A uniquely Weekly ranking of the personalities who define Las Vegas
Thu, Jun 24, 2010 (midnight)
Illustration: Chris Morris / www.camorris.com
We did it our way. That is, after pushing names up, down, onto and off of this list for weeks, even months (though it felt like years), we finally threw aside conventional, TMZ-derived notions of fame and notoriety and just went at it. In a city fat with boldfaced names, who’s big in our view of this city, and why? Who do we care about? Who can’t we avoid, even if we want to?
Subjective? Of course; as with any appraisal of something as vaporous as celebrity, this isn’t an exact science. On the other hand, it isn’t rocket surgery, either. Once we began looking at the famescape through Weekly-colored glasses, it fell into place more easily. But not too easily. Go ahead, try it yourself: Compare Harry Reid with Criss Angel. Who’s more famous in a Vegas context? As that little thought exercise shows, there are fluctuating, maddening, inconsistent standards at work. We cop to that right here.
Celebrity in Las Vegas is a funny animal. True, we’re a city of 2 million-plus, but at the same time we’re distinctly small-town in how everybody knows everybody. So there are plenty of local celebrities who are as important to our city’s character as the national ones, and they had to be accounted for. So we have.
A parting thought: Placement on this list doesn’t necessarily imply endorsement. By putting Harry Reid at No. 12, we’re not urging you to vote for him. We just attempted to measure the ephemeral, and this is what we came up with. Disagree? Good; can’t wait to hear from you.
1: Penn Jillette
Entertainer, TV star, provocateur
Is Vegas a good place to be famous? It is. It’s like New York or LA in that people don’t gawk. If I walk into Starbucks, somebody might say hi to me, say hi to my daughter—some people even call her by name—but they’re cool about it.
Does that confuse your daughter—strangers knowing her name? When you’re a 5-year-old, a lot of people you don’t know call you by name. And if we still lived in villages (like we’re supposed to) everybody would know her name. So, in her mind, no, nothing’s out of the ordinary.
Let’s talk about your TV show Bullshit! Will you ever run out of theories to debunk and people to expose? If you build a kingdom on bullshit, you’re not in danger of running out of it. Our producer says that Teller and I can take any subject in the news and do a credible show on it. Sure, we like to have a villain, something to call “bullshit” on, but if we don’t, we can depart from that model.
Are there any groups you won’t go after? We haven’t tackled Scientology because Showtime doesn’t want us to. Maybe they have deals with individual Scientologists—I’m not sure. And we haven’t tacked Islam because we have families.
Meaning, you won’t attack Islam because you’re afraid it’ll attack back … Right, and I think the worst thing you can say about a group in a free society is that you’re afraid to talk about it—I can’t think of anything more horrific.
Of course, it might please some Islamic fundamentalists to hear you say that you won’t talk about them because you’re afraid … It might, but you have to say what you believe, even it if pleases somebody you disagree with—that issue comes up all the time in moral discourse.
You do go after Christians, though … Teller and I have been brutal to Christians, and their response shows that they’re good fucking Americans who believe in freedom of speech. We attack them all the time, and we still get letters that say, “We appreciate your passion. Sincerely yours, in Christ.” Christians come to our show at the Rio and give us Bibles all the time. They’re incredibly kind to us. Sure, there are a couple of them who live in garages, give themselves titles and send out death threats to me and Bill Maher and Trey Parker. But the vast majority are polite, open-minded people, and I respect them for that.
And we respect you for your respect. Congratulations on being a star. I’ve always thought of myself as sub-star, as opposed to star or superstar. I’ve been out with superstars; I’ve been out with Madonna, Prince, Bob Dylan, Jay Leno, and it’s insane. It’s dangerous and frightening. Being a sub-star is more like living in a small town: Everybody recognizes you and is happy to see you, but that’s it. –Rick Lax
2: Holly Madison
Entertainer, reality-show star
Not many celebs would get away with such brazen, calculated overexposure. But Madison has achieved the improbable—inventing herself as an omnipresent figure at events all over the city while still leaving her fans wanting more. Peepshow depends largely on her celebrity, and her new reality show, Holly’s World, is a ratings hit for E! Entertainment. Her fame shows no sign of abating anytime soon.
