Elvis Presley spent decades shielding himself from his adoring fans with the help of his entourage, the so-called “Memphis Mafia.” One member of this group was Robert Gene “Red” West, who was by turns Presley’s best friend, bodyguard and songwriter. After Presley’s death in 1977, West worked with another icon: actor Sam Elliott in the classic 1989 B-movie “Road House.”
The Tragedy of Elvis Presley
West was born in Memphis, Tenn., in 1936 and met Presley while in high school. He was something of a renaissance man from an early age: a star football player, Golden Gloves boxer, and U.S. Marine.
West spent years as Presley’s bodyguard but Vernon Presley, Elvis’ father, hated his son’s entourage. After West was involved in several incidents with fans in Las Vegas, the elder Presley fired him and two other men.
The three bodyguards blamed their firing on speaking out about Presley needing help for his drug addiction and related health issues. They subsequently co-wrote “Elvis: What Happened?” with the purpose of publicly making their case for an intervention. It came out just two weeks before Presley’s death, and the insiders’ account of his life went on to sell three million copies.
Even though things ended badly between West and Presley, he had written or co-written some great songs that Presley recorded. These included “That’s Someone You Never Forget” and “You’ll Be Gone” as well as “Separate Ways,” which Presley sings in this clip from “Elvis on Tour” (1972).
Twelve years after Elvis Presley’s death, West was reintroduced to the public with his role as hardware store owner Red Webster in “Road House.” The movie is about nightclub bouncer Dalton (Patrick Swayze) as he cleans up The Double Deuce, a bar in a small Missouri town. Dalton winds up taking on the corrupt forces that rule the town and ultimately calls his mentor Wade Garrett (Sam Elliott) to help him finish the job.
Real fans of the movie know that even though Swayze is its star, Elliott easily steals the show. Swayze, especially in this role, is a nice guy at heart, but Elliott’s Garrett is genuinely mean, nasty, and loads of fun. Plus, he’s the best friend a guy could have on his side in a fight.
Critics were not kind to “Road House” when it came out, but who cares? Action film fans know what they like — pretty girls, a killer soundtrack, and fistfights galore between good and evil — which this movie has in spades.
West’s Later Years
As for West, he continued to play supporting parts over the years. Beyond guest appearances on shows such as “Nashville” and “Rectify,” his biggest film in the 2000s was the tearjerker “Safe Haven,” based on a Nicholas Sparks novel.
Still, when West died in 2017, he had failed to play the one role he wanted most: the man who saved Elvis Presley from himself.