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Get ready to discover the good, the bad, and the downright ugly of Elvis Presley’s time in Las Vegas during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. From record-breaking shows to scandalous behavior, join us as we explore the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s unforgettable time in Sin City.
- Elvis Presley’s Las Vegas history spans well over a decade.
- The King’s residency in Vegas included numerous record-breaking performances and unforgettable moments, including a few scandals.
- Despite professional success, Elvis faced personal challenges in Las Vegas that impacted his career and personal life.
- Elvis’s influence on Sin City’s entertainment scene has left a strong legacy for future generations.
Elvis Presley Arrives in Las Vegas
It was 1956 when Elvis first performed in Las Vegas. Building upon the success of his song “Heartbreak Hotel,” Elvis embarked on a two-week residency at the New Frontier Hotel and Casino on April 23, 1956.
Staying at the hotel, the 21-year-old Elvis performed in the famous Venus Room, located just off the Las Vegas Strip. Elvis was a hit among the younger generation in the U.S. and was advertised as an “atomic-powered performer,” yet the older, more conservative guests of the hotel were not impressed with the newest fad in popular music.
Thus, Elvis’s first Vegas trip – which ended on May 3, 1956 – was not a big success for the up-and-coming young performer. After the initial shows, Elvis left Las Vegas and continued touring elsewhere.
But he would return to Las Vegas in a big, big way!
Elvis Returns: The International Hotel (aka Westgate Las Vegas)
On July 2, 1969, the brand-new International Hotel was opened in Las Vegas, NV. (The hotel is still around today and is now known as the Westgate Las Vegas (TripAdvisor). It’s one of the most historic hotels in the city.)
Even before its official opening, the International boasted that they had signed Elvis for a four-week performance comprising of 57 shows. And so, after an absence of thirteen years, the King finally returned to Vegas, starting his shows on July 31, 1969.
Elvis was a superstar at the time, having had both a successful singing and acting career, but he was – according to sources – still very nervous about performing in Las Vegas.
After his dismal performance in 1956, Elvis was unsure whether the audiences would accept him. The organizers initiated a large marketing campaign, and everything possible was done for the show to succeed. On July 31, the moment arrived.
Elvis took the stage without an introduction. A crowd of around 2,200 people – including many celebrities – gathered in the front of the showroom. Before he sang a note, Elvis was greeted with a standing ovation. He got another after the performance and a third after his encore song, “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” The shows were a hit!
The Las Vegas crowds worshiped Elvis, and during his month-long residency at the International, he shattered every attendance record known at the time.
Journalists called him “unbelievable” and “supernatural.” The hotel quickly inked a five-year, $1,000,000 annual deal for Elvis to perform at the International every February and August.
The deal was signed on August 1, just one day after his first performance! Despite a declining career, later on, Elvis would actively perform in the International until 1975, according to the signed contract.
Elvis’s August Performances
Elvis Presley’s annual August performances in Las Vegas were a significant part of his legendary Vegas residency. From 1969 to 1975, August was known as “Elvis month” in Las Vegas, as thousands of fans flocked to see him perform.
During these performances, Elvis showcased his incredible talent as a performer and musician, delivering electrifying renditions of his classic hits and engaging with his audience in a way that only he could.
These summertime performances were a testament to Elvis’ enduring legacy and cemented his status as the King of Rock and Roll.
Elvis’s Personal Life in Sin City
Sin City not only provided a stage for Elvis’s performances but also played a crucial role in his personal life.
One major event in Elvis’s life in Las Vegas was his marriage to Priscilla Beaulieu. On May 1, 1967, the couple tied the knot at the iconic Aladdin Hotel, a glamorous setting for their special day. Their love story was well-known at the time and admired by fans worldwide.
Las Vegas also has connections to Elvis’s film career. Two of his most popular movies, Love Me Tender and Viva Las Vegas, had strong ties to the city. In “Viva Las Vegas,” Elvis co-starred with Ann-Margret, and their on-screen chemistry was undeniable.
