Singer and actor Wayne Newton was as synonymous to Las Vegas as casinos, neon lights, and marquee boxing matches. The "Danke Schoen" (German for "Thank You") singer was called many nicknames, including "The Midnight Idol" and "The King of Las Vegas," after having performed more than 30,000 nightly shows during his career, including an exclusive 10-year deal with the Stardust Hotel, where a showroom was even named after him. Newton was also well known for his work with the U.S. Armed Forces, visiting troops as Chairman of the USO Celebrity Circle, a title he received in 2001, succeeding legendary comic Bob Hope. While most men his age were settling into their golden years, Newton surprised and delighted so many of his fans by appearing on the hit show "Dancing with the Stars" (ABC, 2005- ).
Long before he was entertaining on stage and onscreen, Carson Wayne Newton, a descendant of Pocahontas, was born and raised part Cherokee and part Powhatan in Roanoke, VA. He was born on April 3, 1942 to Patrick Newton and Evelyn Marie Smith Newton, who were each 50 percent Native American descent. Newton also had an older brother named Jerry. The future showman fell in love with performing after his parents took him to a Grand Old Opry show that passed through their town. He discovered his true calling after noticing how happy watching the singers onstage made him, so by age six years old, Newton already knew how to play piano, guitar, and steel guitar, and was wowing local fans in his own radio show for Roanoke station WDBJ. His school also took note of the budding star's talents, asking him to perform at assemblies and church functions, prompting Newton to form a musical group with his brother.
While a successful career in entertainment was at arm's reach for the young talent, he faced quite a bit more challenges when it came to his health, having been diagnosed with multiple allergies and asthma, which could have proved detrimental to his vocal abilities. Newton's family moved to Phoenix, AZ after a doctor advised the child prodigy would be healthier in warmer climate. A few years later, a much healthier Newton moved once again with his family, to Newark, OH, where he and his brother continued performing. When the harsh Midwestern winters proved to aggravate the boy's asthma, the family moved back to Arizona. The Newton Brothers soon became regulars on TV, appearing on the "Lew King Show" (LPHO TV, 1950- ). After moving back to Arizona, the family learned that it benefited not only Newton's health, but his career as well.
Las Vegas was close enough to where the Newton family resided, so it was only a matter of time before the brothers were asked to audition as a lounge act for the Fremont Hotel in Las Vegas in the spring of 1958. It opened many windows of opportunity for the singer to perfect his vocals and get the exposure he deserved. The biggest names in the entertainment business took notice of Newton and his brother, including Jackie Gleason, Jack Benny, Lucille Ball and Bobby Darin, who insisted the brothers rename their group into a more singular-sounding moniker: Wayne Newton. TV was booming around this time as well, and the brothers were asked to appear in "Bonanza" (NBC, 1959-1973) and "The Lucille Ball Show" (CBS, 1962-1968). The redheaded comedienne played a huge part in promoting Newton's talents on her show, most memorably in an episode where he sang "Bessie, the Heifer" - a tune that became one of the most requested by his fans. On Sept. 29, 1962, Newton performed on "The Jackie Gleason Show" (CBS, 1952-59) - his first of 12 memorable appearances for the next two years.
There was no doubt Newton was fast becoming a well known TV personality, but the Las Vegas entertainment industry was not willing to hand over its star performer to Hollywood. After a stint as Jack Benny's opening act, Newton was offered a headlining position at the world famous Flamingo Hotel. He remained a must-see performer at Sin City, selling out shows because of his charming stage presence, macho 6'2" frame, unique vocals - although Newton had a signature high-pitched tone that Johnny Carson repeatedly cracked jokes about - and ability to connect with the audience, at times making them feel like they were the stars of the show. He was also an entrepreneur, becoming part owner of the Aladdin Hotel from 1980 to 1982, only to unsuccessfully purchase the entire property in 1983. His financial difficulties turned for the worse in 1992 - the year Newton filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after he went after NBC for libel, since the network claimed the singer worked with organized crime groups to buy the Aladdin. Newton would once again face another financial problem in August 2005 when the IRS filed a lawsuit against him and his wife Kathleen McCrone for more than $1.8 million in taxes and properties.
Newton remained a force in Las Vegas, with a remarkable 25,000th show in 1994, and a lucrative decade-long deal with the Stardust. A street was even named after the performer, located near the main terminal of the city's McCarran International Airport. Newton performed for the very last time at the Stardust on April 20, 2005, telling the audience he ended his contract to spend more time with his second wife, lawyer McCrone and daughter Lauren Ashley. The entertainer was also married to Elaine Okamura from 1968 to 1985, and they, too had one daughter named Erin.
Newton appeared in many films throughout his career, from his debut big screen appearance in 1969's "80 Steps to Jonah" to the 1989 James Bond flick "License to Kill" as Professor Joe Butcher. The role was a dream come true for the successful entertainer, who always wanted to appear in a 007 feature. Newton often appeared onscreen as himself, especially when a role called for an all-around Las Vegas-type superstar - from the family comedy "National Lampoon's Vegas Vacation" (1997) to the action packed, high stakes thriller "Smokin' Aces" (2006). The star also lent his vocals - most notably with his signature song "Danke Schoen," first released in 1963 - to soundtracks for "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986), "Fools Rush In" (1997), "Meet the Parents" (2000), and "Matchstick Men" (2003).
The small screen also gave Newton another opportunity to reach out to fans through his work. Whenever a popular show like "Roseanne" (ABC, 1988-1997), "Full House" (ABC, 1987-1995), or "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" (NBC, 1990-96) would air an episode set in Las Vegas, the featured star was almost always Newton. The Roanoke native jumped on the reality TV bandwagon in the new millennium, starring in a show that followed him 24 hours a day, entitled "The Entertainer" (E!, 2005). Two years later, Newton wowed the nation with his dancing in the primetime hit, "Dancing With the Stars," where he was partnered up with professional dancer Cheryl Burke, who was at that time, the show's only two-time champion. Due in some part to his age, Newton could not catch up with the fancy footwork of ballroom dancing, and became the third contestant eliminated from the competition. Nevertheless, he remained a show favorite, and was even asked to join the "Dancing with the Stars Tour." Newton was able to join only a couple of tour dates because he underwent treatment for cardiomyopathy, a viral infection of the heart. He recovered by the end of 2007, proving yet again that he was not only an entertainer to millions, but also a true fighter.