Some call him a legend, others simply Mr. Las Vegas, but Wayne Newton is more than one of the best famous entertainers of America, he is one of the personalities that best identified with the history of Las Vegas. Singer, actor or humanitarian, Wayne Newton succeeded with his dongs or his roles in the movies to bring smile and joy in the hearts of the people. Maybe, this is why, The Midnight Idol or Mr. Entertainment are just a few cuddling names given to him, this great symbol of Las Vegas city by the American public. This is a story that best pictures the “American dream” idea.
The early years
Newton was born Carson Wayne Newton in Norfolk, Virginia, to Evelyn Marie (née Plasters; later changed to Smith) and Patrick Newton, who was an auto mechanic.While his father was in the U.S. Navy, Newton spent his early childhood in Roanoke, learning the piano, guitar, and steel guitar at the age of six.
At a young age, Wayne was already a veteran of show business. He was just four when he settled on a life course. His parents had taken him to see a Grand Ole Opry road show in Roanoke, Virginia, and he watched, wide-eyed, as Hank Williams and Kitty Wells, among others, performed. When it was over he said to his mother, “That’s what I want to do.” “What?” she asked. “That,” he answered, pointing toward the stage.
Wayne’s severe bouts with asthma forced the family to move from Virginia to Phoenix, Arizona, where he recovered and continued his career. The stamina that would see him through this and many other difficult periods he credits to his Powahatan Indian/Irish father, who overcame his own poverty stricken background, and his Cherokee Indian/German mother. That disappointment was a minor setback in a childhood that included serious health struggles.
In the spring of 1958, toward the end of Wayne’s junior year in high school, a Las Vegas booking agent saw a local TV show, Lew King Rangers Show, on which the two Newton brothers were performing and took them back for an audition. Originally signed for two weeks, the brothers eventually performed for five years, doing six shows a day. On September 29, 1962, they first performed on The Jackie Gleason Show. He would perform on Gleason’s show 12 times over the following two years.
Many other entertainment icons such as Lucille Ball, Bobby Darin, Danny Thomas, George Burns, and Jack Benny lent Newton their support. In particular, Benny hired Newton as an opening act for his show. After his job with Benny ended, Newton was offered a job to open for another comic at the Flamingo Hotel, but Newton asked for, and was given, a headline act. In 1972 his recording of “Daddy, Don’t You Walk So Fast” sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the Recording Industry Association of America R.I.A.A.( in July 1972).
But it was Jack Benny who helped make sure that in a day when lounge singers didn’t move up to Vegas’s main show rooms, Wayne Newton did. Wayne turned down thousands of dollars in the lounges to work for Mr. Benny as an opening act in the main show room for $1,500 a week, a slot he filled for the next five years.
There was one more hurdle in Las Vegas, and that was headlining the main showrooms. Wayne managed that with courage – and the help of the fans he’s always worked so hard for. After the job with Mr. Benny, Wayne was offered the chance to open for another comic at the Flamingo Hilton. He said he wanted to headline instead, and the owner was so taken aback that he said “yes”. There was a catch, though.
Wayne broke all the hotels’ attendance records, and he has been synonymous with Las Vegas ever since. In 1994, Wayne performed his 25,000 show in Las Vegas alone and is known all over the world simply as “Mr. Las Vegas.” The spectacular production of Wayne Live (which has brought him numerous “Entertainer of the Year” honors) has also coaxed reviewers and feature writers to tout it as The Las Vegas Experience. For many years running, Wayne was voted “Entertainer of the Year” by Nevada Magazine and other magazines. In 2005, Nevada Magazine stated, “Maybe we ought to retire this category. For the eighth straight time, Wayne Newton was voted “Best Entertainer.”
The acting skills he learned on stage, in the company of Lucy and “The Great One,” and in guest spots on shows like “Bonanza,” have been in full blossom in recent years. Some of his film acting credits include hits such as “Vegas Vacation”, “Ocean’s Eleven,” the James Bond thriller “License To Kill,” “The Adventures of Ford Fairlane,” “The Dark Backward,” “The Best of the Best II”, “Night of the Running Man,” “Who’s Your Daddy?” “Elvis Has Left the Building” and “Smokin’ Aces.”
