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Phyllis McGuire, Las Vegas entertainer, dies at 89

Updated December 31, 2020 - 6:48 pm

Phyllis McGuire, who rose to popular music stardom as a member of The McGuire Sisters, has died.

McGuire, a Las Vegas resident since 1960, died early Tuesday morning at her home in Las Vegas, a representative of Palm Eastern Mortuary confirmed. The singer died of natural causes, surrounded by family and friends, according to a statement by her office spokeswoman.

McGuire, who lived in a lavish residence in the exclusive, gated Rancho Circle neighborhood, was 89, and the last surviving member of The McGuire Sisters. Her sister Christine died in 2018, while sister Dorothy “Dottie” McGuire died in 2012.

The sisters were born in Middletown, Ohio. McGuire’s father, Asa, was a steelworker, and her mother, Lillie Fultz, was an ordained minister. A Washington Post obituary for Christine McGuire noted that the sisters grew up singing in church with their mother’s encouragement, although she prohibited them from listening to secular music.

During the late ’40s, the sisters, armed with a few pop tunes, began to perform at hospitals and benefits, the Post said, and their three-part harmonies brought them to the attention of radio DJs and bandleaders in Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio.

In 1952, the sisters traveled to New York and landed a two-month gig on singer Kate Smith’s national radio show, the Post said. They later became regulars on Arthur Godfrey’s radio and TV shows.

Their first top-10 hit, “Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight,” came in 1953, followed in 1954 with “Muskrat Ramble.” “Sincerely” hit No. 1 in 1954, and “Something’s Gotta Give” No. 5.

“Sugartime,” the song that became most closely associated with the trio, hit No. 1 in 1958.

In addition to numerous stage and TV appearances, The McGuire Sisters once played a command performance for the queen of England and performed for five United States presidents. They retired from performing in 1968.

According to the Post, Phyllis McGuire was, at the time of the trio’s retirement, involved in a relationship with Chicago mobster Sam Giancana, whom she reportedly met in 1960. The story was dramatized in “Sugartime,” a 1995 HBO film that cast Mary-Louise Parker as McGuire. McGuire told the New York Daily News in 1997 that only about half of the movie is true.

For a time, McGuire also was in a relationship with Bob Stupak, chairman of Stratosphere Corp., who built the Stratosphere Tower on the site of his Vegas World casino. Stupak said McGuire stayed at his bedside for several weeks after he was severely injured and comatose following a motorcycle accident.

In 1986, The McGuire Sisters returned to the stage in Las Vegas. They continued to make appearances together until 2004, the Post said.

McGuire was a longtime resident of her estate in Las Vegas’ upscale Rancho Circle neighborhood. The home contained dozens of vintage gowns from her days with The McGuire Sisters and such inventive effects as a replica of the Eiffel Tower near the front entrance, a classic-Vegas hideaway lounge downstairs and a country club-styled tennis court in the back.

Although long retired from performing, she was active in charitable causes throughout Southern Nevada.

In 2005, she was inducted into the Nevada Entertainer/Artist Hall of Fame at UNLV. In 2019, on the occasion of McGuire’s 88th birthday, former Review-Journal man-about-town columnist Norm Clarke recalled on his “Vegas Diary” blog that the last time he had seen McGuire was at a Las Vegas benefit.

“In a city illuminated by its famous neon, Phyllis stood out in her signature Harry Winston diamonds and haute couture,” Clarke wrote.

“Ever elegant, she made it clear that night that her days on the red carpet were dwindling. ‘The day I need a cane or crutches is when no one will see me at these events,’ she said.”

Contact John Przybys at jprzybys@reviewjournal.com. Follow @JJPrzybys on Twitter. Review-Journal entertainment columnist John Katsilometes and staff writer Glenn Puit contributed to this report.

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