3: Oscar Goodman
Mayor of Las Vegas
The Mayor of Las Vegas since 1999—he of the showgirl entourage, of the oversized gold throne desk chair, the gin blossoms, the role of “self” in Casino. Today, the mayor is practically a cliché of himself. He wants attention, he gets it. He wants a sports team—well, we’ll see.
4: Brandon Flowers
Lead singer, The Killers
There could be a Mongolian shepherd out there who couldn’t identify Brandon Flowers in a lineup. Oh, who are we kidding, everyone knows The Killers, and Flowers is the face of the franchise. And he’s Las Vegas’, which is pretty damn cool.
5: Dana White
The first time I met Dana White was at his Las Vegas home in 2004; I was doing a story on his ginormous, pimped-out pool. And if I’m being honest, I fully expected a full-of-himself guy who wanted only to talk about his own awesomeness in transforming the Ultimate Fighting Championship into the monster it is today. But as I shook the guy’s hand at his Las Vegas home, I was stunned. He’s the most down-to-earth dude you could imagine. The first thing he wanted to talk about was his kids, who were playing in the living room with rubber swords, and how proud he was of them. Then we spent the rest of the morning in his screening room, just talking about how much we both friggin’ love UFC. Forget George W. This is the guy I really want to have a beer with. –Ken Miller
6: Floyd Mayweather Jr.
How good is this guy? Several years ago during a bout, one of the announcers asked Floyd who he liked in the Superbowl. “Patriots,” Mayweather responded while completely dismantling his opponent.
Now that’s multitasking.
7: Wayne Newton
The Wayner finished his most recent, and quite likely his final, extended Strip engagement in April when he closed Once Before I Go at the Tropicana. His performance schedule these days is one of corporate gigs and one-off shows at American Indian resorts across the country. He’s finished shooting a small film in Maine, called 40 West, and has pitched a reality show called Wayne’s World, which focuses mostly on the women in his life. This activity alone does not merit impressive celebrity, sure. But Newton is one of the dwindling few Vegas celebrities who hearkens to the city’s beloved Rat Pack era. He’s most effective simply playing himself, an icon who reminds of a simpler, more dignified time. Whatever you say of Wayne Newton, he is Las Vegas. Mr. Las Vegas, to be precise. –John Katsilometes
8: Andre Agassi
Tennis star, philanthropist
A one-man tennis dynasty for decades, Agassi has truly given back to his native city, establishing the Agassi Preparatory Academy and the Agassi Grand Slam for Children. A champion in more ways than one.
9: Steve Wynn
The man who redefined Las Vegas not once (the Mirage in 1989), but twice (the Bellagio in 1998), Wynn continues to find ways to surprise even the most jaded Vegas visitor. Larger than life, and uniquely ours.
- Monuments to enduring Vegas famousness
- Tony Curtis
- B.B. King
- Gladys Knight
- Jerry Lewis
- Siegfried & Roy
- Jerry Tarkanian
10: George Maloof
Britney. Paris. Kid Rock. Shaq. Run with world-famous celebs and eventually you’ll become one yourself. Assuming you can own and operate a Las Vegas casino as hip as the Palms, of course.
11: Mike Tyson
Boxer, figure of controversy
Sure, he’s fallen from boxing grace, but Tyson has managed to remain viable in today’s pop culture landscape, thanks to a devastating documentary and a truly awful Phil Collins impression in The Hangover.
12: Harry Reid
Senate majority leader
Even if you don’t want to know who Harry Reid is, even if you never want to hear the Senate Majority Leader’s name again, you can’t avoid it—and that’s real fame. Don’t believe us? Try to shake Reid as he kicks into fifth-term campaign mode.
