Caesars Palace recently celebrated its 50th birthday and in a city renowned for blowing up anything older than 20 years of age, the iconic Las Vegas Strip resort has become a historic part of the Las Vegas scene.
Since opening on Aug. 5, 1966 with singer Andy Williams as the headliner, Caesars has been in a class all by itself in attracting big-time entertainers while also producing a long list of special events that once led the way in a city known for blockbuster entertainment.
Key to the lifeblood of Caesars has been its consistent flow of attention-getting presentations both the indoors and the outdoors. Over the years, members of the media spent long hours at the hotel because the resort has been the hotspot of activity.
Whether talking about entertainment or sports, Caesars set the standard in Las Vegas. No matter what time of year. Since the first shovel broke ground, entertainers have continued to return to perform. Sports events, which were vibrant at the hotel-casino more than 30 years ago included everything from outdoor championship boxing to auto racing programs in the parking lot to professional tennis and even an outdoor National Hockey League game between the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings.
Caesars actually kicked off its special events with Dec. 31, 1967 when daredevil Robert “Evel” Knievel attempted to jump the resort’s towering row of fountains on his red, white and blue motorcycle. Knievel made the jump but was injured during the landing before Gary Wells and Knievel’s son, Robbie, both successfully jumped the fountains (Wells did it Sept. 15, 1980 while the younger Knievel pulled off the feat April 14, 1989).
On May 4, 2006, “The Godfather of Freestyle Motocross” Mike Metzger broke the world record for longest motorcycle backflip at 125 feet over the fountains.
However, with all of its glory over the years, the Caesars Palace Grand Prix from 1981-84 might be considered the resort’s most unique presentation. With Formula One for the first two years before being replaced by Championship Auto Racing for the final two years, the race course for the event was built in the parking lot just north of the hotel.
With the field running from the west to the east, the fascinating pitch of high-horsepower race car engines echoing off the surrounding hotels created what was a European-like atmosphere complete with huge crowds of spectators from all over the world.
The resort also capitalized on the Alan King/Caesars Palace tennis classic in an arena behind the hotel. The major tournament featured such stars as Rod Laver, Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe and was held from 1972-85.
Caesars also conceived matching the stop tennis stars of the era in winner-take-all challenge events. The first one on Feb. 2, 1975 featured Aussie legend Laver against rising U.S. Phenom Connors, who won a close match in four sets.
Memorable championship boxing matches have included U.S.A.-Soviet amateur boxing Oct. 25, 1969; George Foreman-Ron Lyle North American Boxing Federation sanctioned heavyweight title bout Jan. 24, 1976; Larry Holmes-Ken Norton World Boxing Council heavyweight title fight Jan. 9, 1978; and the Muhammad Ali-Larry Holmes WBC heavyweight title bout in a specially-prepared 25,000 seat outdoor arena Oct. 2, 1980, the WBC World Welterweight championship fight between Tommy “Hit Man” Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard Sept. 16, 1981, the Wilfredo Gomez-Juan Antonio Lopez WBC Super Bantamweight title bout June 11, 1982 and the Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini-Duk Koo Kim WBA Lightweight title fight Nov. 13, 1982.
The entertainment that has followed in the Circus Maximus had included names like Aretha Franklin June 12-15, 1969; Diana Ross Feb. 1-14, 1974; Sammy Davis Jr. June 16-22, 1977; Glady Knight Jan. 10, 1985; Jay Leno and BB King performing together Jan. 30-Feb. 2, 1992; Smokey Robinson on New Year’s Eve Dec. 31, 1994, and Jan. 1, 1995; Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme’ Aug. 31-Sept. 3, 2000; and Celine Dion, who opened her first headlining residency March 23, 2003.
Even with the addition of top-notch newer hotels on the Las Vegas Strip, Caesars has always enjoyed a certain allure that has made it a very special place. From the fountains in the front to the always-changing interior and exterior, Caesars has worked non-stop to meet the competition head-on during what has become a very interesting era that has seen Las Vegas become the world’s top destination for tourists traveling to the desert from thousands of miles away.
In August, Caesars celebrated its anniversary with a huge weekend featuring fireworks and a long list of noted celebrities including Jennifer Lopez, Tony Bennett, Howie Mandel, Wayne Newton, Donny & Marie Osmond, Matt Goss and the Righteous Brothers.
“During the past five decades, Caesars Palace has set the standard for the Las Vegas experience,” said Mark Frissora, President and CEO of Caesars Entertainment.
Frissora’s comment is accurate, considering the rich history of special events that helped mold the hotel-casino. Now with 3,980 hotel guest rooms and suites, the hotel casino was named “Best Strip Hotel” in 2015 by the readers of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. +