Las Vegas played a prominent role in Elvis Presley’s comeback to live performance. The city, particularly his performances at the International and Las Vegas Hilton, also played a significant role in his divorce.
Priscilla Presley said as much from the stage at South Point Showroom on Sunday night. The King’s ex-wife and caretaker of his legacy finished a three-run series at the hotel. Every show sold out.
Presley was seated onstage alongside moderator Sandie Newton (a good friend and colleague of my table-mate, BeyondTV host Rachel Smith). Presley revisited Elvis’ career in Las Vegas with a series of videos and vintage snapshots.
And for the first time, Presley divulged that Elvis’ early Vegas years destroyed the couple’s marriage. The two were wed on May 1, 1967 at the Aladdin and divorced October 1973, midway through Elvis’ sold-out run at the International and Las Vegas Hilton starting in July 1969 and ending December 1976.
“When he was at the International and Hilton hotel, one of the guys said, ‘Get all the pretty girls and put them in front,’ so there would be blondes redheads, beautiful, beautiful girls in the front, maybe about 30,” Presley said. “So, you know, I noticed that and I thought, ‘OK, I guess that’s the normal thing. But then when I started seeing them in the dressing room, and the guys bringing them in, and, you know, introducing them to Elvis.”
Presley held it together during those visits. But she would not tolerate notes and letters being delivered backstage to her husband.
“The notes were coming in, the letters were coming in, and I would open them,” Presley said as the audience fell totally silent. “This is when I got back to L.A., and it would be notes like, ‘I had a great time with you. I’ll never forget this night and can’t wait to come back, blah-blah-blah and on and on.”
When Presley returned to Vegas, she noticed the same women hanging around The King. One claimed to be with Elvis’ confidant Richard Davis, a leading member of the so-called Memphis Mafia. But Presley saw a newspaper photos of that individual with Elvis, and lined up all the evidence from Las Vegas.
It was time then to change this relationship.
“It meant that I would be dealing with this for the rest of my life, twice — twice! — a year he was playing up here,” Presley said. “I just knew it couldn’t continue. I had to go.”
Presley said she surprised even herself that she had the fortitude to tell one of the most famous entertainers in history she was done. As she said, “I was just so young, to make that decision, but it was the right decision.”
The crowd erupted in applause. Presley referred to the many home movies that had been played during the show. “People ask if we had fun, and we did. We were carefree. Even after the divorce, we were great co-parents to Lisa Marie, and remained very close. We were great friends.”
Austin is awesome
Presley said she had just watched a screening of the Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming “Elvis” biopic on Wednesday. Luhrmann had wanted to watch the film alongside Presley for the first time. Instead, Presley viewed a screening along with Jerry Schilling, one of Elvis’ last surviving associates and friends who knew the King since 1954.
Presley said she was stunned by Austin Butler’s portrayal.
“Jerry and I sat there watching this kid, I think it’s his first film role, and he most have spent the last year, every single minute, watching Elvis,” Presley said. “He had him down like you cannot believe.”
Presley had resisted Luhrmann’s invitation to head to Cannes and The Met to promote the film. She needed to see it first for a proper endorsement.
“In the middle, I said to Jerry, ‘Wow, I can’t believe this,’” Presley said. “Three-fourths of the way into the film, I looked over at Jerry and said, ‘It looks like we’re going to Cannes.’”
Presley said Luhrmann delves into Presley’s travails late in his life, saying, “It might be hard for some people in this room to watch it.” She also said Tom Hanks adopted an accent as Colonel Tom Parker. “Tom didn’t have an accent. That was a personal choice. But you don’t even think it’s Tom Hanks, so he did a good job.”
He did a good job, too
South Point Entertainment Director Michael Libonati is something of a groover. Presley mentioned Libonati’s dance steps as the exec showed up at the end of Sunday’s shows to present her flowers. A group that included Libonati and Presley shook it up at The Spazmatics party-band show Saturday night.
What Works in Vegas
Lon Bronson Band at Myron’s. Bronson’s “industrial-strength band” has sold out every show since returning to the Smith Center music haunt in September at Myron’s. This includes Friday night’s capacity performance. Bronson is back May 5, coincidentally on Cinco de Mayo. No themed music planed, but he says he might outfit the horn section in sombreros, which would be a first.
Cool Hang Alert
The Circus Circus is celebrating World Circus Day at its legendary Midway stage on 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Saturday. The acts include Peomas, the popular Circus Circus clowns, Uzeyer from “America’s Got Talent.” The Midway shows are ongoing, hourly, from 11:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m. daily (11:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturday), no cover. Cotton candy is extra.
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.