Memories of McDonald’s Part Six: Chris and I

April 12th of this year will mark the 30th anniversary of the day I got my first job. During my 9 years at McDonald’s, I accumulated some great memories that I think are humourous and ridiculous enough to share with all of you. I hope you enjoy this series.

We used to say that there were a lot of “legends in McDonaldian folklore” but very few ‘living legends’. ‘Living legend’ tended to refer to someone who had been through the wars in some way but was still working there. I was a living legend. After being on the outs for fourteen months with store manger Diane over the freezer key incident (see part 3) and after watching all my friends leave for better jobs and finding myself an old man of 20 working with 16-year-old’s, I was referred to as a ‘living legend’ (by myself mostly). Chris was another living legend.

Chris (1)

One of the first times I ever heard about Chris was when he was off on a leave of absence. Rumours were flying about what had happened to him but it was generally understood that Chris had his struggles, the effects of which required him to take regular medication. Unfortunately, taking these meds would often leave him in desperate need of sleep by shift’s end.

Due to his condition or not, he was also very particular about his job. He sometimes appeared somewhat groggy at the start of his shift at 11 pm and he would just put his head down and work. Other times, though, he was very animated, talking and laughing with the kids closing (Chris was in his 30’s) and going like a madman. “Can’t talk, I’m behind!”, became a running joke with him. He always felt like he was running behind and had to go, go, go to catch up. One night, he half-jokingly said to Manager Julie “I’m a little behind” and bent down to work on something. Julie, looking quickly away from Chris’ ‘plumber’s crack’, quipped “a little behind?!”. Us guys joined in: “Hey, Chris! That’s a good place for my broom. Here, hold this!”.

I got to know Chris and learned he was a great guy. We would talk music a lot. We loved the same type of music and his folks had been born in Liverpool so we had the Beatles in common. We would smoke out on the patio together sometimes. He was particular in his job which teen-aged kids often could not understand. They’d be telling him to slow down and relax, don’t be grumpy but what kids in general don’t realize is that when you do the same job night after night you come to have a ‘way’ and anything that gets in the way of doing your job is a speed bump, a hassle. So he was pretty particular and his meds would do a number on him sometimes but generally he was the placid, likable guy working on one of the fryers with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

I think I was about 22 years old and living on my own. I worked part time at McDonald’s with 16-year-old’s and part time at a department store with 50-year-old’s. I wore a suit and sold lamps and rugs – basically the opposite of McDonald’s. When I got fired from the department store, I asked McDonald’s if they could up my hours. I had to go full time there now. Even with the two jobs, I once added up my income and expenses and found I was below the technical definition of the ‘poverty line’. They were good enough to give me more hours and eventually I found myself with a regular shift during the day. My buddy, Hash Man, also had one at that time and we would spend the day setting traps for each other, pranking each other. When one of us would inadvertently grab a knife that had pizza sauce all over the handle, the other would yell “sabotage!!” Then the full time midnights position of maintenance came open and they offered it to me. This meant I’d be working overnight, Sunday night to Thursday night, locked in the place every night with my buddy, Chris. It’s a big change in your life, going to midnights, but I needed the money so I accepted. I had been a part-timer for 7 years which gave me top seniority among all the part-timers there. I was never going to be a manager so all I had was my tenure – to this day I tend to respect longevity over a person’s position in a company.

I got a new uniform which at that time was a sharp looking deep red colored button up shirt and blue work pants. The pants came ‘one length fits all’ and they were super long. One night before work, I was standing back by the upstairs office and grabbed an exacto knife. I lifted one foot and cut the pant leg to size, then did the other one. Some of the kids working that night laughed and shook their heads – they had a story now about the ‘living legend’. I went to the bargain store and bought the cheapest velcro running shoes they had. Black, had to be black. They were lame but I didn’t care; they were for work. This new position also came with enrollment in the benefits package. This was amazing – I hadn’t had any sort of medical coverage for a few years. There was at that time four different levels of coverage you could sign up for. The biggest and most expensive provided coverage for families and the lowest was very basic. I signed up for one of the ones in the middle. They were called, seriously, The Big Mac Plan, The Quarter Pounder Plan, The Hamburger Plan and The Fry Plan. We would joke that I took The Orange Drink Plan – one glass of that gross orange beverage per shift. Now I was a ‘full-timer’.

