Who’s on Las Vegas’ Mount Rushmore?

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Recently a long-time journalist friend of mine and I were having a beer and we fell on the topic of whether there were any truly iconic figures in the history of Las Vegas.

We started throwing around the names of folks whose profiles would be carved onto our own Mount Rushmore in the desert, assuming we could use a big old (Red) rock wall somewhere on the edge of town and had a Gutzon Borglum to spend a lifetime sculpting them.

We eventually came up with four names that qualified.

If you look up “icon” in the dictionary, you’ll see that one of the definitions is a representation of something sacred, particularly in the tradition of Eastern churches. But the meaning that applied to our discussion is of a person who is held up to esteem or wonderment and is the object of great attention and devotion.

Neither Heidi Fleiss nor Glen ­Lerner made it into our conversation.

Certainly there are present-day figures who might be considered icons down the road, say 50 years from now, when some brilliant man or woman figures out how to build a bullet train between here and Los Angeles.

In sports, guys like Greg Maddux and Andre Agassi might earn some votes. And die-hard Runnin’ Rebel fans, the sort who wear scarlet and grey jammies to bed at night and have worn out their 8-track of Dick Calvert’s Greatest Calls, would probably toss Tark the Shark (Jerry Tarkanian) into the mix.

In the gaming world, Kirk Kerkorian and Parry Thomas are names that would merit consideration.

I’ll spare you any further suspense and tell you that the certified icon list my friend and I came up with included these four names: Bugsy Siegel, Howard Hughes, Elvis Presley, and Frank Sinatra.

The least iconic of these is Bugsy, who was here for only a short time in the mid-1940s before he got a bad case of lead poisoning sitting in Virginia Hill’s Beverly Hills mansion. Although Bugsy wasn’t the originator of the plans behind the construction of the Flamingo Hotel, he has often been accorded the mantle as the founding father of modern Las Vegas.

I would argue that is not entirely a bad thing because his presence brought to our still tiny city an aura of Hollywood glamour and mob influence. The Mob Museum would never have been built if we didn’t have Bugsy as a founding father.

Howard Hughes qualifies as iconic in several different worlds: business, aviation, and filmmaking among them. He makes our list in Las Vegas for taking several prominent Strip properties out of the hands of mobsters and demonstrating to corporate America that legalized gambling could someday occupy a rung of respectability in the business world.

Although some might argue that Hughes doesn’t merit inclusion on our list, we felt he was a slam-dunk icon, regardless of how long his toenails were or how many Kleenex he wrapped around his fingers before turning a doorknob in his cloistered quarters on the ninth floor of the Desert Inn.

While I saw Sinatra perform only twice in Las Vegas showrooms, and both times well beyond his prime, he remains the essence of what Las Vegas Strip entertainment is all about. He brought the highest-rolling gamblers to town, he was idolized equally by men and women, and his stature as lead rat in the Rat Pack assures him iconic status in our city.

Then of course there’s the Big E. I had two or three different invitations to watch Presley perform at the Las Vegas Hilton, where he sold out the room every night he was on the marquee for eight consecutive years.

Each time I took a rain check, assuming I could catch his show at a later date. But Elvis up and died on us in August of ’77, and I had forever lost my chance.

Imagine a figure so iconic—or perhaps exploited might be a better term—that no fewer than 200 men have earned their paychecks over the past four decades either impersonating Elvis or performing what are loosely called tributes to him.

I’ve even met two women through the years who proudly told me they gave up their virginity to the King during one-night stands.

My only response to their sharing such a confidence was: “Thank you. Thank you very much.”

So there’s our Mount Rushmore, Las Vegas style, dear reader. Tell us yours.

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About the Author

Jack Sheehan

Vegas Vibe columnist Jack Sheehan has lived in Las Vegas since 1976 and writes about the city for Gaming Today. He is the author of 28 books, over 1,000 magazine articles, and has sold four screenplays.

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