Las Vegas Sun

November 28, 2014

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Pinball Hall of Fame owner wants to ring Elton John’s bell

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Las Vegas Sun

Tim Arnold, a man amid the machines.

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The Pinball Hall of Fame owner is flippin’ angry and wants a piece of Elton John.

“I want him in the squared circle, a cage match, one round, winner takes all, only one man leaves alive,” is how Tim Arnold leveled the challenge today. “I’ll meet him in the air-conditioned confines of Cobo Arena.”

That last reference is to the venerable multi-use venue in Detroit that hosted hundreds of wrestling events since it opened in 1960. And, yes, there is a backstory here.

Five years ago, Elton and acclaimed photographer and director David LaChapelle were designing the stage show for Elton’s “Red Piano” production at The Colosseum at Caesars Palace. During this process, they sent a film crew to the Pinball Hall of Fame on East Tropicana Avenue and Pecos Road to capture footage for a Las Vegas montage to be splashed across The Colosseum’s vast LED screens during Elton’s performance of “Pinball Wizard.” As Arnold recounts, he heard from one of Elton’s “peeps,” and days later five or six guys showed up at his business one afternoon and spent a few hours using a 35-mm film camera to shoot throughout his business, focusing on the famous 1976 Capt. Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy pinball machine that bears Elton’s image.

Arnold claims to have been promised $500 and tickets to one of Elton’s “Red Piano” performances for the trouble. Arnold’s museum, filled with more than 200 vintage games (most of them pinball machines dating back several decades), is a nonprofit, so he planned to donate the money, auction off the tickets and deliver the proceeds to his favorite charity, The Salvation Army. “He could have just written a check to The Salvation Army for all I cared.” But Arnold was never paid, never provided the undisclosed number of tickets for raffle and has never seen or heard from Elton’s camp since the filming.

“I’ve never even seen his show,” says Arnold, who of course has played the Elton-inspired game hundreds of times. “I’m ready to take him on, though. I’ve got the tights and everything.”

Like a latent volcano, this controversy stirred a few nights ago when I was interviewing Arnold for a video project and asked him if any celebs had visited the Hall of Fame. “Leonard Maltin, the film critic,” was the first answer. Then Arnold said, “But Rocket Man, Elton John, owes me $500!” Wow did we not see that coming.

Arnold has been scrambling even more than usual recently, as he prepares to move from his current spot to a larger, 5,000-square-foot facility at 1610 E. Tropicana Avenue. That address probably means nothing until you know that it sits across the street from the Liberace Museum, and there is something poetically fulfilling in those two businesses sharing the same radius. As for Elton, he finishes his Colosseum run Wednesday night. He’s playing his final ball, in other words, but can still prevent the pinball maven from flashing, “Tilt.” The advice to Elton: Bring a lot of quarters, or your favorite wrestling gear, for that payment.

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