A quick personal note: the years I worked midnights at McDonald’s were years I spent alone. At least that’s how I remember them. My friends were going to college, spending time with girlfriends, working other jobs and generally being awake and active in the daytime and sleeping at night. Everything about me was the opposite. Pretty much a dead end job (the pay raise to full-time bumped me up to $9-something an hour) that I would walk to in the darkness and walk home from in the darkness. I remember walking to work on a Sunday night past people’s homes with lights on in the living room thinking how everyone is settling down for a relaxing Sunday night after a weekend and getting ready for another work week. While this niceness was going on, I was walking to McDonald’s where I would sweep and mop the floor. Friday mornings I would be determined to have a normal weekend which entailed abruptly reversing my sleep habits which of course is hard. Before leaving work in the morning I would nuke up a small container of milk and drink it warm to help me sleep. I would often have to hold my nose to drink it – and often have to run home to get on the toilet, it would have that effect on me. I would try to sleep during the day Friday, get up around 2 or 3 and try to function. Didn’t always work. And most times I’d come home from work Friday morning and wouldn’t see anybody – except my cat, Reef, – until going back to work Sunday night. I would say, only half-jokingly, that I could die one Friday morning (maybe from the warm milk) and no one would know until I didn’t show up for work on Sunday. On the bright side, I quit smoking while on midnights. My body must have been so messed up that smoking suddenly became repugnant to me – it ‘tasted’ different’ – so I abruptly quit after only six years as a smoker.

Chris and I became co-workers and good buddies. I would go into work Sunday night never sure of the mood he’d be in. Chris was in the same boat I was in when it came to sleep on the weekends. If he’d managed his sleep well enough over the last two days, he’d be his normal jovial self. Much the same as me, really. We’d get to work and go hard until the closers left. Now, to get anything even remotely negative out of the way, yes; we both got on each others nerves sometimes. I remember thinking at the time and later on in life that you can be great friends with someone but the real test is to be locked in a building all night alone with that person. So, yeah, sometimes we got frustrated with each other but generally things were great.

We both got to be very good at our jobs, as one would expect. Chris had been doing his job for years and could do it in his sleep – as he often did. My job was a lot less challenging and required a lot less knowledge and skills than Chris’ did. The most advanced piece of machinery I used was that dust pan with the long handle. If I was ever asked to fix something I would always say “My job is ‘maintenance’ as in ‘cleaning’ not ‘maintenance’ as in ‘fixing'”. But I got in to a routine and could work swiftly and effectively. It helped that by this time I had learned to use a plunger (see Part Five). Mopping for Chris and I became an artistic expression. The way you wielded the mop could be graceful – “like Fred Astaire” I would say. (The kids would say “who?”) We had learned the ‘deep cuts’ of mopping like gathering debris you had not picked up with the broom and we were particular about our mop heads – the ends definitely had to be tied and not loose. One morning years earlier, shortly after I started at McDonald’s, I was out mopping the deck. My dad stopped by to see how I was doing. He watched me mop, awkwardly moving the mop forwards and backwards. He took the mop off me and showed me the proper way, swinging it from side to side. Years later when I began working in the auto industry I took great delight in mopping the floors of the plant. I would joke “you can take the boy out of McDonald’s but you can’t take the McDonald’s out of the boy”. Once when I was asked to mop I said ‘sure’ and made a big deal of how McDonald’s had made me a master mopper. My supervisors snickered and stood there watching me. After a few minutes I heard one turn to the other and say “That is how you mop, though. For sure”.

