that he needed to get off them. Since then people like Jerry Lee and Dean Martin come out and say they were all hooked. So we put the feelers out for the book, got positive results and started signing contacts. Now this is what a lot of people dont know, we were offered money not to do the book so we couldve just walked away. We were told to name a price by John OGrady, Elvis private detective who worked for twenty-six years investigating the use of Narcotics in LA. He called us at a hotel called The Continental on Sunset Boulevard; we were with Steve Dunlevey from Star Magazine in his suite doing the interviews for the book. Steve told me there was a call and I thought it was from my wife or something but it was John. I took the call on the extension in the bedroom and after we said hello John explained, Im calling about a certain party that I represent. I wont name any names, but I just want to tell you that Ive been authorised by this particular person to ask you guys to come up with a figure for not doing the book. I replied, Come up with a figure? Thats not what its all about John. Weve signed contacts and weve already got advances.
John OGrady told me that I wasnt hearing him right saying that if we just got up and walked away wed not need to worry about any law suites, any money or anything. He just wanted us to come up with a figure.I explained that there were three of us doing the book and that we had a good reason for it. I had to talk with Red and Dave and he agreed to call back in fifteen minutes.
I called Red and Dave into the bedroom and I told them that the call was from John OGrady and that he wanted us to come up with a figure in turn for us not doing the book. They both looked at me and Red said, Youre kidding? Man, we know where thats coming from. I said that I knew what my vote is and the other guys agreed.
This really blows the belief that you guys did the book for money doesnt it? Exactly, we could’ve made easy money right there. If we let him off then he would have always known that he could buy his way out of anything. We could have probably got a quarter of a million a piece, or maybe half a million, for giving up the book that day. We never even discussed a figure or even talked about the offer after that.
Would you say that the book came out far too late to make a difference? It did and if only you knew the amount of people who have come up to me saying, God, if only youd written that book a year earlier. and people have thanked us saying that we had Elvis as long as we did because of you. A lot of fans got irate and mad about it back then but theyve read it again and its been many, many years since someone has said that they dont like our book. So many more actually approach me to say that they understand why we did it.
Its a very tame book compared to whats been written since. The Goldman book for instance. Thats another story there with that Goldman book. I mean, I was told when I was being interviewed for it that it was a really good and in-depth study of Elvis but I wasn’t into all that. I just knew that he was killing himself and that he was hurting the people around him, the people who loved him. Albert Goldman came to my house and interviewed me twice for three or four hours at a time. But I told him that if he asks me about something that I dont want to talk about then I wouldn’t. I warned him that I didnt want to be misquoted and I didn’t want anything taken out of context. He said that if he prints what I say itd be my exact answer and that was fair enough. He even sent me an autographed book when it was finished but I didn’t read it, I just put it away. Then I started hearing things and I said, Now wait a minute. I went to that index page and found my name and I looked up those pages and sure enough, there isn’t a single misquote or derogatory comment about Elvis that came from me.
Anyway, I got Alberts number from Lamar and I called him and said, Albert, I want to tell you something. I have to say that you were fair to me about not taking what I said out of context but I think you wrote one of the most horrible books about one of the most wonderful human beings in this world. I dont ever wish to see you or talk to you again.
Tell me about your famous press conference seen in the movie This Is Elvis? On Good Morning America the morning after Elvis death, Geraldo Rivera and Steve Dunlevey were talking on the program with Steve Hartman. Im sitting there watching it and these two guys are talking about Elvis as if they knew him but Dunlevey only knew what wed told him. Geraldo Rivera based his story on the fact that hed met Elvis two or three times. The guys are arguing on air and Im getting so upset with these people bickering back and forth and so I called our attorney to organise a press conference for that afternoon. Red was away on location at the time so I called Dave and he met me to do the conference where I had all that hair on This Is Elvis. Thats where Dave said, How do you protect a man from himself? which was a classic statement boy, that said it all. I called that news conference and said some things about Dunlevey and Rivera because they had talked about some kind of flirtation with drugs and theyd said we called him a junkie. That word is not mentioned once in our book and that upset me. I put the record straight and I said that it should have been us there on Good Morning America instead. As a result, World News cancelled the tour we were about to do to promote the book. It was over two years later when I started to really promote the book.
When was the last time you went up to the house? I went in the house for the first time in 1983. I called Jack Soden and asked if I could take a couple of friends up to Graceland, no special tour or anything, and he said it was fine. I went up there and it was kind of rough on me. I went through the front door and looked at the dining room. I stood and thought about the amount of times Id walked through there. I was able to hang on emotionally because there were people around but I didn’t go back up there again until two years ago. I was doing some stuff across the street and I saw the line building for the tour and I said to some friends of mine, come on guys, Im gonna try to go up there and so they got with me. We got up there with the crowds and got in line with everyone else and I walked across the front of the house and I got to where it was two or three people deep. I wasnt looking where I was going but all of a sudden I turned and all I could see was Elvis grave. I looked at it for a second and got goose bumps. I turned to the guys and said, I gotta get out of here and I left. As I was leaving a lady came up and asked if I was Sonny West. I told her that I was and she said, I want to thank you so much because I really feel that we had him as long as we did because of you and Red. That touched me boy and I got a little teary eyed. Maybe we will meet someday, and if that is to be, that would be nice. Sincerely, Sonny West