Updated May 17, 2020 - 10:57 am
Wayne Newton pedals past The Venetian and Palazzo on the Las Vegas Strip. Mr. Las Vegas glances up, to his left, saying, “OK, that’s where the Sands used to be, the Copa Room, right there. I know where we are.”
For Newton, we are home. He has headlined the Sands, of course. And also Flamingo, Frontier, Desert Inn, MGM Grand, Las Vegas Hilton, Tropicana, Bally’s and — currently — Cleopatra’s Barge at Caesars Palace.
“The Flamingo was my first showroom,” Newton says, rolling past that hotel. “So long ago, 1963. I was so nervous that night. I left the lounges and never went back.”
Newton has lived and headlined in Las Vegas for 61 years, celebrating the anniversary with this bike trek on Saturday. But he has never had a chance to take a bike ride along the Las Vegas Strip. COVID-19’s shutdown of Las Vegas Boulevard has allowed Newton, and many more bicyclists, to explore the Strip in a new way.
We start at the surface lot at Fashion Show mall at the Strip and Spring Mountain Road, riding to the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign, and back. We remain socially distant. We are acutely aware how rare is this opportunity.
“I have never done this,” Newton said at the start of this hastily planned escapade. “I mean, never. The challenging part for me is to find where everything used to be. This city has changed so much that sometimes I don’t recognize it.”
He laughs and asks, “Where’s the Silver Slipper? Where’s the Stardust? I used to show horses in the open lot at the Stardust. I loved that place.”
He says he’s happy the Sahara Las Vegas returned its name, saying, “It’s incredible what they have done with that place.”
Newton decided Friday he wanted to take a Strip bike ride to commemorate the date on May 16, 1959, when the Newton Brothers of Wayne and Jerry Newton debuted at Carnival Room at Fremont Hotel.
“You don’t get to see the Strip this way, with everything closed off,” Newton says after our group of his wife, Kathleen Newton; sister-in-law, Tricia McCrone Brinton; her husband, Billy Brinton, and yours truly. “It’s strange for me. It’s very strange.”
It’s like being in a parade, where you are the only people in the parade.
Pedestrians, motorists and other bicyclists call out to Newton. Some don’t realize who he is until we’ve moved past, as it takes a few moments to believe he’s really riding a bike on the Strip.
We pass a couple of Las Vegas Metro officers on motorcycles, and Newton says, “Hello! You guys have real bikes!” and one says, “Yeah, but you’re Wayne Newton.”
In one classic moment we stop at the corner of Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard and a bus wrapped with an ad for Penn & Teller pulls up right next to Newton. I call over, “Hey, we have company.”
Newton turns and laughs, saying, “We have a show!” and gives the guys a thumb’s up.
I ask Newton about headlining in the same days as Siegfried & Roy, as Roy Horn has passed away this month.
“They were so great, and great for our city and we knew each other a little, but I didn’t really know Roy,” he says. “We both headlined at the Frontier, at different times. I was there before they came in. By the time they started at the Frontier (in 1981), I had bought the Aladdin and was headlining there.”
Newton wears a memento from his Strip heyday, holding up his left hand to show a bracelet given to him by Frank Sinatra on Newton’s 35th birthday. “I had to bring Mr. Sinatra with me,” he says. Newton in 2016 gave a duplicate of that bracelet to Vinny Adinolfi of Bronx Wanderers for his birthday at Bally’s.
Our stop at the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign creates commotion, predictably. These folks hit the tourism jackpot. Newton poses for several photos, greeting a graduate of the University of Texas, in full gown. He also poses with Elvis tribute artist Eddie Powers.
Newton also stops at Caesars Palace, in front of the fountains. He’s not sure when he’ll be performing there again, though the hotel itself might be open within two weeks. Newton is prepped to perform again. This bicycle show was a limited engagement for his return to his real production. Newton makes that promise, saying in a video clip, “I’ll see you soon.”
The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands Corp. operates The Venetian and Palazzo.
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats! podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.