Chris and I eventually got things so wired that we would bust our humps for a few hours and then be able to sit down and take a break. Sometimes, a long one. I can still see us sitting in that two-person booth. One time, we spent that break watching “American Graffiti” in the crew room, using the VCR that was there to play training videos. Generally what we did though was read the newspaper. Well, I would read the paper to Chris. Toronto has several different newspapers but the most upscale one is the Globe and Mail. They had a section of their paper that they called “Social Studies”. It was a short segment that shared trivia and bits of information that would get Chris and I talking and our imaginations working. We were regularly in tears laughing. On a more somber note, we found the obituaries equally fascinating. “Gary Wells’ Death Watch”, we called it. The affluent nature of the paper meant that those that were memorialized in this section had been in life respected members of society: war veterans, inventors, politicians, business men and the like. It made for great reading.

Often, after reading the paper, Chris and I would play some Tray Ball. I would get out our tennis ball and we would knock it back and forth, tennis style, in the lobby. A call of “game on” would get the game started and any breaks in play were announced with a “game off”. Sometimes – as we were both still little boys, really – the play would get heated. One night, I think it was me that struck a particularly cracking blow that sent the ball hurtling towards a framed picture hanging in the lobby. Sure enough, the glass of the picture frame broke. “Game off!!”, Chris yelled. We were both thinking fast, though, and simply removed all of the glass – Chris cut himself – and threw it out, leaving a perfectly fine looking picture of a vase with flowers in it. Only a close look and some hard pondering would cause anyone to realize that something was different about the picture: there was no glass. No one ever noticed.

Now, I’m not sure what the statute of limitations would be here but… Every now and then – not always – we would have ourselves a little snack. It wasn’t common practice but sometimes trays of hamburger buns were left out, stacked for the next days’ use. And, sometimes, conscientious closers would do the openers a solid and have the peanut butter and jam packages already out and ready for the morning. And…sometimes…Chris and I would have us a couple of peanut butter and jam sandwiches. Sometimes. What happened ALL the time, though, was I would eat a free meal before and after my shift. Remember, I was living on my own at the time and any free meal was a real bonus. It was common practice for managers to allow overnight workers to have a free meal. When I got into work around 10:30, the closing manager was cool enough to let me have a free meal. When I was done for the day at 7am, Lisa, the opening manager, let me have a free meal as well. So, for two years, I ate at McDonald’s 10 times a week.

At work, we would blast the radio all night. I was introduced to a couple of great songs I had never heard before but Chris had. “Taxi” by Harry Chapin, I had to ask him what song it was. (“‘Harry, keep the change!'”, Chris would holler) And when I heard the greatest REO Speedwagon song ever – “Roll With the Changes” – Chris had to identify it for me. We would say goodbye to each other as we left the store in the morning, often joking that we were that dog and coyote from the Warner Bros. cartoon: “G’night, George”, he’d say. “Good night, Ralph”, I’d reply. We both lived 5 minutes from the store and we walked home. Some mornings, I’d be unlocking my apartment door and the phone would be ringing. It would be Chris, with more to say. Chris and I hung out together on the outside. We listened to classic rock and drank Canadian Club. Our birthdays were a day apart. I remember going over to his apartment on a Saturday night, sitting around a bit and then heading to Kelsey’s. I was in on things when he bought the first car he’d owned in awhile. I shared his happiness when he met Peggy.

