Updated December 9, 2020 - 11:14 am
As Lance Burton chats on from his Kentucky farm, you hear the sound of scraping in the background.
Shoveling show, Lance?
“No, I’m cleaning the doves’ cages,” says the Master Magician, a star among stars in his heyday on the Strip. “Yes, they came with me, and I never trained them to clean up after themselves.”
The decades-long Las Vegas Strip headliner has slipped seamlessly back the farm on which he was raised, in Columbia, Kent., about 100 miles south of Louisville, and about 100 miles north of Nashville. Burton has re-settled on the 100-acre property, with its 40 or so cows and some chickens on the way, in mid-October.
Burton always kept his word that he would retire from performing full-time on the Strip after closing his show at the theater named for him at the Monte Carlo in September 2010. He left, simply and slyly, making no formal announcement until posting a Facebook message Tuesday afternoon.
A day later, he says, “To me there is something poetic and satisfying about completing a circle. You start out, you do your thing, and eventually come back.”
Burton had returned to performing, but almost strictly outside of Las Vegas and on select dates across the country and internationally. He also finished his pet project, the movie “Billy Topit.” His final two Vegas shows, “Lance Burton & Friends,” with Fielding West, Michael Goudeau (his sidekick and featured act at Monte Carlo) and Keith West, were November 2018. Burton’s most recent performances for a ticketed crowd were a two-night engagement at The Opera House Theatre in England this February.
“Most entertainers travel the world before they get to Vegas,” Burton said. “I did my career backwards. I came to Vegas at 22, and got to go around the world to see new places after my time on the Strip.”
Throughout, Burton headlined the occasional charity function and a collection road dates. But he never returned to his residency production, despite interest from Strip resort executives (he was once approached for a limited run at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace).
Burton told his friends and fans he had already vanished from Las Vegas on Tuesday afternoon in his Facebook message.
His sendoff to our city read:
Dear Las Vegas,
Ever since I was a young boy growing up in Kentucky I dreamed of one day moving to Las Vegas. On television I got to see many of the great magicians that performed there, including Siegfried & Roy, The Great Tomsoni, Marvyn Roy, and many others. I somehow got it in my head that there was this mythical place called Las Vegas. I didn’t know where Las Vegas was located. I didn’t know anything about gambling or resorts. All I knew was Las Vegas was where the professional magicians lived and worked and I wanted to join them one day.
It was the realization of a lifelong dream when I first stepped onto the stage in the Tiffany Showroom at the Tropicana Hotel in The Folies Bergere on May 20th 1982. I was 22 years old.
I was so excited and grateful to be doing my magic act in the city I had been dreaming of. I even got to meet and become friends with all those legendary magicians I idolized as a boy.
Nine years at the Tropicana Hotel, Five years at the Hacienda Hotel, and 14 years at the Monte Carlo Hotel, all totaled up to between 15 thousand and 16 thousand shows for 15 million audience members.
Throughout the years and all those shows I grew to love Las Vegas and the people who live here. I love the great organizations that make it their business to help others. St. Jude’s Ranch for abused children, Variety Children’s Charity of Southern Nevada, Opportunity Village, The Shriners, NevadaSPCA, Heaven Can Wait Animal Society, these are only a few of the great non-profits here in Las Vegas that are out there doing God’s work every single day.
It has been my honor to support and cheer on these great organizations and the people who run them. My work with them is usually very easy. I show up and do a few magic tricks and pose for photos. I shake hands and kiss babies. Easy Peasy! The hard work is done every day by the dedicated people who work in these institutions. They deserve our thanks and our gratitude!
I want to thank the people who live and work here in Southern Nevada for welcoming me and treating me like family for almost 40 years. Thanks to the cab drivers who attended my shows and then recommended it to their customers. Thanks to the waiters and bartenders and valet parking attendants and all of our front line workers.
I had the good fortune to work with hundreds of talented dancers, singers, jugglers, comics, assistants, stagehands, technicians, box office workers, and ushers. I can truthfully say I had the best cast and crew any magician could ask for.
It has been a privilege to know you and work with you. Again, Thank You.
I never made it a secret that my plan was to retire back to my ancestral home, my Grandfather’s farm in Kentucky. There is plenty of room for all my animals and maybe a few more. It is quiet and peaceful there. I am looking forward to planting a small garden in the Spring and maybe getting a few chickens so I will have fresh eggs for breakfast.
I never liked long goodbyes. By the time you read this I will be back on the farm in Kentucky living the life of a gentleman farmer.
Please know that I am forever grateful for the mythical city called Las Vegas. I will miss you all. I love you all. Maybe I will return one day as a visitor. Until then may God keep watch over you.
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.