Hardball fans express outrage at A Rod’s $25 million a year contract, movie goers gasp at Julia Robert’s $20 million per picture, but most applaud the King’s ability to earn $38 million twenty-five years after his tragic, some might say pathetic, death.
Such is the Elvis impact that significant numbers still believe he lives and thousands make a living trying to imitate his persona and his sound. His homes, planes, and even his toilets have become internationally significant shrines. No city in the world better reflects the King’s values, taste level, personality and passions than Las Vegas, America’s fastest growing city and the number one tourist attraction. The King’s live TV show from Vegas attracted two-thirds of the world’s population, still the largest viewing audience ever.
Nestled on the floor on some of the most barren, often described as God-forsaken desert on earth, stands the city of lights, the city that never sleeps, the home of the world’s largest hotels, casinos and theaters. On any given night there are more bare breasted dancers dancing, more Elvis impersonators impersonating, more hookers hooking, more hawkers hawking, more conventioneers convening, more gamblers gambling than all other so called entertainment centers combined. Thousands of couples flock to the city’s myriad wedding chapels to say their vows between turns at the tables, often in costumes, many resembling the King.
The Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, AKA crime syndicate, has done an extraordinary job of marketing this Sodom and Gomorrah as a setting for wholesome family vacations. Vegas is to wholesome as the pit viper is to cuddly and yet the vast, tasteless, often obese, heartland of Middle America is flocking to the desert in record numbers during the summer vacation season, with their kids in tow.
So successful that even with new multiple 5,000-room hotels opening on a regular basis, it is difficult to get a reservation for a room, at a restaurant or a stage show. All planes from everywhere to Las Vegas are at all times oversold. The airport cab lines, even at midnight, are four football fields long. Vehicular traffic on Las Vegas Boulevard, “The Strip”, is bumper to bumper and pedestrian traffic resembles Times Square on New Year’s Eve. With the average daytime temperature May-October pushing 115 degrees and at night often in the high 90’s, it is difficult to understand the attraction of sitting by a pool, playing golf or tennis, or wandering from mall to mall with a bunch of sweaty kids in tow.
It is virtually impossible to walk anywhere without some sleazoid thrusting in your direction an unwanted circular touting the latest nude dance club, exotic massage parlor or XXX rated theater.
The casinos are so large and lavish once in, it is difficult to figure out how to exit. The odds on every game absolutely, unalterably, and irrevocably favor the house. On average every man, woman and child who visits Vegas leaves nearly four hundred dollars on the tables. Perhaps this explains why so many gamblers seem depressed, dispirited, anxious, or even panic stricken. The lure of something for nothing convinces otherwise sane and prudent souls to risk the rent and perhaps reputation under the guise of fun filled action. Gambling is addictive, which explains why casinos offer free drinks to their playing patrons and a cigar friendly environment. Las Vegas promotes itself as a place of limitless opportunity, an atmosphere which tends to cloud judgment and encourage reckless behavior.
The overwhelming success over many years of entertainers like Wayne Newton and Siegfried and Roy attests to the bizarre taste level of the typical visitor. From personal experience Siegfried and Roy make an ordinary Elvis impersonator a true king for a day.
After his TV special, the King is best remembered in Las Vegas for shooting out TV screens and for hosting drug-induced orgies. Even at the end, however, when a corset was unable to hold back his ponderous gut, with his face bloated and swollen, with his eyes nearly closed, with no number of silk scarves able to staunch the river of sweat pouring over his red, rubbery jowls, his voice radiated a quality as yet unmatched in the long history of Rock and Roll.
Only in America could a city like Las Vegas sprout from the desert floor and become the immortal and enduring symbol of the King, and everything in life which the King represented. While the keepers of the Presley flame are based in Memphis where he lived, it is Las Vegas with its papier-mâché pyramids, pseudo New York skyline, air-conditioned Grand Canal, street level pirate ship battles – where the ultimate in bad taste prevails – that a truly representative setting exists to frame the King’s immense contributions to the modern world. How sad the King wasn’t French.