When I finally decided to leave both McDonald’s and Kitchener, Chris and I were unemotional about our parting. Of course. Shortly after I left town, Chris and Peggy decided to get married. I have to admit, I never thought this would happen to Chris. He and Peg were kind enough to invite me to their wedding, which I attended with my new girlfriend, Andrea, who would eventually become my wife. This provided me with a unique opportunity to introduce Andrea to my old friends. My adult life has had two separate acts; my time spent single in Kitchener and everything that came after I moved away: marriage, kids, the real stuff. When I reminisce about the old days, my wife can only imagine the lunacy I describe. But Chris she met, she was at his wedding with me. The fact that Andrea met Chris and Peggy strengthens my connection with my old buddy. Also at Chris’ wedding was Becky Ruby, my buddy, Ruby’s, kid sister I mentioned in Part Two. Andrea met Becky and liked her almost as much as I did. As a result, Becky’s untimely death affected my wife, as well. I was thrilled to be invited to Chris and Peggy’s wedding and was glad Andrea shared it with me. It was nice for me to know that, going forward, I could share memories of Chris with Andrea.

The memory of my two years spent working with Chris came flooding back again a few years ago when I heard that Chris had passed away. I think it was Hash Man who told me in a text. Needless to say, I was shocked and saddened. I searched for Peggy on Facebook and found her. I was again shocked to see that Chris had had children, two little girls. At first, this made me feel worse; now there was not just a widow but there were two kids with no father. However, writing this post has actually helped me feel better. The way Chris was when I knew him, he was like me. An unfulfilling job, no significant other to share life with, living almost incognito, working midnights and being somewhat out of touch with friends and family and the general pursuit of the joy of living. Then when he met Peggy – and here I’ll begin to make assumptions – things began to change. His crappy job seemed not so bad. Everything in his life began to shine a little brighter. Nothing was all that bad now, actually. Getting married, I know, is not for everybody but Chris finding love and becoming a husband gave his life new meaning and purpose. A point. Having two children, even more so. In the end, he and I both were regular Joes with not much going for us, saved by good women. You may say that having had a family makes his passing even sadder but I think it reveals the footprint he left behind, the legacy.

If he had passed away without ever meeting Peggy or having kids, then, yes, there would have been three less people to feel sadness and mourn his passing. And yet the way it happened, he left behind a woman and two girls that will always cherish his memory. Maybe his girls will get married one day and have kids themselves. And so on. Because of Chris. I miss him, as a lot of people do. Chris’ story reminds me that life is beautiful. Even when it’s sad.

Chris (2)

 

Next Up: The Dream Is Over…

Advertisements

Red West: One of the Good Ones

Robert Gene “Red” West died this past July, aged 81, of an aortic aneurysm. He had “pains” in the afternoon and, by evening, he was dead. Red is probably best known as a longtime “bodyguard” of Elvis Presley. They met in high school and formed a bond that lasted until 1977, the year Elvis died. As this month we mark to 40th anniversary of Presley’s death, it’s timely to take a quick look at the interesting life of Red West.

1956-june-14-red-elvis
Red and Elvis boxing, June 14, 1956

Red was born is Memphis and attended Humes High School with his cousin, Sonny West, at the same time Elvis did. Red was a strapping, red-headed athlete and knew Elvis only by sight when he came upon a group of toughs hassling Elvis in the boys bathroom. Quiet Elvis, with his slick hair piled up in a pompadour and guitar slung over his shoulder, was regularly the brunt of teasing. Famously, Red confronted the gang and managed to extricate Elvis from the situation. A friendship was born. Red went on to occupy a unique position in “Elvis World”. Never a sycophantic ‘yes man’, Red was something unique to Elvis: he was his friend. That’s not to say that their relationship ran smoothly. Far from it. But through it all I think it can be seen that Red’s motives were pure in his relations with Elvis even though Red was strong-willed enough to go toe-to-toe with his boss at times. Also, as we’ll see, he was more than capable of operating and earning outside of just working for Elvis. Keep in mind that “working for Elvis” meant a lot of good things but it also meant that you never had money of your own.

