The very first book I read about Elvis was ?Elvis: What Happened?,? the so-called ?bodyguard book? that was co-written by three of Elvis? former employees, ?as told to? author Steve Dunleavy.
It generated considerable controversy when first published for its behind-the-scenes look at Elvis? lifestyle, which was heightened when Elvis died two weeks after the book came out.
?We thought [the book] would be the jolt that he would need to face up to his problems,? explains Sonny West, one of the book?s authors along with his cousin, Red, and fellow bodyguard Dave Hebler.
But after Elvis? death, the three became seen as the bearers of bad tidings, rather than people who tried to sound a warning.
So now, Sonny?s revisited the story in a new book, ?Elvis: Still Taking Care of Business,? co-written with Marshall Terrill (Triumph Books).
?I wasn?t going to let ?Elvis: What Happened?? be my legacy to Elvis,? he explains. ?It said nothing in it about how much I loved him. I just wanted to express that, and the great times I had with him, how much I owe to him ? a lot of what I am today I owe to him. He was such a good person. And I admired the way he gave. I?m not talking about the Cadillacs; I?m talking about how he gave to charity, how he gave to the needy and was always for the underdog. I admired all that. I just wanted to leave behind a legacy where one of the guys was writing about him from the heart, to just let the world know what kind of man he was.?
Sonny?s book goes back to his first memory of Elvis: seeing him at an impromptu performance outside Humes High School when Elvis returned to visit his alma mater soon after he started making records, and where Sonny was still a student.
?He was jumpin? around even then!? says Sonny. ?The girls were giggling, and the guys were smiling.?
Sonny later saw Elvis perform in Tucson, Ariz., while Sonny was in the U.S. Air Force, and, through Red, he finally met Elvis shortly before he shipped out to Germany.
When Elvis was de-mobbed in 1960, he passed the word to Red that Sonny was welcome to join his gang.
?He told Red he liked me, but he made the comment, ?He sure says G.D. a lot.? Red told me that, and I said, ?Well, I can stop that swearing if it bothers him.? And I did!?
Some brief periods aside, Sonny remained in Elvis? inner circle until he was dismissed in 1976. His book is a straightforward reminiscence of his years with Elvis; fans will be familiar with some of the stories, but you haven?t read them at this length before, in Sonny?s own words. And though he?s not shy about expressing strong opinions, ?Still Taking Care of Business? is largely a positive look back.
Asked for a favorite memory of Elvis, Sonny doesn?t hesitate for a minute.
?I?ve got several one of them,? he says. ?Like when he gave a lady this wheelchair. God, I just cried; I couldn?t help it. All of us had tears in our eyes on that one. And then, when he was best man at my wedding, cutting up with me backstage in the pastor?s study, saying, ?Sonny, are you sure about this?? ?Elvis, don?t do that now, man! Don?t be asking me that!? And he says, ?I just want to make sure you?re sure, man!? And I said, ?Doggone, you, quit it! I?m sure, OK?? And then, one time when he said that he loved me. He was living down in Palm Springs and I heard him in the kitchen, and I went in there and asked if I could fix him something. And he just turned and looked at me. And he said, ‘Man, I love you.? And I said, ?Well, I love you, too, Elvis. Thanks.? And then he said, ?I?m just looking around, I don?t even really know what I want, I might grab an apple or something.? And that was it. So that was a close moment