The film showcases various iconic landmarks throughout the city and includes numerous energetic performances by Elvis.
Elvis Presley in the 1970s
The 1970s were indeed a turbulent period for Elvis. In 1970, MGM released a documentary – Elvis: That’s the Way It Is – which featured shots from his Vegas performances.
He continued to perform regularly – two months a year – at the International, having another record-breaking session in 1971. Then, he received the Bing Crosby Award, which would later be renamed the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Elvis was only 36 then and the sixth person ever to win this award, entering an elite society of names such as Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Irving Berlin.
He was also the second to last sole recipient of the award (the last one being Leonard Bernstein in 1985) because the tradition changed, and the award was later given to multiple musicians simultaneously.
While his career was flying high, his personal life was a mess. He started taking prescription drugs, and his health began to deteriorate. In 1973, he finalized his divorce from Priscilla, which strongly and negatively impacted his personal life.
And while he continued to appear at the International, it was not the same Elvis.
Scandals and Controversies in Vegas
Elvis Presley’s time in Las Vegas was not without scandal. The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll was known for his wild behavior and excessive spending, which often landed him in trouble.
One of the most infamous incidents was when Elvis was caught carrying a firearm in his suitcase at the Las Vegas airport. He claimed he needed it for protection, but it landed him in hot water with the authorities.
Another scandalous incident involved Elvis’ relationship with his teenage co-star, Ann-Margret, during the filming of the movie “Viva Las Vegas.” The two were rumored to have had an affair, which caused a media frenzy and led to speculation about the state of Elvis’ marriage to Priscilla Presley.
In addition to these scandals, Elvis’ erratic behavior and prescription medication use also caused concern among those close to him.
The Downfall of Elvis Presley
In 1975, his summer session at the International ended abruptly after just two days due to hospitalization in Memphis, though he made a return in December.
Elvis was still recording at the time and had several critically acclaimed songs, but his personal life was falling apart, along with his physical condition. The King was on a downward spiral.
Elvis returned to Las Vegas one last time in December 1976 for a two-week performance at the International. Elvis was obese, a drug addict, and a mere shadow of his former self.
After these performances – which turned out to be his last – his health continued to decline until his death in 1977.
Elvis’s Influence on The Vegas Entertainment Scene
During his career, Elvis significantly impacted the Las Vegas entertainment scene. His performances in Sin City helped cement its reputation as the Entertainment Capital of the World.
As an Elvis fan, it’s fascinating to explore how his presence influenced other performers and the city’s overall identity.
Las Vegas Performers Influenced by Elvis’s Legacy:
- Tom Jones – The Welsh singer was a big fan of Elvis and often performed his songs during his Las Vegas shows.
- Wayne Newton – Known as “Mr. Las Vegas,” Wayne Newton was heavily influenced by Elvis’ Vegas performances and even opened for him during his 1969 comeback show.
- Liberace – The flamboyant pianist was a friend of Elvis and often incorporated his music into his Las Vegas shows.
- Celine Dion – The Canadian singer has cited Elvis as one of her biggest influences and even recorded a duet with him posthumously.
- Barry Manilow – The singer-songwriter has spoken about the impact of Elvis’ Vegas shows on his career and even performed a tribute to him during his own Vegas residency.
- Britney Spears – The pop icon’s Vegas residency was heavily influenced by Elvis’ shows, with elaborate costumes and stage setups reminiscent of his performances.
- Bruno Mars – The Grammy-winning singer has cited Elvis as one of his biggest influences and often incorporates his music and style into his performances.
These performers are just a few examples of the lasting impact that Elvis Presley had on Las Vegas entertainment.
Moreover, the energy and excitement surrounding Presley’s presence in the city resonated with audiences and attracted tourists worldwide, making Las Vegas a must-visit destination for music lovers and Elvis fans alike.
From his iconic jumpsuits to his signature dance moves, Elvis’ influence on entertainment in Las Vegas is undeniable, and his legacy continues to inspire performers and entertainers to this day.