Red West was nothing if not a “good, ol’ boy” and he and Elvis hit it off instantly when they met. It floored Red when he heard his buddy on the radio and it was soon after that Elvis decided he wanted Red around so Red began driving Elvis and his band to dates. Red also tackled the challenging job of simply getting Elvis from the car to the stage door which became increasingly difficult as Elvis’ publicity soared and the girls that went to these concerts began to grow more and more demonstrative. As we’ve discussed, Red was big, strong and hot-headed. Simply put, if you stepped to him it was lights out for you. On the eve of Elvis heading to Hollywood to make his first movie, Red got into another fight. Elvis’ father, Vernon, was petrified of bad publicity and had the first of his shouting matches with Red, telling Red he was not going to make the trip to Hollywood. Red, mostly disappointed that Elvis did not have his back, blew a gasket and said he was quitting to join the Marines, which he did. Already we see Red’s “no BS” policy in effect. While many would endure anything and toe the line to ensure a free ride through life with Elvis Presley, Red wasn’t having it and quit.

Two years later came the event that perhaps is the most significant in “Elvis World”; the death of Elvis’ beloved mother, Gladys. Months before her death, Red showed up in Memphis on a two-week leave from the Marines. He learned that Elvis was in Hollywood but stopped by Graceland to pay his respects to Mrs. Presley. Before he left, Gladys implored him – as indeed she did any and all of those in EP’s circle – to “look after my boy”, indicating plainly the anxiety and worry that had plagued her since her only child had become famous. Red called Elvis from Memphis and King flew Red out to the coast, Red arriving on the set at Paramount a “crew-cut hick” in his Marine uniform. He spent the rest of his leave hanging out with Elvis in the California sun and then headed back to camp in Virginia. In August of 1958, Gladys Presley died and Elvis was beside himself. As soon as Red heard of his friends’ distress, he asked for leave from the Marines and was denied. However, later that same day, Red learned that his own father was gravely ill and was heading home to be with him when he received word that he had passed. He was unable to attend Gladys’ funeral but was dumbfounded when Elvis appeared at the funeral for Red’s father. Elvis, only two days removed from laying his beloved mother to rest and still overcome with grief, almost had to be helped over to Red where the two wept together. Elvis lamented the fact that just two days earlier he had been in the same funeral home for Gladys’ services  and now he was joining his friend in his sorrow over his father. At this moment was born a unique bond between Red West and Elvis Presley; they each had lost a parent on the same day.

1517186_180999125442825_2126251319_n
Margit Burgin, Elvis and Red, Bad Homburg, Germany, October, 1958

Elvis was in the Army going through his basic training when Gladys died. Shortly after, still mourning the loss of his mother, he prepared to ship out to Germany. On the eve of his departure, Red, fresh out of the Marines, came to say goodbye. On a whim, Elvis asked Red to come with him and he did. Mostly, Elvis desperately needed people with him; his friends, people from back home who ‘knew’ him and that would have been reason enough to have Red in Germany with him. But there was more than that. Red – and others – have been called ‘bodyguards’ but they had to do much more. There was always plans to be made and details to look after and Elvis never actually traveled with a ‘staff’ so ‘the guys’ looked after things. But protecting Elvis from overzealous fans could be a full-time job and Red did it well. Red was sometimes VERY aggressive when carrying out his duties and there was often fights. Once again, Elvis’  father, Vernon, would be sick with worry over the potential of bad press and would get into screaming matches with Red. And, once again, Red got fed up and quit.

jamming-candid3zmk
Red and Elvis jam on the set of “It Happened at the World’s Fair”, 1963

