Elvis: What Happened?

By: Chet Flippo
Source: CMT
May 26, 2017

Elvis: What Happened?
Elvis: What Happened?
The following is an article by Chet Flippo, the Editorial Director for CMT:

The 1977 book Elvis: What Happened? was a very messy tell-all expose, based entirely on interviews with the three formerly trusted aides and bodyguards who had recently been fired by Elvis' father Vernon as part of a cost-cutting operation. The bodyguards, the cousins Red West and Sonny West and Dave Hebler, felt betrayed after being summarily dismissed after years of what they regarded as devotion to the King.

They seemed to seek revenge. And they got it in Elvis: What Happened?

'We lost money', Murdoch told Esquire magazine in 2008 in talking about the New York Post's finances. 'Until one of our reporters wrote the 'true story' of Elvis Presley. We said we would serialize it, and it came out the day Presley died, completely by coincidence'.

The installments had actually been planned to run later, but Elvis' sudden death prompted Murdoch to pounce. The New York Post began printing  installments from the book the day that Elvis died. The first headline read, 'New Book Tells of His Decline in Drug Nightmare'.

Objectively speaking, the book was a true MURDOCH HATCHET JOB. It laid out all of Elvis' dirty laundry that you didn't want -- or need to know. And it was all hear-say from the three bodyguards. No other sources are cited in the book at all.

There are no voices to answer for Elvis. The book's copyright is by Murdoch's News Corporation. It became a best-seller, and the profits went to Murdoch's News Corporation, not to the author. It was written by Steve Dunleavy, a hard-drinking, controversial Australian reporter greatly favored by Murdoch.

Dunleavy told me the assignment to do the Elvis book came from the very top. When I pressed him about his financial arrangements about the book, Dunleavy would only say, 'Mr. Murdoch took care of me very well for the book'.

Steve would not say if he or the Post had paid for interviews with the three bodyguards for the project. Given the Murdoch empire's lengthy history of buying interviews and paying out bribes, I suspect that was very likely the case. There were no cell phones back then, so they couldn't have been hacked. But Dunleavy didn't really need phone hacking. He got his dirt straight from Elvis' former guys.

Close Elvis associates have said the book had a devastating effect on Presley. He read portions of an advance copy of it, became alternately depressed and enraged. The book was published in early August of 1977. Elvis died in Graceland two weeks later, on August 16, 1977.

They did not write the book out of spite, hatred or to exploit Elvis, explained Sonny. 'Our thoughts were all positive', Hebler said. West said he deplored the press emphasis on drugs and denounced ghostwriter Dunleavy 'for going up there and blasting into him and saying the whole thing is about drugs. It's not. There's love and admiration in there'.

A study of the book shows, however, that drug references appear in at least nine of 22 chapters; other chapters are taken up with incidents of violence, biographical information, anecdotes detailing Presley's well-known generosity with both friends and strangers and his love of his late mother, Gladys.

But many of the 'love and admiration' remarks are used to offset negative impressions of Presley. For example: 'I had a lot of laughs, a lot of good times with Elvis', says Red. 'I also had a lot of rough times with him. Elvis over the years has changed since those days, unfortunately ... but I grew to love the sonofabitch, and despite everything - maybe I still do'.

In a press conference, Sonny said the following regarding Elvis and why he turned to drugs; 'Ever since I've known Elvis, this man has needed a challenge, and he'd meet it. He did it in 1973 when he was overweight. He was gonna do a satellite show - 25 countries, a billion people - he went on a diet, he got down to about 165 pounds, the best I had seen him look in several years, and he put on a dynamite show, and then he went right back to what he was doing before.

He just didn't care. He loved performing, but all the time he wasn't on stage for that hour, I guess the man was just bored and trying to find different things to do. He would get toys or things, like three-wheelers, and ride them around Memphis, just for an hour or so, just to get out. I mean the man was limited, he could be in the middle of a crowd and he could be lonely. He was one of the loneliest men I've ever, ever seen in my life. We tried to be with him and protect him and keep him happy as best we could. I swear to God we did, man'.

After Elvis' death in 1977, Sonny and his wife, Judy, raised, bred and showed Arabian Horses until 1983. They also owned and operated a Western Costume Jewelry line. In 1978 Sonny was Associate Producer and co-starred with Jim Stafford in a movie filmed in Nashville, titled 'The Disc Jockey'.

A promoter he had met during his years with Elvis hired him to take charge of security for a tour he was promoting called the 'Salem Country Gold Tour '82', starring the country group, Alabama, Mickey Gilley, Johnny Lee and Juice Newton. Sonny was also in charge of hotel arrangements and transportation for the tour.

Over the next several years, Sonny learned the talent booking business from the promoter for whom he was working, booking top talent into all size venues and booking for Special Events. Sonny was also a Co-Producer on several music videos.

Sonny loved to share his stories about his life with Elvis with fans around the world and filmed a DVD called 'Up Close and Personal' of his live performance. In 2007, Sonny published his second book on his life with Elvis with co-writer, Marshall Terrill, titled: Elvis: Still Taking Care Of Business by Triumph/Random House.

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