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Offbeat shows a Vegas tradition

Who says the Las Vegas headliner tradition is dead? On Saturday, you can pick between Larry King — touted in ad copy as “the Muhammad Ali of the broadcast interview” — at The Mirage, or the real Ali’s greatest foe, Smokin’ Joe Frazier, singing at the Las Vegas Hilton.

Economics force a standoff with many noncomedy headliners you actually want to see. But Saturday at least preserves a Las Vegas tradition of nutty, unlikely bookings dating back to the 1950s. Here’s a list of 10, roughly in reverse order of oddness, of the most offbeat.

10. Manny Pacquiao — Frazier wasn’t the only boxer to maintain a parallel singing career. Pacquiao chases his Vegas bouts with a post-fight concert. Filipino fans would pay to watch him read the phone book, but he sings for them in English and Tagalog.

9. Jackie Chan — We know him as the movies’ slapstick martial arts master. But over the years, Chan has slipped in to croon for mostly Asian audiences. If you’re from Hong Kong, you’d argue there’s anything weird about it.

8. Steven Seagal — People from Hong Kong would find it weird to watch this former action hero play guitar. Maybe that’s why Seagal only got as close to the Strip as Boulder Station in 1999.

7. Sherman Hemsley — Lots of TV stars sing and dance. But George Jefferson doing it just seemed funny, especially when Caribbean zouk music was in the Sahara mix in 1989.

6. Christine Jorgensen — The first famed transsexual rode a publicity storm into the Sahara in 1953. Now we’d shrug and ask, “So how’s her voice?” Then it fueled the Vegas mystique.

5. Marilyn Chambers — Vegas knows porn. But the late legend was trying to diversify in the dinner theater comedy “Mind with the Dirty Man” at the Union Plaza in 1975.

4. Linda Lovelace — Chambers was a Tony winner compared to this porn pioneer, whose sad life included a quick turn in “My Daughter’s Rated X” at the Aladdin in 1977.

3. “Les Poupees de Paris” — Before they became the acid-trip masters of Saturday-morning TV, Sid and Marty Krofft brought topless marionette showgirls to the Hacienda in 1963.

2. Tiny Tim — A generational divide might hinge on whether you remember this oddball, who yodeled and strummed his ukulele at Caesars Palace in the trippy year of 1968.

1. Ronald Reagan — Until another future president plays Las Vegas — co-billed with chimps — this Last Frontier date in 1954 stands as the all-time champ.

One night, the chimps got out of sync and started monkeying around in the audience. Had there been TMZ or cell-cams back then, Reagan’s political future might have died with his Las Vegas career.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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