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Spotlight – Wayne Newton

Born in 1942 in Norfolk, Virginia, Carson Wayne Newton lay the groundwork for his career as an entertainer during his childhood. While his father worked as a car mechanic, his mother stayed home to raise the two children. Both of his parents had Native American roots—Cherokee on his mother’s side and Powahatan on his father’s side. Newton has stated that his mother is also half German and his father half Irish.

Wayne Newton as a young, aspiring entertainer

After the family had moved to Newark, Ohio, Wayne began to sing in local clubs, theaters, and fairs with his older brother, Jerry. Due to the severe asthma problems of ten-year-old Wayne, the family was forced to move again in 1952, this time to Phoenix, Arizona where they found a more favourable climate. As “The Rascals in Rhythm”, he frequently went on stage with his older brother at roadshows and in small venues.  At one occasion, the brothers even performed for US president Dwight D. Eisenhower. A gifted musician as well, Newton taught himself to play several instruments, including piano, banjo and guitar.

During his junior year of high school in 1958, Newton and his brother Jerry landed a gig at the Fremont Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. A Las Vegas booking agent had seen the two on TV and invited them to audition. Initially hired for only two weeks, the Newton brothers performed in Vegas for nearly a year. After appearing on The Jackie Gleason Show and Ozark Jubilee, TV audiences were quite fond of the baby-faced singer with the soprano voice.

Singer Bobby Darin (right) with Wayne Newton in 1964

In 1962, Wayne Newton launched his solo career with the help of singer Bobby Darin. The following year, the now 21-year-old it into the Top 20 with “Danke Schoen”. The song, written by German bandleader Bert Kaempfert, was originally intended for Bobby Darin who decided to give the song to Newton and transpose the key of the recording to fit Newton’s voice. In 1965, Newton hit the charts again with the up-tempo ballad “Red Roses for a Blue Lady”. And his last major single came in 1972 with “Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast”, earning him a gold disc for over one million sold copies. By this time, he had grown his trademark pencil-thin moustache, jazzed up his on-stage look and shifted his vocal range a bit lower.

Even after dropping out of the charts later, the years of headlining in Las Vegas had made Wayne Newton one of the highest paid acts in the world famous gambling metropolis. His frequent appearances on television variety shows furthermore kept his career as an entertainer on a steady course.

The image of the entertainer seemed to crack in the early 1980s when NBC News ran several reports claiming that Newton had ties to organized crime. Allegedly, Newton had become a part owner of the Aladdin hotel and casino with funds from the mob while also being an associate of two members of the Gambino crime family. Newton sued NBC for libel, claiming the reports were false and had damaged his reputation and his business. In 1986, Newton won a $19 million settlement (which later reduced to over $5 million) in the case. A federal appeals court, however, overturned the ruling in 1990, and Newton tried to take his case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The court rejected Newton’s appeal the following year. Another legal challenge arose in 1992 when Newton declared bankruptcy, claiming to have $20 million in debt.

Apart from his career as a performer, Newton accumulated many television and film credits for which he had often been asked to play himself, the quintessential cabaret performer. One of his most notable roles playing a different character on the big screen came in 1989 when he played televangelist Professor Joe Butcher in the James Bond film ‘Licence to Kill‘ alongside Timothy Dalton. Butcher is the leader of a fictitious mediation centre and acts as a means of communication between Sanchez and his drug dealers in America. Seemingly tricking the public into donating money, the Professor actually relays the latest prices of cocaine by naming the target donation figure, with buyers of the drugs relayed as charitable pledges. The character of Professor Joe Butcher is quite rightly never taken seriously, and adds a much-needed light-hearted element to Licence To Kill. He also represented the televangelist scandals, as well as civil rights groups that started to come under fire in the 1980s for making baseless and fraudulent accusations of “racists behinds every bush” to make a fast buck frightening people in making donations.

Wayne Newton in his role as Professor Joe Butcher in ‘Licence To Kill’

In 2016, Wayne Newton returned to the stage at Bally’s Hotel in the form of a lounge show called “Up Close & Personal”, a combination of live singing, playing some of the 13 self-taught instruments, and movie and TV clips shown on screen. Newton lives in Las Vegas with his second wife Kathleen (m. 1994) and their daughter Lauren. He has a daughter named Erin from his first marriage to Elaine Okamura. Aside from showbusiness, Newton actively engages in horse-breeding. He has stated, “My two loves in life, from the time I can remember, were music and horses, and I couldn’t decide which I loved more.” His Arabian horse breeding program, located at his 50 acre Casa de Shenandoah Ranch, is called Aramus Arabians, and has produced six generations of horses, breeding over 700 foals, with 96 champions as of 2014.

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Benjamin Lind

Author: Benjamin Lind

Benjamin Lind became a James Bond fan at the age of 15 and has since closely followed the production of every film since 'Tomorrow Never Dies'. Apart from writing about Bond, he is a founding member of the James Bond Club Germany and holds a position as advisor in its executive committee. In 2016, Lind released a charity documentary film entitled 'A Bond For Life - How James Bond changed my Life' in support of UNICEF.

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