Wayne Newton was Mr. Las Vegas before Vegas was cool. Even today, when almost every big-name star has done a residency at a hotel or concert hall on the Strip, Wayne Newton is still king of the crowds, having performed to over 40 million people, according to his website.
But how did he get so big in Sin City? Here are 6 facts you may not know about the somewhat mysterious star.
1 – Child Prodigy
At the preschool age of only 4, Newton had already chosen a life onstage as his career path, and he set about learning to play piano, guitar, and steel guitar by ear.
On weekends he and his brother performed at movie theaters and in Opry roadshows.
In his junior year of high school, the Newton brothers caught the attention of a Las Vegas booking agent who booked them for two weeks at a hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. Those two weeks turned into five years of grinding out six shows a day, six days a week.
The toll on Wayne’s voice forced him to learn new instruments just to get some vocal relief, Newton says on his site. He eventually learned to play 13 instruments.
2 – Hit Maker
Try and name a song on the U.S. charts with a German title, besides “Der Kommissar” and “99 Luftballons”.
While you’re thinking it over, add Wayne Newton’s “Danke Schoen”, German for “thank you” to the list. As a slightly chubby 21-year-old singing soprano, Newton had an unlikely hit with this sentinel lounge tune in 1963.
In fact, that wasn’t his only odd chart maker. In 1972, he scored again with “Daddy, Don’t You Walk So Fast,” in which a little girl begs her daddy not to leave the family home.
As noted in the documentary “Radio Revolution: The Rise and Fall of the Big 8,” Canadian music director Rosalie Trombley of influential station CKLW added the record to her playlist to embarrass her ex-husband who hadn’t been coming by to see their kids.
It zoomed up the Canadian charts and then spilled into the United States, where it eventually sold a million copies. By this point, Newton’s vocal register had dropped a few notches and he was sporting some stylish sideburns.
3 – Hard Money
So, here’s the million-dollar question: How does Wayne Newton consistently draw such large crowds to Las Vegas despite only having a handful of hits? Let’s quote from this 1980 Washington Post article that wondered the same thing:
“He bites into ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ in his bronchial Brenda Lee tenor, eye-contact spraying around the room. He grins, he winks, he glides, he spins, working harder than a man changing a tire in the rain.
“He slams into his second number. Other performers make it look easy, but Wayne Newton wants to sweat, straining at the long holds in ‘Staying Alive’ from ‘Saturday Night Fever.”
It’s started, the patented Wayne Newton push-me-pull-you routine, praising and scolding the crowd toward frenzy, meanwhile disarming any possible resistance to Wayne Newton.”
Now in his 70s, Newton’s voice is not what it used to be, but he’s still giving great entertainment value, singing, playing multiple instruments, telling jokes, showing old TV clips and reminiscing about his experiences with Hollywood and Nashville luminaries alike.
He’s such a Vegas fixture that the road leading to Terminal 1 at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas is named “Wayne Newton Boulevard.”
4 – Order In the Court
In 1980, NBC News reported that Newton had ties to the Mafia. At the time, Newton was part owner of the Aladdin hotel, which gave rise to other news reports that he was a “frontman” for the mob. Newton sued NBC for defamation and won.
An appeals court said that although the report was inaccurate, there was no malice and so Newton couldn’t collect any damages as a public figure, according to the Las Vegas Sun.
That wasn’t the only lawsuit Newton was involved with. In 2005, he filed court documents disputing claims that he and his wife Kathleen McCrone owed the IRS $1.8 million in taxes and penalties.
And in 2019, he was sued by a woman who claimed his pet monkey bit her daughter during a visit at his former mansion. In a complaint filed this week, Clark County resident Krystal Warner said she visited the Las Vegas entertainer’s former home, known as Casa de Shenandoah, in April 2018.
The suit names Newton, the unidentified handler, and the property as defendants, claiming they “had a duty to exercise due care and keep the dangerous monkey restrained and confined. … Defendants knew, or should have known, that the monkey had a propensity for viciousness and/or a propensity to bite and/or attack.”
He added that “the length of time that has passed between the alleged incident and the filing of the lawsuit cast doubt as to the merit of the claim” and that the suit would be “appropriately addressed.”
In August, another woman filed suit on behalf of her daughter, who said she was attacked by a monkey at Newton’s home in October 2017.
In court papers, Newton has denied those allegations.
5 – A Love for Horses
More than 60 Arabian horses live on Newton’s working ranch. Wayne, who oversees the breeding program, says his ranch has produced more than 96 world champs. Visitors can watch the horses let loose in one of the three arenas on the property or swimming in one of the on-site pools. “I have two loves in life: horses and music,” Newton says.
Next to music, Newton loves nothing more than Arabian horses. In fact, he owns around 45 of them and is considered one of the world’s top breeders of Arabians. Many of his horses have won equestrian competitions, too.
In 2019, when Newton heard that Lady Gaga’s beloved horse Arabella had died, he realized her bloodline came from a horse he’d owned, and he offered Gaga to come to his ranch to see if she wanted a replacement.
“Horses have always been there for me, through all of the ups and downs,” Newton told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “When I need to have peace and sanity, I go to my stables.”
6 – Shenandoah
Casa de Shenandoah, the 36-acre estate once owned by “Mr. Las Vegas,” entertainer Wayne Newton and his wife Kathleen, was put on display in 2015 for public tours. By all accounts, it was a popular, successful, and profitable tourist attraction.
But in May 2018, less than three years after the tours started, Casa de Shenandoah was closed to the public. The reason given at the time was the need for “extensive maintenance, repairs, and renovation.”
Then, a couple of months later, on July 10, 2018, it was announced that the estate would be returned to a private residence, ending the tours for good. No reason was given.
By that time, however, the Newtons no longer owned the estate, which had been purchased for $18-plus million by a Texas businessman, Lacy Harber, who started the tours to pay the bills on the historic landmark. But the Newton family still ran the tours, apparently, up until July 2017, when Wayne was bitten by a spider and had to be hospitalized in critical condition.
The Newtons haven’t lived at the Casa ranch since 2013. They now live about a mile down the road.
At some point, Harber put the ranch, plus the property that housed the gift shop and theater across the street, up for sale. It all sold to a Portland, Oregon-based real estate investment group, Harsch Investment Properties, a couple of months ago for $10-plus million. No announcement has been made so far about what Harsch might plan for the property.
Recognized worldwide as the “King of Las Vegas,” Newton has entertained audiences with his repertoire of signature songs to more than 40 million fans and has performed over 30,000 live shows on the Las Vegas Strip alone.
Entertainer, actor, singer, and humanitarian, Newton is the USO’s Celebrity Circle Chairman and, through many years, has hosted countless shows for U.S. troops in war zones overseas.
Mr. Newton has been performing in Vegas for over 60 years and while nothing lasts forever, here’s to wishing you another 60, Wayne.