The story of how Las Vegas saved Elvis and Elvis saved Las Vegas in the greatest musical comeback of all time.
The conventional wisdom is that Las Vegas is what destroyed Elvis Presley, launching him on a downward spiral of drugs, boredom, erratic stage behavior, and eventually his fatal overdose. But in Elvis in Vegas, Richard Zoglin takes an alternate view, arguing that Vegas is where the King of Rock and Roll resurrected his career, reinvented himself as a performer, and created the most exciting show in Vegas history.
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, and mediocre pop songs that no longer made the charts. 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” 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. The intimate night-club-style shows of the Rat Pack, who made Vegas the nation’s premier live-entertainment center in the 1950s and ‘60s, catered largely to well-heeled older gamblers. Elvis brought a new kind of experience: an over-the-top, rock-concert-like 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. In doing so, he opened the door to a new generation of pop/rock performers, and brought a new audience to Vegas—a mass audience from Middle America that Vegas depends on for its success to this day.
A classic comeback tale set against the backdrop of Las Vegas’s golden age, Richard Zoglin’s Elvis in Vegas is a feel-good story for the ages.
Richard Zoglin is a contributing editor and theater critic for Time magazine. He is the author of Hope: Entertainer of the Century, Comedy at the Edge: How Stand-up in the 1970s Changed America, and Elvis in Vegas. A native of Kansas City, Missouri, Zoglin currently lives in New York City.
“Las Vegas is among the most American places in America, Elvis Presley was among the most American Americans ever, and the era chronicled here was the giddiest stretch of the American Century by far. Thank you, Richard Zoglin, for this brilliantly imagined, deftly written, perfectly delicious book about our perfectly weird country.”
– Kurt Andersen, New York Times bestselling author of Fantasyland
“If you love Vegas-era Elvis — and who does not? — you will love this book. It’s packed with juicy stories — about The King, of course, but also about Frank and Dean and Sammy, Wayne Newton, Liberace, Sonny and Cher, Barbara Streisand, Howard Hughes, the mob and dozens of other outsized characters who played roles in the incredible transformation of a sleepy desert town into the glitziest city on Earth.”
– Dave Barry, New York Times bestselling author of Lessons from Lucy
“Zoglin perfectly captures a seismic moment in 1969 when Elvis tore the roof off the International Hotel and ended the reign of the Rat Pack. This is the story of a spectacular head-on collision.”
– Conan O’Brien
“A thoroughly enjoyable and fascinating tale of the many stages of Vegas, and how its constant state of change has continued to the present day.”
– Eric Idle
“Fascinating entertainment history... Elvis fans will enjoy this richly sourced look at one of the most consequential performances of his career and his lasting legacy in the city that hosted him.”
– Publishers Weekly
“Zoglin paints a vibrant picture of Elvis’ thrilling, electrical presence… An enthusiastic portrayal of an iconic performer.”
– Kirkus Reviews
“Intriguingly, a new book titled Elvis in Vegas, by Richard Zoglin, argues that Elvis’ return to Vegas 50 years ago has been falsely described by pop historians. Rather than launching him into a drugged-out downward spiral, his Vegas shows in fact actually ‘saved’ Elvis, while Elvis, in turn, effectively saved a then-fading Vegas.”