One of the most well-known entertainers in Las Vegas, Wayne Newton has been gracing the glamorous desert’s stages for decades, since he was just fifteen years old. How did he climb his way to the top and become one of Vegas’ living legends? Here is an inside look on how Wayne Newton became Mr. Las Vegas.
Having a career in Las Vegas that spans over six decades, Wayne Newton is definitely considered a local legend. Working with other legends such as Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, and Bobby Darin, he made his first headliner home in the Flamingo Hotel and has gone to appear in numerous films, tv, and has recorded and released an incredible 165 albums in his career. But how did Wayne Newton come to hold the title of “Mr. Las Vegas?”
His humble beginnings start in Roanoke, Virginia, where he kept himself busy while his father was away serving in the US Navy by studying the piano, guitar, and steel guitar at the early age of six. Eventually moving out to Newark, Ohio, he spent the rest of his early years singing in local theatres, clubs and fairs with his older brother. Due to his severe asthma, Newton moved to Phoenix, but was scouted by a Las Vegas booking agent while he was on a local tv show called Lew King Rangers Show. The duo of brothers were contracted to perform for five years, doing six shows a day and appeared 12 times on the Jackie Gleason Show on the 60’s while the young Wayne was just 15 years old.. By 1963, he was signed on to Capitol Records at the age of 21. His top hit, Danke Shoen, reached no. 13 on the Hot 100. Other notable hits include Red Roses for a Blue Lady and Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast.
By 1992, he performed his 25,000th solo show on the Las Vegas Strip as well as premiered a pay-per-view concert event entitled Wayne Newton Live in Concert. Before he was officially elected into the Gaming Hall of Fame in 2000, Newton signed a 10-year deal with the Stardust in 1999, contracting him to perform 40 weeks out of the year for six shows a week in his namesake showroom. This was the first ever “headliner-in-residence” contract in music history.
Unfortunately, the Stardust was demolished in 2005 and the deal was terminated. Instead, Newton continued to headline at the Hilton for a 30 show-long contract after his last show at the Stardust on April 20th, 2005. Newton eventually went on to have his own reality show on E! called The Entertainer where the winner scored a spot in his act, plus a year-long headlining act of their own. In 2007, he competed on the 5th season of Dancing with the Stars with two-time champion Cheryl Burke. Although he was the third contestant to be eliminated that season, he was simultaneously taping for The Price is Right. In 2009, he performed at the Tropicana Las Vegas in his show titled “Once Before I Go.” After a 5 year hiatus, his 2016 residency titled “Up Close & Personal” premiered at the Bally’s Hotel. In this show, he combines live singing with playing some of the 13 instruments he managed to teach himself how to play during his lifetime. After more than 30,000 shows on the Las Vegas Strip, he celebrated his 60th year on Las Vegas stages in 2019 by premiering a show called “Mr. Las Vegas” at Caesars Palace. In June 2020, he could be seen on television commercials as a Caesars Entertainment spokesperson promoting the reopening of Caesars resorts during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking of television, Newton can be seen in numerous popular film and TV titles. His voice can be heard in the iconic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, he rightfully makes a cameo in The Hangover, and he even can be seen playing himself in Sharknado: The 4th Awakens. In the world of TV, he has made numerous appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, can be seen on an episode of That 70’s Show and Pimp My Ride. He can also be heard in the video game Fallout: New Vegas as the voice of Mr. New Vegas, the DJ of the in-game radio station. Spanning through music, film, tv, and even video games, Wayne Newton has definitely earned his title of Mr. Las Vegas.
His former estate, the Casa de Shenandoah, can still be seen in the middle of East Sunset Road. Originally used as a ranch to support his love for horses, Newton has successfully bred six generations of horses which include 96 champions as of 2014. He often states that his two loves were music and horses, and he couldn’t decide which he loved more. He was eventually given the Arabian Professional and Amateur Horseman’s Association Breeder of the Year award in 1996 and the Arabian Horse Breeders’ Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007. His numerous accolades for both music and horse breeding certainly proves that Newton’s love and passion resonates.
A legendary career doesn’t come without setbacks. He notoriously had a feud with former Tonight Show host Johnny Carson where he confronted Carson about the seemingly ill-spirited jokes he was making about him. On Late Night with Conan O’Brien, he disclosed that he slapped Carson, but didn’t bring this up when questioned on Larry King Live. Instead, he described Carson as a mean-spirited human being who tried to turn negative attention onto him. After unsuccessfully purchasing the Aladdin Hotel in 1982, he faced numerous lawsuits and has been faced with numerous since for things such as failing to pay for hay delivered to his ranch estate, owing for a lease on a Cadillac, and bankruptcy. He was even rumored to have worked with the Mafia to try and purchase the Aladdin Hotel. Nonetheless, these setbacks didn’t keep the local legend down for long, as Newton is still entertaining crowds at 80 years old.
Wayne Newton can currently be seen in his latest Flamingo Residency, Wayne: Up Close and Personal, every Monday, Wednesday and Sunday at 7 p.m. at Bugsy’s Cabaret inside the Wayne Newton Theater. Here, you can find Newton in an intimate performance setting, reflecting back on his legendary career and performing some favorite songs, never before seen clips, highlights, and even audience Q&A. If you have ever been a fan of the local legend, get tickets now. He’s had a long and fulfilling career, and Vegas is lucky to still have him charming audiences from far and wide.