There’s a kitschy poster of Las Vegas framed outside Wayne Newton’s dressing room at the Tropicana. At the center of the poster, surrounded by Vegas landmarks, is a portrait of a smiling Newton.
It’s not the chubby-cheeked, boyish Newton who came to Vegas as a teen in 1959 to perform six shows a night, six days a week with his brother at the Fremont Hotel & Casino. And it’s not the charcoal-haired teddy bear of today. It’s the lean, mid-career, pencil moustache Newton, circa the late ’70s – early ’80s.
As Newton this year celebrates 50 years of entertaining Vegas audiences, it’s really not all that surprising that some version of Newton’s face would grace a vintage poster of Vegas icons. He is as much a symbol of this city as neon signs and all-you-can-eat buffets. With tens of thousands of shows under his belt — and even a Wayne Newton Boulevard named after him — he has earned the nickname Mr. Las Vegas.
In his limited engagement production “Once Before I Go” at the Tropicana, Newton provides a glimpse at the highlights of his iconic career, from his arrival in town at 15 years old and his mastery of 13 instruments to his role as chairman of the USO Celebrity Circle and his recent stint on “Dancing with the Stars.”
While there’s speculation, based on his show title, that the entertainer is planning to retire, the word itself doesn’t seem to be in Newton’s vocabulary. He skillfully dodges a question about retirement in order to explain the thought behind his show’s title, which is based on a song by Peter Allen.
“I don’t want to look back with regrets,” says Newton, sitting comfortably on a leather couch in his dressing room before his show.
“I made mistakes, nothing too serious, but I made them, and I didn’t repeat them. So, I’d like to think maybe I’ve paid that back.”
Newton took two-and-a-half months to write the show, enlisting help in the form of think tank-like discussions with people he respects to determine what to include. “Trying to fit in everything was an impossibility,” he explains, “but sometimes I was too close to the trees to see the forest.”
A consummate performer, with a steadfast determination to entertain and tailor his show to his audience, he has yet to end his 90-minute show at the Tropicana on time.
Off stage, much like on stage, Newton exudes an air of familiarity and geniality. He has a commanding presence at 6 foot 2 inches tall, but his demeanor is welcoming and inviting. He greets guests with a kiss on the cheek and genuine concern for their well being.
His daughter, 7, plays with her jump rope in an adjoining room backstage, while his wife sits nearby. Though Newton is close to his first daughter, 32, he said his less hectic schedule has afforded him a lot more time to spend with the second. He’s a breeder of championship Arabian horses, and his daughter has already been in two horse shows.
“She’s a mini me,” he says. “Luckily for her, she looks like her mother. But she got my legs.”
One of the toughest lessons Newton wants to instill in his daughter is that of the importance of hard work and discipline. While Newton had guidance from many mentors throughout his career, including legends like Lucille Ball, Jack Benny and Bobby Darin, he says many of the young entertainers he encounters these days thumb their nose at personal growth and expect to get what they want without putting in any work.
“There’s this condition that exists in the younger generation today of entitlement: ‘Iwant it now,’” he says. “Sometimes it’s best to have it next week, instead of now.”
Although Newton’s own teen and young adult years were consumed with hard work, he doesn’t feel like he missed out on his youth. He fondly remembers running the streets of Las Vegas with friends, partying hard in their hotel suites, sowing his oats (“and praying for a crop failure”).
“But the one thing that was consistent,” he says, “was the fact that I knew I had to get up the next day and go to work. It’s that kind of responsibility … that will make the difference whether you’ll survive [as a performer in Vegas] or not.”
Newton lives with his family on a 52-acre property on the southeast side of Las Vegas, Casa de Shenendoah. He originally owned only 5 acres of the land, but made deals with all the elderly homeowners on the contiguous properties. “I said, let me buy your homes now, and you can continue to live in them until you die,” he explains. “I didn’t want their homes, I wanted the property. Now we have 52 acres.”
His face lights up when he talks about Casa de Shenendoah. Newton, who is half Powhatan on his mother’s side and half Cherokee on his father’s side, says the land is rich in Native American history. He has even found arrowheads on the property. “Evidently, at some point, this was a watering hole,” adds Newton, explaining that there is an underground river and three ponds on the property, one by the guest house, one near his house and one for his Arabian horses. (Read more about Wayne Newton’s residences in Vegas).
“There is a tranquility about the Shenendoah, a magic, that anytime I’m at my lowest or think
the world is coming to the end, I walk around and all the [worry] is gone,” he says.
And so it’s safe to say that Mr. Las Vegas has no plans to leave his home or the city that shaped his long career. “They may move me,” says Newton. “But I won’t move.”