Legacy and Death: Elvis Has Left The Building
Unfortunately, Elvis Presley’s life was not without its share of challenges. He struggled with prescription drug abuse and health issues, ultimately leading to his untimely death at the age of 42.
In August 1977, Elvis was supposed to fly out of Memphis on another tour. On August 16, 1977, his then-girlfriend, Ginger Alden, found Elvis unresponsive on the bathroom floor in his Graceland estate in Memphis, TN.
Doctors rushed to his side, but revival attempts were unsuccessful, and the King was declared dead. On that day, the King left the building for the last time, and the world lost one of its most popular musical stars.
Despite the tragic end to his life, Elvis’ impact on both Las Vegas and the music industry as a whole cannot be understated.
How Many Shows Did Elvis Perform in Las Vegas?
During his career, Elvis Presley had an amazing 636 sold-out concerts at the International Hotel. It was normal at the time for musicians to perform twice a day, seven days per week, and if you add the two-week residency at the New Frontier – the total number of times Elvis performed in Las Vegas is 664!
That is an amazing number of shows for one singer, especially in light of modern performers, who would not consider undertaking such an intense schedule.
Fortunately, there are several recorded performances of Elvis singing in Las Vegas from the time.
Elvis Presley’s Las Vegas Song
While in Vegas, Elvis also worked on his acting career, signing a seven-year deal with Paramount Pictures. This is an important fact related to Elvis’ return to Las Vegas in 1969 and one of his most famous songs – “Viva Las Vegas.”
Alongside his singing career, Elvis was making movies and had acted in 14 feature films by 1963! His 15th feature was the movie Viva Las Vegas, recorded in Vegas and later distributed by MGM Pictures.
In the film, Elvis portrays Lucky Johnson, a skilled race car driver who arrives in Las Vegas to participate in the yearly Grand Prix Race but needs funds to repair his engine.
During his time in Vegas, Lucky encounters Rusty Martin, portrayed by Ann-Margaret, a swimming instructor who captures his heart, even though she initially comes across as aloof.
Viva Las Vegas was directed by George Sidney and became one of the top-grossing films of 1964. Today, it is praised as one of Elvis’ best films.
At the same time, Elvis also recorded his famous hit song “Viva Las Vegas.” Both the movie and the song came out in 1964 and did great among the critics and fans.
RELATED: What does Viva Las Vegas mean?
Another important musical milestone at the time was Elvis’s first live album. The LP From Memphis to Vegas / From Vegas to Memphis was a double album containing – among other songs – several live recordings from his performances at the International.
The album was received well by critics and was a commercial success, obtaining a Gold certification in December 1969, just two months after its release.
The End of The Road (Long Live The King!)
And this is the story of Elvis and Las Vegas. The singer and the city had a close bond, with Elvis becoming a local icon. Elvis stayed devoted to Las Vegas to the end, and the city supported him through his personal challenges.
Though the King passed away in 1977, his legacy lives on in Las Vegas.
Are there any free Elvis impersonator shows in Vegas?
Although it’s not guaranteed, you can sometimes find free Elvis impersonator shows in Vegas on the Strip or in downtown Las Vegas, as street performers often do spontaneous shows in public areas.
What can you tell me about the All Shook Up show in Las Vegas?
The All Shook Up Vegas show is a fantastic tribute experience to Elvis in Las Vegas. It’s a must-see performance for fans of the King and anyone who wants to enjoy a lively and entertaining show in Sin City.
Is the International Hotel still in Las Vegas?
Yes, the International Hotel still exists in Las Vegas but has changed its name over the years. It became the Las Vegas Hilton in 1971 and changed its name again in 1974 to the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino. The hotel still operates as the Westgate today.
How did Elvis end up in Vegas?
Elvis ended up coming to Vegas for the second time in 1969. He hadn’t toured in nearly 12 years and wasn’t prepared to go on tour. A Las Vegas residency was much easier to put together than a traveling show.