February celebrity celebrations
Feb. 1: Lisa Marie Presley, the woman who was royalty two times over — the princess/daughter of King of Rock ‘n’ Roll/Vegas demigod Elvis Presley, and (ex) queen/wife of King of Pop Michael Jackson — marks No. 52. Give her some hunka-hunka-burnin‘ birthday wishes.
Feb. 2: Despite his comic protestations to Dickie, his on-stage other half, we’re sure Mom liked Vegas stalwart Tom Smothers — who becomes an 83-year-old — just as much as his bass-pluckin’ bro.
Feb. 3: Remembering standup comic/sitcom star/late-night host Joey Bishop — a Rat Pack immortal as he prowled the casinos of Classic Vegas with Frank, Dino, Sammy and Peter — still brings a smile. He was the last Rat Packer to leave us when he died in 2007 at age 89, but we remember him by blurting out his signature catchphrase: Son-of-a-gun!
Feb. 4: Clever king of observational comedy David Brenner — a pioneer of that form long before Jerry Seinfeld — was a Vegas perennial (he even got hitched on stage at the Venetian at the end of taping his HBO special, Back with a Vengeance!). Brenner took his leave in 2014 at age 78, but not before setting a record for the most appearances ever — 158 of them — on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
Feb. 6: He’s far from a teen idol these days, at age 77, but feel free to perpetually idolize Fabian, who was among the earliest crop of singers who triggered teen-girl screams in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Feb. 6: Sweet-toned songbird Natalie Cole, an Orleans Showroom regular, left us in 2015 at age 65. Yet her twin musical milestones — the pop hit “This Will Be” and the studio-engineered duet with her late father on “Unforgettable” — made her unforgettable, too.
Feb. 7: County kingpin and Vegas regular Garth Brooks rings up birthday No. 58. When it comes to Garth on the Strip, tomorrow always comes.
Feb. 11: The Macho Man of 70s Cinema, Burt Reynolds, drove his Bandit-Mobile out of our lives in 2018 at age 82, but he left us one very Vegas-centric flick — 1986’s Heat — to remember him by in this town.
Feb. 14: You’d have to go back a bit, but comic treasure Jack Benny, who left us way back in 1974 at age 80, filmed an episode of his TV show titled “Jack Goes to Las Vegas” in 1961. In it, the famously funny penny-pincher hits the jackpot on a nickel machine (what are the odds?), argues over the price of his room and stuffs an ironing board into his luggage. Oh, and the Mills Brothers sing a couple of tunes, even though Jack wants to save dough by hiring only two of the four sibs. WELL! …
Feb. 14: A Valentine’s Day baby — and Vegas legend — Phyllis McGuire, the former one-third of The McGuire Sisters singing group (and an intriguing figure in some colorful Vegas history) turns 89. Consider this day her own personal “Sugartime.” And we mean that “Sincerely.”
Feb. 14: Silently, we wish another Valentine’s Day baby, Penn Jillette’s soundless other half, Teller — full name Raymond Joseph Teller — a joyous 72nd birthday. It’s a tossup as to whether he actually uses his vocal cords to say thank you.
Feb. 16: Iconic ventriloquist Edgar Bergen literally made his last stand here in Las Vegas, when the legendary entertainer died in his sleep in 1978 at age 75. Bergen was in the midst of a two-week stint at Caesars Palace as part of his “farewell to show business” when he passed. A Caesars spokesman at the time said Bergen was receiving standing ovations every night. And in our hearts, he’s still receiving them. A bit of Bergen trivia: There were three versions of his signature dummy, Charlie McCarthy. One is at the Smithsonian Institution. Another is displayed at the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago. And the third? Purchased at auction by Las Vegas magician David Copperfield for $110,000.