Some of his television acting credits include, NBC’s “Las Vegas,” “According to Jim,” “Kingdom Hospital,” the ABC miniseries, “North and South, Book II,” “Roseanne,” “Ellen,” “My Wife and Kids,” “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” “Renegade,” “Perfect Strangers,” “LA Law,” and the HBO series “Tales from the Crypt,” just to name a few. Wayne received rave reviews portraying “shock jock” Harold Wick on the hit television show “Ally McBeal”. In February 1999, he received a “First American in the Arts Award” as “Outstanding Guest Performance by an Actor in a Television Series” for his role on “Ally McBeal.”
His well known songs include 1972’s “Daddy, Don’t You Walk So Fast” (his biggest hit, peaking at No. 4 on the Billboard chart), “Years” (1980), and his vocal version of “Red Roses for a Blue Lady” (1965). He is best known for his signature song, “Danke Schoen” (1963), which was notably used in the score for “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986). On May 23, 1989, Newton’s live stage show was broadcast as a Pay-Per-View event called Wayne Newton Live in Concert. In 1999, Newton signed a 10-year deal with the Stardust Resort and Casino, calling for him to perform there 40 weeks out of the year for six shows a week in a showroom named after him.
Although Newton will be remembered as one of the top-drawing performers in Las Vegas history, it was his brief stint as a casino owner that showed the world a different side of the entertainer: that of a pretty good businessman. Newton bought the Aladdin at a difficult time in Las Vegas’ history. It was a period in which the federal government was cracking down on the mob and corporate ownership of gaming properties was in its infancy.
In March 1979, four Aladdin officials were convicted in Detroit of allowing mobsters there to run the resort. In August 1979, the state closed the Aladdin, but federal Judge Harry Claiborne ordered it reopened immediately. Eleven months later, gaming officials closed it again. At one point, the Nevada Gaming Commission created the post of receiver to run the Aladdin, even though there was nothing in the state law to provide for receivership.
In September 1980, Newton and Ed Torres, a former chief executive of the Riviera and Newton’s longtime friend, bought the Aladdin for $85 million and reopened it the next month. After 21 months of running the Aladdin together, Torres and Newton split amid reports that they were constantly fighting. In July 1982, Torres bought out Newton for $8.5 million.
Among the things they did not see eye to eye on were employee cutbacks, which Newton opposed. Another tiff was over the size of the shot glasses in their bars. But the straw that broke the camel’s back was a dispute over the purchase of a nearby service station on Las Vegas Boulevard that would have to be leveled to give the Aladdin much better access to and from the Strip. Newton was willing to pay the station owner’s price of $16 million for the prime Strip property. Torres wouldn’t pay more than $4 million.
In the end, that small parcel was not purchased by Newton and Torres, and the Aladdin never reached its potential. The property had a few other owners along the way — Sinatra was interested in buying it in 1990, but that deal did not materialize. Finally The Aladdin was rebuilt at a cost of $1.4 billion and reopened August 2000 but did not live up to its new owners expectations. It was sold to its current owners in 2003 and became Planet Hollywood in April 2007.
Rewards & Recognition
In September 2006, Newton was inducted into the Nevada Entertainer/Artist Hall of Fame at UNLV’s Artemus Ham Hall. The people of Las Vegas and Nevada, whom he so dearly loves, have given him their highest honors as well. He is one of only two people in Las Vegas history to receive the city’s Medal of Honor, he has been named Ambassador of Goodwill for the state and he has seen Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport’s main thoroughfare renamed “Wayne Newton Boulevard.” Wayne was also named one of the “top 3 entertainers of the century in Nevada and around the world” (along with Frank Sinatra and Elvis).
In November, 1998, he was bestowed the honor of being knighted “Sir Wayne Newton”. In February 2000, Wayne was awarded the “Lifetime Achievement Award” by the First American’s in the Arts and in October 2000, he was inducted into the American Gaming Association’s “Gaming Hall of Fame.”