13: Criss Angel
Criss Angel is the Barack Obama of magic. Just as Obama got previously non-political people to vote, Angel got magic haters to watch his show. Mindfreak, that is—not Believe. If he could get them to watch Believe, well, that’d be a great trick.
14: Pawn Stars
Reality TV stars
Old Man. Spotter. Big Hoss. Chumlee. The Fantastic Four of reality television, the stars of Pawn Stars have become the hottest property on cable television. Their show is the highest rated of its kind in the country. Maybe this sort of fame is fleeting, but the Pawn Stars wouldn’t trade this experience—for anything.
15: Carey Hart
Motocross star, entrepreneur
At home in Vegas, Hart is the man behind tattoo studio Hart and Huntington and a partner in Wasted Space. Out of the desert, he’s a motocross star and the other half to tough-as-nails pop star Pink.
16: Marie Osmond
In a single day she’ll appear on live remote with Dr. Oz, sell her personally designed dolls on QVC and perform with brother Donny onstage at the Flamingo. At a time when production shows up and down the Strip are suffering reduced attendance, Donny & Marie continue to draw near-capacity crowds regularly. Marie Osmond is good for the soul, and good for business, too.
17: Phil Ivey
There are poker faces and then there are poker faces. And then there’s Phil Ivey’s poker face, the most feared and recognizable in the game today. It scorns opponents for even bothering to scan for emotion even as it baits them into messing with the man many consider the best in the world. Bluff? The nuts? Or is he just running down the grocery order he’s gonna put together on his way home? When 6,500 card players enter a room intent on taking one guy down, and he still makes the final table of the World Series’ Main Event, you’ve gotta wonder how he does it. Good luck finding the answer on Phil Ivey’s face. –Spencer Patterson
18: Lon Kruger
Head coach, UNLV basketball
It’s becoming cool to care about UNLV basketball again, and you can pretty much lay that at the feet of the Rebels heads coach. Just as striking as Kruger’s 137-62 record and three NCAA appearances with UNLV: that you’re more likely to bump into him at Red Robin than at Tao.
19: Glen Lerner
Attorney, commercial icon
In a wreck? Need a check? Lerner, a personal injury lawyer who stars in dozens of his own TV commercials, is a Vegas institution. You may know him as the/a “Heavy Hitter”—a name he emphasizes in some ads by swinging a baseball bat. One call, that’s all.
20: Alicia Jacobs
Alicia has been an entertainment reporter in Las Vegas for 15 years—and when she’s not doing local TV or hobnobbing with celebrity sources, she’s contributing to Extra.
He is billed as the magician duo’s “smaller, quieter half.” A magic genius, Teller is also a productive author and creator who put on a well-received production of Macbeth in Washington D.C. If he’s not as high on the list as his partner, it’s largely due to his lower public profile.
22: Tera Patrick
Tera resides in Las Vegas. Technically, she has a roof over her head here. But if the adult star lives anywhere, it’s in your glowing computers and filthy minds.
23: Kurt & Kyle Busch
You can’t separate the two; they’ve established themselves as two of the most talented race car drivers of their generation. Kurt’s a previous NASCAR Nextel Cup champion; Kyle once won 21 races in a single year.
24: Rick Moonen
When it comes to celebrity chefs, it’s often wise to catch them on the upswing, before a single beloved restaurant has metastasized into an unruly empire and the chef has been dragged out of the kitchen. For Rick Moonen, that time is now. Fresh off an impressive second run on Top Chef Masters, the sustainable seafood champion’s star has never been higher. Unlike other top-shelf chefs who arrive on the Strip once they’ve become household names elsewhere, Moonen’s career is skyrocketing on the power of what he’s doing locally. At Mandalay Bay restaurant RM Seafood, the chef showcases comforting, casual seafood downstairs and fine-dining fare upstairs produced by two separate kitchens. Someday, you might see Rick Moonen-brand eateries all over the country. But for now, Vegas can lay claim to his one and only. He’s not just a celebrity chef, he’s our celebrity chef. -Sarah Feldberg
25: Carrot Top
Now that Gallagher’s moved away from physical comedy, Scott “Carrot Top” Thompson reigns as the undisputed prop king. And around the time Thompson mocked himself on Family Guy, using his name as a punch line fell out of fashion just as liking his act fell back in.
