Remember When Elvis Presley Bombed in Las Vegas?
When Elvis Presley debuted in Las Vegas on April 23, 1956, the sophisticated crowds there were not at all impressed with the man who was revolutionizing popular music.
Presley was only a short way into the career that would see him become one of the most legendary figures in the history of music when he accepted the booking at the Venus Room at the New Frontier Hotel in Vegas, according to Entertainment Weekly. The gig paid the modest sum of $17,000 for a two-week stand, and Presley was appearing on a bill with the Freddie Martin Orchestra and comedian Shecky Greene, both of whom were more traditional Vegas fare.
Presley had the No. 1 single in the country with "Heartbreak Hotel" when he kicked off his run at the Venus Room, but the audience there consisted of middle-aged consumers in Vegas for some gambling and dining, a far cry from Presley's core audience of screaming teenagers, and the sneering, hip-swiveling presentation that had been working magic elsewhere fell flat with the crowd, earning harsh reviews that would sting Presley for decades after.
Newsweek likened his performance to "a jug of corn liquor at a champagne party," according to EW, noting that the crowd "sat through Presley as if he were a clinical experiment."
Presley tasted even more humiliation after the venue moved his name from first to third billing after his opening night debacle, and he complained openly to the press about playing nightclubs, saying that his audience was eating when he came onstage and didn't seem to have any appreciation for what he had to offer.
The incident came just two years after Presley suffered a similar humiliating failure at his debut on the Grand Ole Opry, but it ended very differently. While Presley made good on his promise never to return to the Opry, the King of Rock and Roll did eventually conquer Las Vegas, though it would take decades.
In the 1970s, when both he and his audience middle-aged themselves, Presley became one of the highest-paid acts in Sin City, squeezing into his white jumpsuits in the latter years of his career to perform for audiences that now consisted of swooning housewives looking to relive their own youth.
See Elvis and Other Stars as Kids