Wayne Newton Dances with the Stars

by Sandra Hale Schulman
News From Indian Country

This ain’t no powwow, but then, that kind of social dancing was never Mr. Las Vegas’ speed. Sin City crooner Wayne Newton, 65, who is part Powhatan/Cherokee, will be stepping out on the dance floor on TV’s Dancing with the Stars to win the hearts of ladies old enough to know who he is. For the younger set who need some help, he sang that “Danke Schoen” song featured in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Newton will join a cast that includes 90210’s Jeannie Garth and Melanie “Scary Spice” Brown.

Cynics/converts are already having a field day with this. One popular online blog says:

“Filling the ‘mature male underdog’ slot will be none other than Mr. Las Vegas himself, Wayne Newton. Now, there are two ways to look at this: Dancing with the Stars has either hit the height of absurdity, or the pinnacle of aptness. Newton is at once the embodiment of surgical and hair dye age resistance, and again the epitome of a tireless showman.
Newton may have grown into one of those mysterious personalities that somehow invert into an effigy of themselves, but no matter how much the face work and bad hair jobs stare out at you, you cannot resist the feeling of awe at this guy’s absolute tenacity.”

Carson Wayne Newton, born April 3, 1942, in Roanoke, Virginia, has performed over 30,000 solo shows in Las Vegas over a period of over 40 years. He is the half-Native American son of an auto mechanic father, who was Irish-Powhatan and a German-Cherokee mother. Newton was active in show business at an early age. He learned the piano, guitar, and steel guitar at the age of six. Along with his older brother Jerry Newton, he appeared with the Grand Ole Opry roadshows, performed for President Harry S. Truman, and auditioned unsuccessfully for Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour.

Wayne’s severe asthma forced the family to move to Phoenix, Arizona, in 1952. In the spring of 1958, toward the end of Wayne’s junior year in high school, a Las Vegas booking agent saw a local TV show on which the two Newton brothers were performing and took them back with him for an audition. Originally signed for two weeks, the two brothers eventually performed for five years, doing six shows a day.

Many other entertainment icons such as Lucille Ball, Bobby Darin, Danny Thomas, George Burns, and Jack Benny lent Newton their support. In particular, Benny hired Newton as an opening act for his show.

After his job with Benny ended, Newton was offered a job to open for another comic at the Flamingo Hotel, but Newton asked for, and was given, a headline act.

From 1980 to 1982 Newton was part owner of the Aladdin Hotel. In 1994, Newton performed his 25,000th solo show in Las Vegas.

In the early ‘80s in Vegas he was unavoidable. Advertisements throughout the airport showed enormous pictures of Newton, microphone in hand, as he performed at the Aladdin Hotel. A taxi ride into the city required driving on Wayne Newton Boulevard. If a visitor was lucky, his driver might tell him that his arrival date coincided with the celebration by the people of Las Vegas of Wayne Newton Day.

In 1999, Newton signed a 10-year deal with the Stardust, calling for him to perform there 40 weeks out of the year for six shows a week in a showroom named after him. In 2005, in preparation for the eventual demolition of the casino, the deal was, from all reports, amicably terminated; Newton began a 30-show stint that summer at the Hilton.

In 2001, Newton succeeded Bob Hope as “Chairman of the USO Celebrity Circle.” In January 2005, Newton started a reality television show on E! called The Entertainer. The winner got a spot in his act, plus a headlining act of their own for a year. And recently during player introductions at the 2007 NBA All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas, Newton sang Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas.”

Aside from his upcoming Dancing duties, Newton is currently performing with a full band at casinos and major venues throughout the United States.

“I’m still doing the kind of shows I’ve always done,” Newton says, “and I can tell you one thing: People may leave one of my shows disliking Wayne Newton, but they’ll never walk out saying, ‘He didn’t work hard for us.’”

Said Jim Greer in Spin Magazine, “... his show is the standard by which I will henceforth judge each future concert of any genre. I’m not talking about camp, or kitsch... I’m talking about full-blooded American entertainment.”

For many years running, Wayne was voted “Entertainer of the Year” by both Nevada Magazine and Casino Player Magazine. Said Melissa Cook of Casino Player Magazine: “...he consistently offers the best in entertainment value... Wayne Newton is in a class and category all his own.” In 2005, after winning for the 8th time, Nevada Magazine stated, “Maybe we ought to retire this category.”

Native country has recognized Newton in several ways. In February 1999, he received a “First Americans in the Arts Award” as “Outstanding Guest Performance by an Actor in a Television Series” for his role on Ally McBeal. He hosted the first Nammys in 1998, and has proposed building a special mausoleum in England for Pocahontas.

“I enjoy acting immensely,” he says. “I think it’s because I’ve spent my whole life being Wayne Newton. I can get all my hostilities out being someone else and I don’t go to jail for it.”

To quote the late Merv Griffin: “Las Vegas without Wayne Newton is like Disneyland without Mickey Mouse.”

In his 1989 autobiography, Once Before I Go, Wayne talked about what he was striving to accomplish. He wanted to be, he said, “a man who dares to dream and pursue it, using my head for myself and my heart for others. To leave the world a better place than I found it.”

Now lets hope he can make the world a better place by using his feet and hoofing it with other stars. We’ll be rooting for you Wayne!




Here in Indian Country, we like tenacity, and we like Wayne. In person the man is a pure schmoozy charmer, his blinding grin is irresistible, his shows scripted like a Hollywood musical with highs, lows, weepers, dance numbers, and finales that include whole orchestras rising out of the floor and curtains of rain falling when he sings “MacArthur Park.”