Returning Stateside, Red traveled to Hollywood where he looked up people he had met through Elvis, people like Nick Adams and Robert Conrad both of whom had their own TV shows. Robert Conrad was making “Hawaiian Eye” and later “Wild, Wild West” and Red was able to find regular stunt work on these and other television shows. When Elvis returned from Germany in 1960, he tracked down Red and they renewed their friendship. It wasn’t long before Elvis was heading to Hollywood to start his movie-making machine throughout the ’60’s. He used Red often and the sharp-eyed can spot him in the films. He was usually the first guy to attack Elvis when the fight broke out. Interesting when you think of actors back then and the way they liberally used stunt men for even the most innocuous looking scrap. But here was Elvis and Red, a couple of redneck hillbilly boys, getting paid to do on camera what they had always done for kicks down at Graceland. Sometimes Red even got to say a few lines. He portrayed Elvis’ brother in “Wild in the Country”, for example. One of the many interesting things about Red West was that even with his athletic prowess and his proficiency as a street fighter, he was also a songwriter. He began to make inroads in the music industry by writing songs, making a demo recording featuring himself singing and then shopping it around to see if someone would record it. Quite often, he would present these songs to Elvis and the King recorded many of them: “If Every Day Was Like Christmas”, “Holly Leaves and Christmas Trees”, “If You Talk in Your Sleep” and the incredibly heartbreaking “Separate Ways”. This means that Red West, a “bodyguard”, wrote better material for Elvis than some of the professional songwriters writing songs for Elvis’ movies. Red’s involvement in EP’s recording career went even deeper. Often times Elvis could not be bothered to appear at the recording studio to decide on and record songs for his movies. Red was often recruited to go to the studio, sift through AND CHOOSE the songs that Elvis would sing in the movies. Once the songs were picked, Red would record them with the band, singing them in the way he knew Elvis would. He would then take the recordings to Elvis so Elvis could learn them before going in to record them properly. Red also joined Elvis in his passion for karate, sparring with Elvis and for a time running a karate school in Memphis. When Elvis’ marriage to Priscilla was on the rocks, she took up with renown karate instructor Mike Stone. Elvis was enraged. He was determined to have Stone killed. Who did he turn to? Red West. West recalls he felt he was in a daze while he arranged the weaponry and prepared to carry out any instruction Elvis gave him. Finally, Elvis cooled down and said ‘forget it. It’s too heavy’. Red breathed a sigh of relief.

