Thursday, May 15, 2008 | 3 a.m.
Elvis Presley’s opening night on July 26, 1969, at the International Hotel (now the Las Vegas Hilton) had Las Vegas Sun columnist Ralph Pearl eating crow.
Pearl recalled how, in a column he had written earlier in Elvis’ career, he had criticized producer Bill Miller for hiring the young performer, “a lad whose singing style is no longer popular.” In the 1950s Elvis had become a swivel-hipped teen sensation, but his style didn’t fit the Vegas entertainment scene at the time. “We also told Bill that Presley ‘will never draw,’ ” Pearl recalled. “Luckily, Miller wasn’t discouraged by our ‘astute’ observations and signed Elvis to a long-term contract.”
Elvis first performed in Las Vegas in 1956 when he was 21 years old. He headlined at the Venus Room at the New Frontier Hotel as “The Atomic Powered Singer.”
The King of Rock ’n’ Roll’s 1969 International opening launched his rise as a Las Vegas legend. Although the nation and the world had embraced Elvis’ brand of rock for years, Las Vegas audiences displayed a new enthusiasm for the singer.
Actually, the day after Elvis opened, Alex Shoofey, the International’s then-vice president and future president, sat in the showroom drinking coffee with Elvis’ manager, Colonel Tom Parker.
Noting the successful opening night, Shoofey appeared unhappy because Elvis had signed only a two-week-per-year contract at the new resort. Shoofey offered to extend the singer’s contract then and there. Parker hesitated, cautioning Shoofey to wait and see how the next couple of weeks played.
“I’ll take that chance right now,” Shoofey said. He then scribbled a new pact on the tablecloth, a common practice in the old casino days of shaking hands and having a cup of coffee. Elvis’ contract was extended for five years.
Elvis went on to perform regularly at the International and at the Hilton when it changed owners in 1971. Over the next seven years, he entertained about 2.5 million people at the Las Vegas resort.
During one 29-day engagement, Elvis entertained 101,509 guests to the tune of $1.5 million in ticket sales. In his 800-plus performances, he sold $43.7 million in tickets, worth $166.7 million in 2007 dollars.
When Elvis performed in Las Vegas, one of every two visitors saw his show.
Before his record-breaking run in the 1970s, Elvis spent about three weeks in town during the 1963 filming of the movie “Viva Las Vegas,” with co-star Ann-Margret.
Costing $1 million, the film earned $9.4 million worldwide and gave Sin City a theme song.
Although Elvis had been booked for more appearances at the Hilton, his last engagement was Dec. 2-12, 1976. He died on Aug. 16, 1977, at Graceland, his mansion in Memphis, Tenn.
As far as Las Vegas goes, Elvis will never leave the building. A year after his death, a statue of him was dedicated at the Hilton. Initially displayed in a glass case outside the Hilton showroom, the statue was moved in 2006 to outside the hotel’s front door.
A 1970s jumpsuit, a gold lamé jacket and a guitar are enshrined under glass at the Hard Rock Hotel. More memorabilia on display in Las Vegas include a smashed guitar and a telegram from Elvis and the colonel to the Beatles.
But the tributes to Elvis have expanded with time. From “Flying Elvi” to Elvis impersonators across the country, the King still reigns.
Just because Elvis is gone, doesn’t mean his spirit has left Las Vegas. Especially for local wedding chapels, his music, costumes and atmosphere live. The Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel offers as much or as little of the Elvis theme as a couple requests. The Elvis Chapel offers several packages that range in price from $199 to $1,079 and include “Elvis” singing and walking the bride down the aisle if desired.
Las Vegas visitors in 2009 and beyond will have more to see. Cirque du Soleil, in partnership with MGM Mirage, CYK and its subsidiary, Elvis Presley Enterprises, will create a show based on his music at CityCenter, the more than $8 billion resort complex being built on the Las Vegas Strip.
And visitors will get to say “Viva” to Elvis — and Las Vegas — as his legend continues.
Top of the Charts
|Song||Year||Weeks at No. 1|
|I Want You, I Need You, I Love You||1956||1|
|Don't Be Cruel/Hound Dog (double-sided single)||1956||11|
|Love Me Tender||1956||5|
|All Shook Up||1957||9|
|(Let Me Be Your) Teddy Bear||1957||7|
|Hard Headed Woman||1958||2|
|A Big Hunk O' Love||1959||2|
|Stuck On You||1960||4|
|It's Now or Never||1960||5|
|Are You Lonesome Tonight?||1960||6|
|Good Luck Charm||1962||2|