In a spectacular Las Vegas show, Elvis Presley (1935-1977) revived his flagging career.
Entertainment journalist Zoglin (Hope: Entertainer of the Century, 2014, etc.) uses Elvis’ 1969 comeback to recount a history of Las Vegas from 1931, when Nevada became the first state to legalize gambling, to its current iteration as a vacation destination boasting lavish, theme park–like hotels, designer shops, gourmet restaurants, blockbuster performers (Celine Dion, Elton John, and Lady Gaga, to name a few), and high-tech, hugely expensive extravaganzas, such as Cirque du Soleil. Before focusing on Elvis, the author reprises stories about “the boozing, macho Rat Pack” and many other headliners who drew crowds at the city’s glitziest hotel, the Sands. “Sinatra was the king,” Zoglin writes, “Vegas’s undisputed Most Valuable Player,” selling out his shows and attracting wealthy gamblers to the casinos. The 1960s, though, saw a “seismic shift, in music as well as in the rest of the culture”; along with the advent of rock ’n’ roll and the Beatles, tumultuous political events such as Vietnam, anti-war protests, and civil rights activism all affected the Vegas strip. Elvis, too, had gone through “a rough decade…in many ways a disastrous one.” His early trajectory to fame had been interrupted by two years of military service. When he returned in 1960, at the advice of his domineering manager Col. Tom Parker, he gave up live performing, instead appearing in a spate of lackluster movies. By 1969, writes the author, both Elvis and Parker agreed that he needed to return to the concert stage—beginning with Vegas. Drawing on scores of interviews, Zoglin paints a vibrant picture of Elvis’ thrilling, electrical presence: “everyone was dumbstruck,” one woman said. “It was one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen.” Elvis’ performance, writes the author, “set a new standard for Las Vegas. The star was now his own spectacle.” Sadly, success proved brief: Less than a decade later, the star was dead.
An enthusiastic portrayal of an iconic performer.