26: Paula Francis
News anchor, media personality
As Channel 8’s leading lady, she’s the trustworthy face of local TV news, which would probably be enough to lodge her on this list anyway—but she also appears on CSI, which boosts her into a stratosphere of recognizability.
27 Randy Couture
Mixed martial artist
Now in his 40s, “The Natural” stands as the UFC’s greatest ambassador through a combination of devastating wrestling skills and out-of-the-ring class. His love of the sport lives on through his local martial arts gym.
28 John Barr
You say you’re irritated by him, but deep down you kinda like this car salesman’s goofy charm, his willingness to be uncommonly silly—even in a city filled with extremely silly people—winning you over in the end.
29 George Wallace
Possibly the most likable guy on this list, comedian Wallace doesn’t just perform in Las Vegas; he lives Las Vegas. It isn’t at all uncommon to see him all over town, visiting his true love—the city’s varied cuisine.
30 Doyle Brunson
If you’re considering sitting down at a Las Vegas poker table, and you can’t recognize this 76-year-old poker legend (he’s the dude with the cowboy hat and the toothy smile, by the way), might we suggest slots?
31 Terry Fator
It’s hard to believe that scant years ago, this guy was scraping pennies together. Proof positive that America does, in fact, have talent, Fator will most likely be a Vegas fixture for many years to come.
32 Greg Maddux
Major-league pitcher (retired)
This unassuming Valley High grad went out of his way to dodge the celebrity spotlight for his entire 23-year major-league career. Like that’s gonna happen after 355 wins and four Cy Youngs. See ya in the Hall of Fame, Greg.
33 Robin Leach
His decadelong run as host of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, along with his stints as entertainment reporter at CNN and Entertainment Tonight, still serves the ubiquitous celebrity reporter well. He’s a Las Vegas media member who can host a red-carpet event, walk that carpet, then turn around and interview those trailing him. When journalists outside Las Vegas want to take the city’s pulse, they usually seek out Leach.
34 Vince Neil
He’s got a new book coming soon (in September), a new bar (Tres Rios Cantina, in the Hilton), his own line of tequila, a new album (Tattoos & Tequila) ... but come on, dude fronts Motley freaking Crue!
35 Nate Tannenbaum
This guy! In some ways he’s the epitome of a truly local celebrity. For years a well-known local weatherman, he became known for a collection of telegenic quirks: bowties, slightly nerdy look, impossibly sunny demeanor. He’s not on TV anymore; nowadays, he’s the face of the Review-Journal’s online video effort and hosts a radio show on KUNV. But go somewhere in public with him. People remember. How ya doin’, Nate? they ask. “Mostly sunny!” he responds, every time. Vegas can be a tough town, especially these days, but Tannenbaum reminds us there’s always a place for the pleasant, the quirky, the good. –SCOTT DICKENSHEETS
36 Frank Marino
Marino is Vegas’ longest-running headliner—a female impersonator who copied Joan Rivers so well she sued him. His Divas Las Vegas show runs almost nightly, and the street named after Marino, the performer jokes, also “goes both ways.”
37 Kerry Simon
Simon’s Palms Place restaurant is a revolving door for visiting A-listers who flock for the comforting fare and to spend a little time with the chef who, through serving famous friends, has become a celebrity in his own right.
- This isn’t their primary location, but their fame still helps define the city
- Wayne Brady
- Garth Brooks
- Flavor Flav
- Eva Longoria
- Barry Manilow
- Shawn Marion
38 Nina Radetich
How popular is she? Even a recent scandal (“Ninagate”) couldn’t bring her down. With her mixture of toughness and good looks, she remains one of the most recognizable—and intriguing—Las Vegas media personalities around.