Feb. 16: Cher’s original other half, Sonny Bono, was her songwriter, singing partner and comic foil on Vegas showrooms and on their CBS variety show, until their split and his re-emergence as a politician. (Bono was mayor of Palm Springs, Calif., and a United States congressman from California.) He was lost in a skiing accident in 1998. But we’ll always have the memory of you, babe.
Feb. 17: Dump a truckload of birthday wishes on Larry the Cable Guy — name on the birth certificate: Daniel Lawrence Whitney — as the occasional Vegas headliner drives into birthday No. 57
Feb. 20: Jazz songstress supreme Nancy Wilson’s legacy of recordings included the milestone Nancy Wilson – Live from Las Vegas, her 1968 performance captured at the iconic Sands Copa Room. We lost her in 2018 at age 81. We also lost what critic John Bush praised as Wilson’s “unimpeachable combination of high sophistication and artistic substance.”
Feb. 20: Wish a playfully sexy (or sexily playful) 48th birthday to ex-Playboy Playmate of the Year (1982) Corinna Harney Jones, who is also owner/operator (and actress) of Alibi Las Vegas, the unique, interactive treasure hunt game in downtown Las Vegas. What is it like? You’ll eat, you’ll drink, you’ll meet strange characters, you’ll hide stolen loot, you’ll prance around Fremont Street with a showgirl, you’ll … well, you’ll see.
Feb. 25: Here’s a complicated Vegas legacy: The last surviving Marx brother, Zeppo Marx, died in 1979 at age 78. He had once been hitched to former Las Vegas showgirl Barbara Blakeley, who later divorced Marx and married another fellow known to show up around town: Frank Sinatra.
Feb. 25: Oh, Sweet Lord, let’s gratefully remember the life and times of mop-topped Beatle George Harrison, the musician extraordinaire whose gently weeping guitar — which he could also turn into a blistering instrument of musical fury — passed from us in 2001 at the way-too-young age of 58. But the image of him alongside John, Paul and Ringo on the stage of the Las Vegas Convention Center in 1964 will live forever in Las Vegas memory.
Feb. 25: Ya know him, ya love him, ya can’t live without his endless bag of outrageous props, equally outrageous lightning-fast punchlines and even more outrageous hairstyle. So give a kooky-crazy 55th birthday shout-out to Carrot Top — a.k.a., Scott Thompson —as he continues to weave his hilariously silly comic magic at the Luxor.
Feb. 27: Another complicated Vegas history belonged to someone who never performed on a Vegas stage. Though she passed from us in 2011 at age 79, Elizabeth Taylor’s links to Vegas are everlasting. First photographed here in 1956 at the Sahara with second husband Michael Wilding, La Liz also announced in Vegas that she was about to marry her next hubby — Tropicana headliner Eddie Fisher, estranged from his wife, Debbie Reynolds. By the time Liz had moved on from Fisher to Richard Burton, that paring returned to Vegas in 1969 for location shooting on their movie, The Only Game in Town. And for many husbands/lovers — and admirers worldwide — she really was the only game in town.
Feb. 26: One of rock ‘n’ roll’s founding fathers, Antoine “Fats” Domino, made his exit in 2017 at age 89 after finding his thrill on “Blueberry Hill” and thrilling our ears with other hits including “Ain’t That a Shame,” “Good Golly Miss Molly” and “Long Tall Sally.” While Elvis may have been a Vegas king, Domino was king to Elvis, who met Domino when the latter was playing at the Flamingo Hotel and often paid deference to the quiet, humble giant he called “Mr. Blueberry Hill.”
Feb. 26: Personally colorful but sartorially black-clad only, Johnny Cash was a Vegas fave who took his larger-than-life persona to the heavens in 2003 at age 71. Even after his death, the man who could switch from the sobering “Folsom Prison Blues” to the goofy “A Boy Named Sue” stalked the Vegas stage again when he was portrayed in the musical Million Dollar Quartet on the Strip at Harrah’s. You’ll forever walk the line in our hearts, Big John.
— Steve Bornfeld