The Vegas Guy: Big Wayne and Big Oscar

By JOE BOB BRIGGS, 'The Vegas Guy'  |  Feb. 5, 2002 at 12:03 PM
share with facebook
share with twitter

LAS VEGAS, Feb. 5 (UPI) -- So I'm hanging out with Wayne Newton, the very icon of Vegas, and Wayne is maneuvering his Rolls Corniche through snarled freeway traffic on his way to see the mayor. It's one of those white-hot desert afternoons that leave half-moons under your armpits and test the tint job on the Rolls.

"Hecklers were a way of life down here." We can see the skyline of downtown in the distance, and he's remembering his old haunts from the 60s, when he was sweating out six shows a day in the lounge of the Fremont Hotel.

"You just accepted the hecklers. But we had everything. One time we had a guy die in the audience. He had a heart attack or something while we were performing."

Wayne is in his all-black tieless suit. Wayne Newton and Tom Jones are the only two people who can dress up like matadors going to a funeral and still look good.

"And when something like that happens in a casino, they'll do anything to make sure nobody sees it."

Wayne's wife Kat gently interrupts from the back seat, suggesting that perhaps he's not changing lanes fast enough, but Wayne continues to reminisce like he's on a porch swing in his native Virginia.

"So Security shows up. They put a spot on me so that the other part of the room is dark, and they go over with flashlights and check him and see he's dead. Their solution is to just roll him up in a big carpet. To get him out fast. And the nearest place to put him was behind the stage."

A cell phone rings in the back seat. Kat's sister Tricia speaks intently into the phone, fielding one of Wayne's 30 to 40 daily requests for interviews and high-roller meet-and-greets.

"The ambulance service refused to pick him up, because he was already dead, and the county coroner was busy on some big case. So he just stayed there 12 hours. We had to step over the body every time we got on or off the stage. Five more shows."

We pull up to Vegas City Hall. The building looks like a ten-story blackjack table at the Bellagio, gracefully curved to pull the players in close to the giant dealer, and despite the blinding glare off its beige marble, it's a Feel Good Las Vegas Day.

Crisply-dressed burghers are milling outside. There are no sad, furtive people in Vegas anymore. The haggard sawdust-joint guys have all fled to a cheap riverboat casino in Iowa or somewhere, and the Vegas of 2002 is bigger, happier, noisier, like a town from a Rodgers & Hammerstein musical. Wayne maneuvers the Rolls into a side lot.

"I guess you could say I've seen it all." He trots over to greet the mayor and a camera crew as we, the entourage, follow along.

"It's the man who never says no!" booms Oscar Goodman, the fuzzy-chinned beak-nosed mayor. Oscar became famous as a lawyer for various celebrity gangsters who may have done bad things in their lives, but not in THIS instance, Your Honor.

"Hey, Oscar!" It's a couple of baggy-pants homeboys, waving from the steps. The mayor grins and waves back.

"Only in Las Vegas could you be standing next to Wayne Newton and someone yells 'Hey, Oscar,'" he says. "This man," he continues, addressing no one in particular, "I always tell people, Wayne Newton does everything for this city. You always make yourself available."

"How's the job going, mayor?" asks Wayne as he tidies up the matinee-idol uniform that he's worn approximately 21,900 times since 1959.

"I'm the most fortunate man in the world, and this is the best job in the world. You spend all day doing good."

I search behind Oscar Goodman's thick lenses for a hint of irony or cynicism -- he is, after all, a criminal defense attorney -- but, no, he obviously means it.

Both men joke around as a camera crew sets up a PSA for Westcare Nevada. No one seems to know precisely what Westcare Nevada is, but they do know it's a charity dinner for Bruton Smith, owner of the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and a man who in an earlier era would have been called a major player with juice.

I chat with Wayne's wife, Kathleen "Kat" Newton, a striking blonde who was herself a defense attorney in Cleveland before leaving her lucrative practice eight years ago to marry Mr. Las Vegas. I ask whether she had any famous clients. "We had one mob guy. What was his name? Dennis something."

She taps the mayor on the shoulder. "Oscar." He turns around.

"Cleveland. Dennis. Dennis from Cleveland. I can't remember his name."

"Dennis Green," says the mayor immediately, naming the erstwhile head of the Cleveland mob. He looks around sheepishly. "I guess I'll never escape my past, will I?"

A few moments later the mayor tells his favorite story, about playing himself in the movie "Casino." He couldn't memorize the lines properly, so Martin Scorsese finally told him to just say whatever he would tell his clients in real life. (The characters played by Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone were all, in real life, Goodman clients.) "So I just talked like myself and I was brilliant, but the other actors fumbled around because they had no cues!"

Everyone laughs good-naturedly. After a few minutes, Mr. Las Vegas and the mayor of Las Vegas tell some lamely scripted banquet jokes for the camera, and after three or four re-takes, they're saying their goodbyes and we're heading back to the Rolls.

"How many wise guys did you actually know?" I ask Wayne when we get to the car.

"Well, first of all, I didn't know they were wise guys. I was a kid, and I just knew them as these guys who were always around and who always protected me. They were conservative. They valued family and kids. I guess there's a certain pride among thieves. But I knew them. And I liked them."

As we motor back toward Shenandoah Ranch, I think to myself: The mayor just made several jokes about the mob, then the most supremely diplomatic guy in Vegas just admitted liking mobsters. They really ARE all dead or in jail.

(Email Joe Bob Briggs, "The Vegas Guy," at or visit Joe Bob's Web site at Snail-mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, TX 75221.)

Related UPI Stories
Trending Stories