Singer Wayne Newton has a long tradition in Southern Nevada. Known because of several titles including Mr. Las Vegas, he performed during an era that included entertainment greats such as the Beatles, Jackie Gleason and Elvis Presley, to name a few.
Also known as the Midnight Idol, Newton was in good company in Las Vegas back in the 1960s and 1970s and he earned his keep when showrooms in Southern Nevada featured Johnny Carson, Theresa Brewer, Jack Benny, Shecky Green and Frank Sinatra in a competitive business dominated by changing times and volatile surroundings.
As a six-year-old, Newton performed in a USO show for President Harry Truman. As an eight- year-old, he was selected to audition for Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour television show. Ironically enough, Newton and Presley were both booted from the show.
Newton has never been daunted by setbacks, though. He continues to perform at his best when the level of stress is at his highest.
It’s difficult to argue with success. Long after others have come and gone in the limelight of The Entertainment Capital of the World, Newton still headlines Las Vegas.
Newton’s love for Las Vegas is shown by the fact that he still lives in the city that has driven many others to a quieter and more relaxed environment. He no longer lives at Casa de Shenandoah at 3310 Sunset Rd., but the home remains a very popular attraction.
To Newton, Las Vegas is the right home in an area known for hot summers and windy weather.
Las Vegas doesn’t appeal to everyone. In a city known for its transient nature, the native of Virginia became hooked on the entertainment bug at an early age watching country music star Hank Williams perform in a Grand Ole Opry show in Roanoke.
At the age of four he told his mother he wanted to be an entertainer – and the rest is history. When he pointed to the stage telling his mother “that’s what I want to do,” it was almost like a batter in baseball pointing to the outfield bleachers while announcing that he was about to knock the next pitch out of the park.
However, there was more to Newton’s talents than singing. He learned to play the piano, guitar and steel guitar by ear. He hosted his own radio show by the time he was six and Newton and his brother, Jerry, played the Grand Ol Opry shows during a career that continued to prosper.
When Newton started to suffer from asthma, his parents moved the family to Phoenix because of its dry climate. The relocation improved his health and moved him closer to Las Vegas which is 300 miles from Phoenix.
Gleason hired Newton to perform at a Phoenix luncheon. That agreement led to 12 performances in two years on Gleason’s television show. Newton also appeared with Lucille Ball and Danny Thomas on other television shows.
Riding the wave, Newton continued his aggressive push into show business. Even Jack Benny – who frowned on young entertainers going from a lounge to a main showroom – couldn’t hold Newton back.
Benny apparently knew talent when he saw it and paid Newton $1,500 a week to open his show on the Las Vegas Strip. The agreement lasted for five years.
Newton’s level of confidence became evident when he was asked to open for a comedian at the Flamingo Hilton in the 1960s. Rather than oblige the offer, Newton told the powers-that-be that he wanted to headline the showroom instead.
The Flamingo Hilton executive agreed to give him the chance-of-a-lifetime and Newton suddenly found himself as a headliner in November, considered one of the worst times of year to draw audiences.
“In those days, you could shoot a cannon in November and not hit a single soul on the Strip,” Newton said. “There just wasn’t any business at that time of year. The odds-makers had predicted that I was going to flop. The only thing that none of them counted on was the local people. The night we opened, the locals came out in droves and totally supported and saved my career, for which I will always be grateful.”
All Newton did was break all the hotels’ attendance records. Then, in 1994, he performed his 25,000th show in Las Vegas. Twelve years later, he drew a sold-out crowd during an Australian tour.
Additional performances that the old-timers will never forget were at the Fremont Hotel in downtown Las Vegas along with the Frontier Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. People remember that he owned the Las Vegas Strip, but he also did well in downtown Las Vegas.
Newton continued his career as an actor, something he really enjoys. His guest television appearances included Bonanza and Ocean’s Eleven along with James Bond movie thriller “License to Kill.”
“I enjoy acting immensely,” Newton once said. “I think it’s because I’ve spent my whole life being Wayne Newton.
“This way, I can get all my hostilities out and I don’t go to jail for it,” Newton once said.
Now 74, Newton has always been dedicated to giving back. Bob Hope lauded him as Chairman of the USO Celebrity Circle in 2000. He also performed in 16 USO tours from 2001-2004, to name a few of the man’s undying efforts to give back to the troops.
For his efforts, President George Bush honored Newton at a private White House reception. The awards for his service are numerous, to say the least. Honors bestowed on Newton have been numerous.
With a long list of hit songs that have included “Heart,” “Danke Schoen,” “Red Roses for a Blue Lady,” “Summer Wind,” “Dreams of the Everyday Housewife,” and “Daddy, Don’t You Walk So Fast,” there probably isn’t a den
big enough to house the awards from all of his hits. +