Only one man can claim the title of Mr. Las Vegas: Wayne Newton. Since age 15, he’s conquered Sin City with family-friendly, high-energy performances of classics like “Danke Schoen” and “Red Roses for a Blue Lady,” and picked up some valuable life lessons from legendary entertainers along the way.
“What I learned from people that befriended me like Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Dean Martin, Bobby Darin and on and on is that the one thing that will make you happy is your ability to adjust to life,” Wayne, 77, exclusively tells Closer Weekly in the magazine’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “And you must be disciplined and treat every show like it’s your last one — because one day it will be!”
That may be true, but even with his recent back operation and hip replacement surgery earlier this month, Wayne has no plans for a farewell tour anytime soon. We caught up with Wayne before he performed at Caesars Atlantic City’s 40th anniversary celebration to talk about his friend Lucille Ball, being a dad to his daughter Lauren, 17, and why his second marriage to attorney Kathleen McCrone, 55, has lasted a quarter century.
Scroll below to read our exclusive Q&A with Wayne!
What brings you east to Atlantic City?
My boss in Las Vegas said, “What are you doing Saturday? We want you to do a show at Caesars.” I said, “Consider it done. Which room?” He said, “Atlantic City!” [Laughs] I’m looking forward to seeing people I’ve worked with for most of my career.
And what a career! Did any showbiz legends influence you on your journey?
I played a country boy singing to animals on The Lucy Show, and CBS wanted her company Desilu to produce a series around that character. Just before the final papers were signed, I get a call from Lucy saying “Wayne, I haven’t been able to sleep. Can my husband and I fly to Vegas tonight and meet you?”
When she got here, she said, “We’re going to say a name and I want your reaction: Jim Nabors.” I said, “Gomer Pyle.” She said, “Unless you want to be this country boy the rest of your life, turn this series down, because it will ruin your life.” I thought that was the greatest example of someone, being the great star she was, caring that much about somebody else.
You’ve had other ups and downs over the course of your career. Were there any times you thought you might give up?
Way too many! Around 1962, I’d appeared at a lounge in [Lake] Tahoe on and off for a few years. I said to the entertainment director, “Some of the stars who play your main room don’t have opening acts. Why don’t you pay me the same as you’re paying me to work the lounge to be one?” I thought he might appreciate it. Instead he pounded the table and said, “You’ll never play our main room!”
How’d you handle it?
It hit me like a ton of bricks. I told my manager that’d be the last lounge I’d play. He found us a job opening a nightclub in Australia … and sitting ringside was Jack Benny. He said, “Would you consider being my opening act?” but the first place they were playing was that same place! I said, “Mr. Benny, they’re not sure they’d even have me back in their lounge.” He said, “If they don’t want you, they don’t want me!” So my first main showroom in Nevada was that hotel, and I was with Jack for five years.
You’ve acted as well. Any favorite roles?
I loved doing the James Bond film [Licence to Kill] and Vegas Vacation — that was a ball! But in terms of really stretching me as an actor, I loved North and South, Book II. The character was so different from who I am.
You’ve had many decades of success, but also faced financial troubles, death threats and even a kidnapping threat against your daughter Erin, 42, when she was just 5. Any regrets?
I don’t think so, because so many things in my life, that at the time I thought were disastrous, those very things turned out to be so motivational and really [led to] some of the best luck that I’ve had in my life.
What set you on your path?
I started singing in church with my mother when I was 4 years old. My parents took me to a Grand Ole Opry road show and I found myself looking at the smiles and tears in the audience, looking at my mother and saying, “That’s what I want to do.” Then I had a radio show in Virginia with a band when I was 5, before going to school. I never wanted to do anything else.
Why is Vegas your home?
I developed bronchial asthma, so we had to move from Virginia to Arizona when I was 8, and then at 15 we moved to Vegas. It’s very low humidity, too, so it was the perfect place.
How’d you stay out of trouble in Sin City?
No matter what you were doing in a casino, you had to be 21, so I needed a work permit at age 15. So people really took me in to raise me, and made sure I stayed out of trouble and didn’t go down the wrong path.
After back surgery in April, how are you?
OK. My sciatic nerve going down both legs was being pinched by the bone in my back, so I was in constant pain. I got some relief, but a week later, my right leg was in pain from my hip, so I had an operation to replace my hip. They’ve assured me I’ll be fit as a fiddle. [Wayne’s rep says his surgery went well and he’s recovering as expected.]
What’s your secret for a happy marriage?
Kathleen and I are the best of friends first. We love each other totally and completely second. In 25 years, we truly have never had a bad argument, and the reason for that is because she’s so much smarter than me. We started this great discussion and she said, “We’ll agree to disagree. I’m not going to change your mind and you’re not going to change mine.” And that is the most wonderful relationship in the world.
Will your daughter Lauren, 17, sing, too?
She is a smart young lady and a tremendous singer. The big problem is that she does not want to hear herself sing!
Are those two your biggest fans?
They are, but more important, they keep me grounded.
For more on your favorite celebs, pick up the latest issue of Closer Weekly, on newsstands now — and be sure to sign up for our newsletter for more exclusive news!