Delbert B. “Sonny” West, Jr., of Hendersonville, Tennessee, passed away peacefully on Wednesday, May 24, 2017. West was one of the original members of Elvis Presley’s “Memphis Mafia”. This name was given, by a Las Vegas reporter, referring to an entourage of friends, family, and body guards, in which the Rock’n’Roll superstar chose to spend his time with and, most importantly, entrust his life.
In April of 2012, West was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer of the tonsil. After a long battle, which included Chemo and Radiation, he was pronounced Cancer free. Since then, he suffered triple bypass heart surgery, pneumonia several times, and finally lung cancer. He fought this battle with his wife, Judy, who was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. Their son, Bryan, and daughter, Alana, have been by their sides.
Sonny West was one of two sons and five daughters born to Delbert B. West, Sr., of Corinth, MS and Robbie Elaine Smith West, of Pontotoc, MS. Ironically, West may very well have been a distant cousin of Presley, as Pontotoc was only 20 miles from Tupelo, MS. Elvis’ mother, Gladys Smith, had family scattered throughout this area. Both Smith clans possessed the dark physical features of the Native American ancestry that both families claimed.
From July of 1955 until July of 1958, West served his country in the U.S. Air Force, being discharged with the rank of Airman, 3rd Class. Sonny’s cousin, Robert “Red” West, had been working with Elvis since his career began. Both Sonny and Red grew up in Memphis. Red had attended Humes High School with Elvis. After Elvis returned from his stint in the Army, Red invited Sonny and three of his sisters to Graceland to meet his boss, Elvis Presley. Sonny and Elvis clicked during their first meeting. A short time later, Elvis asked Sonny to come to work for him. He would serve in many capacities of assisting the singer.
Sonny earned the title and responsibilities of, “Head of Security”. He would accompany Elvis throughout the United States both at work and play. While with Elvis, on the movie sets, Sonny would appear in many of the movies, as did other members of his entourage. He even started to get speaking parts, so much so, he received billing credits in the movie, “Stay Away Joe”, where he played a Native American character. He was bitten by the movie bug. He started to get parts in non-Elvis movies and even appeared in the popular TV series, “The Beverly Hillbillies”, playing Ellie Mae’s boyfriend. When Elvis returned to live performances, in 1969, West and his fellow security staff and body guards put themselves in harm’s way on more than one occasion, but remained steadfast in putting Elvis’ physical well-being and safety above their own. He and the others remained loyal to him year after year.
In December of 1970, Sonny married Judy Jordan. Elvis served as Best Man and Priscilla as Matron of Honor at their wedding. Judy was an actress, who had been One of Jackie Gleason’s “Away We Go Girls.” It was Judy who said those famous lines at the beginning of every show. Sonny and Judy met on the set of the movie, “Big Foot”, in which they both had acting roles. After leaving Elvis’ employment, in 1976,
Sonny and Judy formed a company raising and breeding Arabian horses. Sonny entered the artistic world of designing and making Western jewelry. In 1982, the entertainment world came calling once again. Sonny accepted the position of, “Chief of Security”, for the “Salem Country Gold ‘82” country music tour featuring such acts as, Alabama, Mickey Gilley, Johnny Lee, and Juice Newton. Sonny joined Eddy Raven and began running his concession division of Raven’s business. He had honed his skills and talents, in booking, before leaving the entertainment world. He worked with many big name acts in the business. In 1988, West joined his wife, Judy, in a family business, while also hosting a local radio show on WMRO. This allowed him to spend more time with his family, of which a grandson, named Tristan, would be added. During his retirement years, he produced a show called, “Memories of Elvis: An Evening with Sonny West”. He would travel around the world sharing stories of his life with the superstar.
At the time of his passing, he and Judy were in their forty-seventh year of marriage. They were devoted to each other and lived in close proximity to their children and grandchild, all of whom he adored and considered the center of his world.
Sonny is survived by his wife of 47 years, Judy Jordan West; children, Bryan Lee West and Alana Leigh West Green; grandson, Tristen Bryant; sisters, Elizabeth Case, Barbara Thorpe, Carolyn Harriss, Susan Clare and several nieces, nephews, great nieces and great nephews. In addition to his beloved family, Sonny West, throughout the years, made friends that became family. His memory will live in their hearts and minds forever. A Life Celebration Service honoring Sonny will be held on Thursday, June 1, 2017 at 3:00 P.M. from the Chapel of Crestview Funeral Home with Billy Blackwood and Donnie Sumner officiating. Interment with Military Honors will follow in Crestview Memory Gardens. Visitation with the family will be held on Wednesday from 4-8 P.M. and Thursday from 12 P.M. until service time. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Sonny West Memorial Fund at First Tennessee Bank, West Main Branch in Hendersonville, TN. Arrangements Entrusted To: Crestview Funeral Home and Memory Gardens, 1623 Highway 109 North, Gallatin, TN 37066 (615)452-1943 www.crestviewfh.com