39 Forrest Griffin
Mixed martial artist
No UFC fighter has made us smile as much as Griffin, a mixture of humility, intelligence and smirk that makes us believe he has a career far beyond the ring. Oh, he’s a best-selling author, too.
40 John Ensign
Remember when politicians were honest and just focused on serving the needs of their constituents? Yeah, I guess I don’t either, but even the most jaded observer had to sit up and take notice when Ensign, that pillar of piety and marital values who publicly decried Clinton’s affair, was caught with his hand in the nookie jar. What made it particularly icky in this case was that it involved a former staffer’s wife, but the nausea factor continued—Ensign even involved his parents, getting them to pay money to the former staffer. Oh, and he might have used his office to find the cuckolded husband employment. Now Ensign faces two ethics investigations, and remains unapologetic. Not unpredictably, public sentiment against him is so massive, he’s managed to raise almost no money in his bid for re-election, and none of his colleagues in the Senate are willing to speak in his defense. Call it fame of the worst kind. –KEN MILLER
41 Steven Jackson
NFL running back
He went to Vo-Tech, played for Eldorado and has spent the past five seasons obliterating NFL defenses as a running back for the St. Louis Rams. Raise your hand if you’ve taken the Las Vegas product in Round 1 of your fantasy football draft.
42 Robin Antin
Before she was spotted all around Vegas as Matt Goss’ red carpet BFF, choreographer and director Robin Antin had already made a mark on Vegas with the Pussycat Dolls Lounge at Caesars. Now Goss’ manager and producer, Antin is a stylish regular at all the hot spots in Vegas.
43 Clint Holmes
We loved Holmes when he was a headliner on the Strip, and we love him still as an occasional performer at the Orleans and Suncoast. From standards to show tunes to pop hits, Holmes oozes Vegas.
“Chop it!” became a pop culture catchphrase thanks to this Las Vegas product, arguably the most likable commercial personality the city’s got.
45 Jim Murren
You may not know him on sight, but Murren is CEO of MGM Resorts International—the guy behind CityCenter and its terrific art collection, restaurants and nightclubs.
46 Arianny Celeste
- The next 25 ...
- Sheldon Adelson
- Louie Anderson
- Shelley Berkley
- Ed Bernstein
- Angelica Bridges
- Lance Burton
- Frank Caliendo
- Johnny Chan
- Steve Davidovici
- Victor Drai
- Jason Feinberg
- Cindy Funkhouser
- Matt Goss
- Steffi Graf
- Bryce Harper
- Steven Horsford
- Mac King
- George Knapp
- Frank Mir
- Jon Ralston
- Rory Reid
- Rita Rudner
- Sunset Thomas
- Dina Titus
- Brendon Urie
UFC ring girl
“Damn, she’s hot—look at her!” –Overheard in the Weekly newsroom
47 Daniel Negreanu
He’s appeared in X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Katy Perry’s “Waking Up in Vegas” video. Oh yeah, and he’s second on the World Series of Poker’s all-time money list.
48 TJ Lavin
BMX star, TV personality
A homegrown celeb, Lavin is a top BMX biker, MTV personality and, in a recent development, partner in the new Discreet Gentlemen’s Club. That name is fitting: Though famous, Lavin keeps a low profile in Las Vegas.
49 Norm Clarke
Celebrity journalist, media personality
His relentless detailing of late-breaking fluff and celebrity tidbittery—in his Review-Journal column, online, through Twitter—has made Norm a boldfaced name himself.
50 Colonic Elvis
He’s one of those guys who twirls signs on intersections—dressed as Elvis, selling gut health. This is the sort of adaptive reuse Vegas does in its sleep, retasking a major icon as a minor commercial shill, and we smile every time we see him.