The “smart and zippy account” (The Wall Street Journal) of how Las Vegas saved Elvis and Elvis saved Las Vegas in the greatest musical comeback of all time.
Elvis’s 1969 opening night in Vegas was his first time back on a live stage in more than eight years. His career had gone sour—bad movies, mediocre pop songs that no longer made the charts—and he’d been dismissed by most critics as over-the-hill. But in Vegas he played the biggest showroom in the biggest hotel in the city, drawing more people for his four-week engagement than any other show in Vegas history. His performance got rave reviews; “Suspicious Minds,” the song he introduced there, gave him his first number-one hit in seven years; and Elvis became Vegas’s biggest star. Over the next seven years, he performed more than 600 shows there, and sold out every one.
Las Vegas was changed, too. By the end of the ‘60s, Vegas’ golden age—when the Rat Pack led a glittering array of stars who made it the nation’s premier live-entertainment center—was losing its luster. Elvis created a new kind of Vegas show: an over-the-top, rock-concert extravaganza. He set a new bar for Vegas performers, with the biggest salary, the biggest musical production, and the biggest promotion campaign the city had ever seen. He opened the door to a new generation of pop/rock artists and brought a new audience to Vegas—not the traditional well-heeled older gamblers, but a mass audience from Middle America that Vegas depends on for its success to this day.
At once “a fascinating history of Vegas as gambling capital, celebrity playground, mob hangout, [and] entertainment Valhalla” (Rolling Stone) and the incredible “tale of how the King got his groove back” (Associated Press), Elvis in Vegas is a classic feel-good story for the ages.
Richard Zoglin is a contributor to Time magazine and the author of Hope: Entertainer of the Century, Comedy at the Edge: How Stand-up in the 1970s Changed America, and Elvis in Vegas: How the King Reinvented the Las Vegas Show. A native of Kansas City, Zoglin currently lives in New York City.