Red West, Elvis Confidante and Actor, Dead at 81

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Red West, left, with Elvis

One of Elvis Presley’s most trusted confidantes, who also served as his bodyguard, Red West died July 18, 2017, at age 81. West, who concentrated on his acting career following Presley’s death nearly 40 years ago, suffered an aortic aneurysm at Memphis’ Baptist Hospital. He was 81.

Born Robert Gene West in Bolivar, Tenn., on March 8, 1936, “Red” befriended the future singer while both were students at Memphis’ Humes High School. West, a year younger than Presley, was an athlete who played football in junior college, then joined the Marines. As Presley became a superstar in the late ’50s, he hired the redheaded West as a bodyguard.

After Presley finished his own stint in the Army, West contributed some song material, including “That’s Someone You Never Forget,” on the Pot Luck soundtrack and “You’ll be Gone,” which appeared on the soundtrack to Girl Happy and was also released as a single. He co-wrote “If You Think I Don’t Need You” with Joey Cooper for the film Viva Las Vegas and also wrote the title track of the 1972 budget album Separate Ways.

West, again with Cooper, also co-wrote “I’m a Fool,” which was first recorded by Rick Nelson and later became a hit for Dino, Desi and Billy.

Related: Elvis dies, August 1977

Red West in 2008’s Goodbye Solo

West’s acting career was launched via Presley’s films. West ultimately appeared in 16 Elvis films, always in small roles, but then parlayed his experience into a prolific acting career that continued long after Presley’s death, appearing in films such as 1973’s Walking Tall, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rainmaker and the 1998 horror film hit I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.

In 1976, West, along with his cousin Sonny West (who preceded him in death earlier this year) and a third bodyguard, David Hebler, co-authored a controversial book titled Elvis: What Happened? The book detailed Presley’s drug use and although the authors stated that they wrote it out of concern for their friend, they were summarily fired by Elvis’ father, Vernon Presley.

Watch a 2011 interview in which Red West discusses his friend Elvis

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