Celeb Celebrations: January
When does a birthday list resemble an awards-show “In Memoriam” reel? When it’s Vegas-related January birthdays. Yes, some of this month’s celebrants are still around to blow out the candles. But here’s a chance to give a tip of the chapeau to giants of the past who helped turn our town into a present-day mecca of impeccable entertainment — on stage, on screen, in the ring, and even in our civic consciousness. (Scroll to the bottom for a News Bureau slideshow.)
1/1: In memory of … bandleader Xavier Cugat. The Latin legend and rumba king who played Las Vegas in the 1960s and 1970s died in 1990 at age 90. If he were still around today, he might even be married for a sixth time, following his last trip to the altar with “Coochie-Coochie” girl (and fellow Vegas performer) Charo. Vegas marquee operators can be forever grateful he never insisted on his full name in lights: Francisco de Asis Javiar Cugat Mingall de Bru y Deulofeu.
1/3: In memory of … pianist/comedian Victor Borge, the funniest man ever to sit behind a piano keyboard in Vegas (and everywhere else, for that matter), who died in 2000 at age 91. With a wit that might be rated A-sharp, he was known for quips such as this one, made to a Las Vegas interviewer, who asked him why, as a consummate musician, he didn’t play more music “straight” rather than comedically: “It’s written crooked, isn’t it?” Rim shot!
1/4: In memory of … boxer Floyd Patterson, who died in 2006 at age 71. Though he twice took it on the chin (so to speak) at the Las Vegas Convention Center, losing to Sonny Liston in 1963 and Muhammad Ali in 1965, he will always be remembered as one of the greats of the sport.
1/6: In memory of … nightclub comic legend/humanitarian extraordinaire Danny Thomas, who left us in 1999 at 79. As philanthropic as he was funny, the star of TV’s Make Room for Daddy famously founded St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, a cause his daughter, Marlo, carries on today. If he were still with us, perhaps he’d also still be trying to cope with Uncle Tonoose on a rebooted Make Room for Great-Grandaddy.
1/8: In memory of … one of the performers who should be on a Mount Rushmore of Las Vegas: Elvis Presley, the hip-swiveling super-duper-star who tragically left us in 1977 at age 42. What he gave to this town can never be duplicated. … Well, actually it’s duplicated daily by the Elvis impersonators who make a full-time living off his singularly spectacular career. Some fans wonder if he’s actually still alive. We’ll just say that we should all sing “The Wonder of You” to his indelible memory. (And then let’s belt out “Viva Las Vegas,” because we think that should be required by law here.)
1/10: In memory of … singer/scion of legend Frank Sinatra Jr. who left us in 2016 at age 72. Though he could never attain his dad’s success (honestly, who could?), the man who would become his father’s musical director/conductor nobly carried on the family business.
1/10: Tonight’s the night for Caesars Palace frequenter Rod Stewart’s 74th birthday blowout. As the man sang, so does he stay: Forever Young.
1/10: Pugilist/grill pitchman/ordained minister George Foreman turns 70, and it’s hard to remember that “Big George” fought anywhere other than in our Big Town. Here’s his Vegas stats: 10 fights from 1969-1995, with a record of nine wins and one loss, at five venues — MGM, Thomas & Mack, Caesars Palace, Bally’s and Las Vegas Hilton. Combined with his knockout personality, Foreman is a Vegas treasure.
1/11: Raise a glass because this Judd’s for you — specifically, Vegas regular Naomi Judd, who can still bring that “Hillbilly Boogie” at age 73.
1/12: In memory of … comedian/singer Joe. E. Lewis, who passed away in 1971 at age 69, and who left his mark on this city’s entertainment legacy on the stages of the Flamingo and El Rancho. Oh, and who had the honor of being portrayed by our town’s king of kings, Frank Sinatra, in the biographical film The Joker is Wild.
1/15: In memory of … Martin Luther King Jr. The civil rights icon — for whom a boulevard in Las Vegas is named — was brutally murdered in 1968 at the age of 39. Four years earlier, King had graced Las Vegas when he spoke at the Las Vegas Convention Center on April 12, 1964. Remember him always. Keep The Dream alive.
1/17: In memory of … boxing champ and sports icon Muhammad Ali, who died in 2016 after 74 years of floating like a butterfly through our collective memory and stinging like a bee through our social consciousness. Here in Vegas, he boxed seven times, winning five of those matches, and was arguably as much of a showman in the ring as an entertainer on our stages. Yes, he was The Greatest, as he would tell you. And he was sooooo pretty (as he would also remind us).
1/17: In memory of … chanteuse Eartha Kitt, who died in 2008, her sex-kitten purr of a voice—and bold onstage sensuality — silenced at age 81. Her storied career took her from Las Vegas stages in the 1950s to recording success, including the seductive “C’est Si Bon” and the enduring Christmas novelty hit, “Santa Baby.” And oh yes — she was Catwoman! How purrrr-fectly alluring she was.
1/20: Wish a happy 63rd birthday — in “Real Time” — to comedian/Real Time host Bill Maher, who returns to town to perform at the Mirage Feb. 15 and 16. One thing we’re fairly sure of: He won’t be getting a Hallmark card from the White House.
1/29: In memory of … actor Victor Mature, who died in 1999 at age 86. Were he back with us, he wouldn’t still be on a Vegas stage because, well, he never was. However, he did co-star with Jane Russell in 1952’s The Las Vegas Story, putting us on the big screen long before Ocean’s 11 or Viva Las Vegas. Before there was Frank, before there was Elvis, there was … Vic.
1/31: Pop prince Justin Timberlake is still ’n sync with his fans at age 38. Catch him at his Vegas return on March 8 when he brings “sexy back” yet again at T-Mobile Arena. Unfortunately, he’ll miss ex-gal pal Britney Spears, who has canceled her planned Park Theater residency. No matter, though. Their long-gone relationship — and his marriage to Jessica Biel — means that, Oops, They’re Not Doing It Again.
— Steve Bornfeld