61 Years Ago: Elvis Presley Bombs in Las Vegas Debut
Sixty-one years ago today (April 23, 1956) might be a day that Elvis Presley would have rather forgotten. It was on that date that the King of Rock and Roll made his debut in Las Vegas — and quickly learned that his superstardom didn’t extend to Sin City.
Presley, who had, at the time of his Vegas debut, just released his eponymous freshman album, took the stage, along with Freddy Martin and comedian Shecky Greene, for what was supposed to be the first night of a two-week residency at the New Frontier Hotel. But while Presley was quickly becoming one of the most popular stars of his generation — whose influence would eventually reach well beyond rock into country and gospel — the then-21-year-old discovered that night that his fame wasn’t as far-reaching as he had hoped.
According to Newsweek, the audience at the New Frontier Hotel “sat through Presley as if he were a clinical experiment,” and his appearance before the mostly middle-aged audience was like “a jug of corn liquor at a champagne party.” The Las Vegas Sun was equally unimpressed, and published a scathing review of Presley’s short-lived stay at the venue.
“Elvis Presley, arriving here on the wave of tremendous publicity, fails to hit the promised mark,” one columnist wrote. “The brash, loud braying of his rhythm and blues catalog (and mind you, they are big hits everywhere it seems), which albeit rocketed him to the big time, is overbearing to a captive audience.”
Ultimately, the Memphis native was canned after only one week. But it wasn’t long before the Vegas crowd caught up to Presley’s fame: Later in 1956, Presley starred in the film Love Me Tender and spent the next 13 years recording more than a dozen albums and performing all over the world. In 1969, the “Blue Suede Shoes” singer was invited to return to the famous Las Vegas Strip. He was booked for a month-long residency at the International Hotel, making more than $1 million in four weeks and ultimately becoming one of the biggest attractions in the city.
Presley remained a fixture in Vegas until his death in 1977.