Elvis Presley's Memphis Mafia: The Story of the Retinue of the King of Rock and Roll

How Elvis Presley got his own mafia, and what it cost the singer

Elvis and his mafia: the story of the King's extended family

The King of Rock 'n' Roll gets out of the car and is greeted by a deafening, screaming crowd of fans. He smiles his trademark, soft smile and waves his hand. People get out of his car and from the escort car and surround Elvis in a tight ring. These are his guards (formally), friends and pals. Their name is the Memphis Mafia, and they are not only with the King when he is in public. They plan his tours, they are his logistics and bodyguards, but in fact they are much more than that. They are his family, for better or worse, but this is a fact.

Elvis gave them cars and houses, and they were always there for him. Where did this new kind of mafiosi come from?

Elvis and his friends
Elvis and his friends

Who started it all

It seems they have always been with him. Elvis was very attached to childhood friends, he wanted to be surrounded by people whom he could completely trust. Therefore, from the very beginning of his career in 1954, he began to surround himself with those very friends of his youth with whom he did not want to part.

It all started with his two cousins Junior and Jeanie Smith and his high school buddies Red West and Cliff Gleaves. The only girl in their group was Judy Sprackles. There weren't huge crowds back then, just a group of friends hanging out together, going to Vegas, riding horses, and just having fun. A little later they were joined by Sony West, Charlie Hodge, Joe Esposito, Billy Smith and Mevlana Khezri. Over time, the number of names on the list increased and the family turned into a clan.

Where did this nickname come from?

No matter how trite, the press came up with this nickname, around the 60s. We can say that the guys themselves asked for it: they wore dark glasses and black suits, accompanied Elvis everywhere. According to one report, when the company appeared in this way in front of the crowd outside the Riviera Hotel, an onlooker called out, "Is this a mafia?" The nickname stuck. Elvis and his friends even liked it.

Elvis with bodyguards
Elvis with bodyguards

The "Memphis Mafia" was not the only nickname the Elvis Presley company had. In addition to him, they also had their own abbreviation "TCB", which stands for "Taking Care of Business (take care of business)", which conveys the idea of a group of people who solve some business and has the same "gangster" connotation . This abbreviation was even on Elvis's private jet, on which he traveled with his friends.

Not everything is so beautiful

Sure, the story of the Memphis Mafia might seem funny, but every coin has two sides. Unfortunately, this story is also not all that fun and good.

This company was terribly fond of parties, every evening they went to a new institution, to a show or dance. Of course, in order to lead such a lifestyle, one had to forget about health. One of the members of the Mafia, Joe Esposito, recalled that they almost never slept, and in order to keep themselves in good shape, everyone took pills, which later caused Elvis to become addicted.

But entertainment was never enough for them. According to friends, for Elvis himself, entertainment was only fun if it was dangerous. As a result, they themselves came up with these dangerous entertainments. One of their favorite games was to split into two teams and throw firecrackers and fireworks at each other. Even though they wore helmets, goggles and gloves, the game was still very traumatic. Elvis left a scar on his neck as a "trophy", and one of his friends almost lost his eye.

Of course, there were also pleasant moments. These people were family to Elvis. Even the girls who met him noted that, for the most part, they spent time not only with Elvis, but also with his friends. Smith, one of the members of the "mafia", said that it happened that Elvis came to his bedroom with his wife in the middle of the night, because he had a nightmare or he just needed someone to talk to. Smith says:

“The three of us talked for hours, discussing everything in the world! Sometimes, he had a bad dream and he needed to talk, he would come and literally fall asleep with us, in our bed. This happened many times and didn't bother us at all."

Such close friendships, lifestyle, constant parties and big expenses that the bank account could no longer cover, worried Elvis's relatives, in particular, his father Vernon Presley. Gradually, he lost confidence in the members of the "mafia", fearing that they were a bad influence on his son. He tried to take matters into his own hands and even fired the West brothers. Red and Sonny were not even able to personally discuss the situation with Elvis and did not receive the appropriate severance pay. In the end, all parties were left feeling betrayed.

Elvis Presley with his entourage
Elvis Presley with his entourage

Later, the West brothers decided to write a book that tells the story of their relationship with Elvis, about his dependence on drugs, which loyal doctors prescribed him on an unlimited scale. The idea of this book came as a shock to Elvis and his father. Vernon even tried to offer monetary compensation for the fact that the book did not see the light of day. The idea of the West brothers was to use the “shake-up” method to influence non-Elvis and thus force him to change his lifestyle, take a break and give up pills. All this happened in the last years of Elvis' life.

Unfortunately, the story of the Memphis Mafia ends with the death of their King. Later, many former members of the "mafia" wrote books that talked about their experiences with Elvis Presley and their friendship from many different angles. But, it is clear that all these books could not bring back the old days.

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