76closewalk
Sonny West, Elvis and Red, Atlanta Georgia, June 5, 1976

It’s common knowledge that the 1970’s saw a general decline in Elvis Presley’s health. A lot – but not all – of this was due to his use of pharmaceuticals. Red was especially persistent in trying to steer Elvis away from this lifestyle. Elvis always maintained that he knew what he was doing. He was not addicted and he knew how to use prescription drugs responsibly to relive his many ailments. In this negative atmosphere, with many close to Elvis becoming increasingly concerned with the changes in his habits and his sometimes violent reactions, everyone was on edge. In the mid-1970’s, there were a couple of instances when Elvis had his life threatened and his security staff had to be particularly vigilant. Quite often, certain lines may have been crossed in dealing with unruly fans. It was undoubtedly hard to tell, in the heat of the moment, who was a homicidal maniac and who was simply an excited fan. Again there were fights, beatings. Vernon – always petrified of being poor again and trying vainly to curb his son’s extravagant spending – continually questioned Elvis’ need of such a large ‘staff’ and when lawsuits started to mount up due to Red’s and others physicality, Vernon pushed through the idea of firing many employees. Three security men – Red West, his cousin and long-time Elvis associate Sonny West and newly arrived Dave Hebler were let go. By Vernon. Red West was hurt and angry. 22 years with Elvis and fired by Vernon without a word from Elvis. Here’s where the big debate regarding Red that polarizes many Elvis fans begins. Red is suddenly and cruelly expelled from the life of his long time friend. He is left without a job (although working for Elvis NEVER actually PAID much). He is angry, sure, at the way he’s been treated but also at the way Elvis is killing himself. In an effort to make money but also to hopefully prompt Elvis to right the ship, Red writes a book. Together with his cousin Sonny and Dave Hebler, they publish the infamous “Elvis: What Happened?”. The book is published in the summer of 1977, two weeks before Elvis dies. Knowing what we know about Elvis’ dependence on pharmaceuticals it’s tough to remember that, before Red’s book was released, the general public had no idea that anything was amiss in Elvis World. The book shocked the public and devastated Elvis. Red took a lot of flak over exposing many secrets as “silence” had long been the mantra of the Memphis Mafia. But let’s face hard facts: Elvis’ intake of prescription drugs was mammoth and – although he did indeed have legitimate health issues – over-prescribing himself was killing him. It has been suggested that Red, Sonny and Dave were the only ones of the inner circle who actively pestered Elvis to get his act together and this could be one of the reasons they were dismissed. Also, as I’ve explored in previous posts, Elvis’ father could never enjoy his son’s success as he lived in fear of one day being poor again. The Memphis Mafia were nothing but hangers-on according to Vernon and he NEVER wanted ANY of them around and this presents an obvious reason why the boys were fired. The debate rages in Elvis World: was Red motivated solely by greed or was he legitimately trying to help his friend by exposing his foibles? No one can say for sure. However, I’ve learned that analyzing the life and career of Elvis Presley is a massive undertaking.  There is so little black or white in his tale and so much room for conjecture. I have found that you need to have all the information. Consider many different accounts from many different sources. Mostly I think what you have to do is accept that Elvis was human. He was an incredibly charismatic man who lived a life that had no blueprint – NO ONE before him had trod a similar path. But he was human and, like all of us, heavily flawed. So when you take the case of Red West you have to look at the facts. Before Elvis was anything but an outcast, really, Red stood up for him – even though the two high school kids barely knew each other. He helped Elvis in the early days but then left to join the Marines. Elvis opened doors in Hollywood for Red, yes, but Red walked through most of them himself and built his own career and reputation in film. Red worked for Elvis through the ’60’s but also found success working with other artists and wrote some high quality material for Elvis. Three prominent members of Elvis’ inner circle wrote a massive book on their lives with the King. In it, they agree that Red wrote his book to make money – naturally. After all, he had a story to tell that many people would want to hear. But they also all agree that NO ONE was closer to or loved Elvis more than Red West. And, while we’re facing facts, most of the claims in Red’s book have been proved accurate. In the summer of ’77, a shocking book is published with hard-to-believe allegations about Presley’s drug use – allegations that had NEVER been raised before. Then TWO WEEKS after this ‘outrageous’ book is published, Elvis Presley dies a drug-related death. You really have to look up the facts and draw your own conclusions.

51GMZYGhxxL._SX307_BO1,204,203,200_
The infamous book, released two weeks before Elvis died.

 

After Red’s life with Elvis came to a close, he became a full-time actor earning a recurring role in Robert Conrad’s series “Black Sheep Squadron”. He also made guest appearances in many television shows throughout the 1980’s. He is perhaps best known to audiences for his role in the classic Patrick Swayze film “Roadhouse”. He also appeared in Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Rainmaker” and Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers” and “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer”. Unbeknownst to just about everybody, he gained his first starring role in the 2008 independent film “Goodbye Solo”. Roger Ebert called it “a masterwork” and the New York Times hailed it as “a near-perfect film”.

A major player in the life of Elvis Presley has died this year, the 40th anniversary of the death of the King. The Memphis Mafia is never included in official family business in Memphis during the annual Elvis Week marking the anniversary of his passing but this year Red and his wife of 56 years, Pat (Red met Pat when she was a secretary for Elvis) were going to be involved in some events with longtime Elvis associate, disc jockey George Klein. Unfortunately, that won’t happen now. It’s this Elvis fan’s opinion that Red West gets a pass. He gets the benefit of the doubt. There really is too much evidence to support the deep love that flowed between Red and Elvis. They went back too far together and Red had too many more options outside of Elvis to make any of Red’s actions purely mercenary. One of the many sad parts of Elvis’ story is the people he left behind. People who lost a son, a grandson, a father and a friend. Many people were left behind to suffer with sadness, frustration, anger and guilt. Red West was one of these people. And he was one of the good ones.

2432686303_1ca99330ee
Vernon Presley, Elvis and Red, Chicago, 1972