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April 16, 2014

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Guest column: Robert Davi — like his idol Frank Sinatra — has the world on a string

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Sun Lion Films

Robert Davi.

Robert Davi

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Frank Sinatra and Robert Davi.

Robert Davi at Venetian Showroom and Backstage

Robert Davi at the Venetian Showroom on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Robert Davi, the villain of the James Bond film “Licence to Kill,” also was the star of 88 episodes of NBC’s hit “Profiler.” He starred in Steven Spielberg’s “The Goonies,” played a Mafia hitman in “Kill the Irishman” and was a strip club owner in the ill-fated, Las Vegas-set “Showgirls.”

You might not know his name, but you recognize that unique farbissina punim (sourpuss). You might also not know that he sings in the same style as his boyhood idol, Frank Sinatra. In fact, they worked together in 1977 in Robert’s first movie, “Contract on Cherry Street.”

Robert’s new film “The Iceman” is out May 3 and stars Michael Shannon, Wynona Ryder, James Franco, Chris Evans, Ray Liotta and Davis Schwimmer. Although he’s had a string of movie and TV hits, music has always been Robert’s first love. He even studied opera. Now he’s produced an act, a tribute to Ol’ Blue Eyes, and for the first 35 minutes of comic legend Don Rickles’ show at The Orleans on Saturday and Sunday, Robert will showcase his Sinatra salute.

“It’s not a lookalike or soundalike show,” he told me. “It’s a tribute to Sinatra and The Great American Songbook and America, the great composers and arrangers that made this music. The music is celebrated. It’s not an impersonation; it’s a tip of the hat.”

Robert added: “Sinatra had a huge singing career and a huge film career, so as a young Italian Sicilian kid, I looked to that career and had my sights on that, too. I had always wanted to act and sing. But the acting took over, with my first film with Sinatra, and then I let go of the other yearning desire -- admittedly somewhat out of fear. Now I want to go back to the beginning and start all over.”

Robert has recorded “Davi Sings Sinatra: On the Road to Romance.” I’ve known Robert for more than a decade as a good friend and fellow cigar smoker. So I wasn’t shy asking the 59-year-old star with more than 150 film and TV roles to his credit to write a guest column while I’m away today.

By Robert Davi

The closest I got to Las Vegas when I was a kid growing up is what I had seen on TV, read about or heard from friends and relatives through their first-hand experience. I remember wishing that my parents could at some point take a family trip, and we would be able to see the amazing talents that helped fill the casinos and brand the city as The Entertainment Capital of the World.

There was one name that stood out from all others that typified what Vegas stood for: Frank Sinatra. Don’t get me wrong. There were a great many terrific acts and performers, but Sinatra held all the cards -- and The Royal Flush was when Frank, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford could be seen on the Strip.

Life was a lot different back then. First off, there weren’t 5,000 TV stations, countless video games and a plethora of avenues to entertainment. No, there were three stations, and whether it was “The Tonight Show,” Ed Sullivan or Dick Cavett, or ,when word got out that Sinatra or one of The Rat Pack was on, you found a way to stay up to watch the shenanigans.

There was an excitement. They made you feel you were in on something, you were a part of something. They performed and talked about when they were going to be in Vegas, and you wanted to find a way to get there. Not many performers today hold the same kind of allure. On top of that, the boys ran the town back then. And while there may have been more skimming the bottom line, there seemed to be a more personal touch, an intimacy.

People and celebs had a style and class, and music was the driving force. The Great American Songbook, the Shakespeare of America, as I like to refer to it, was filled with romance and poetry. It made the world fall in love with our country and us with each other. While we may have disagreed, we did it with less divisiveness.

I have been an actor for more than 30 years. My first film was with Sinatra, in 1977 , “Contract on Cherry Street,” based on a book that was a favorite of his mother, Dolly. That was my start in the business, and since then I have been lucky to work with some of the biggest in the business, from legends Marlon Brando and Clint Eastwood to newer stars James Franco and Catherine Zeta-Jones, from a Goonie to top 007 villain and FBI profiler.

While acting is how most people know me, singing is my first love. After remaining silent for 30 years, my first album, which was produced by 14-time Grammy winner Phil Ramone, who passed away just two weeks ago, charted at No. 6 on Billboard Jazz. I headlined at The Venetian in February 2012 and won some terrific reviews. Since then, I have been performing all across the country.

Why did I choose to do it? I wanted to pay tribute to one of the greatest entertainers of all time: Frank Sinatra. A man who inspired me as a young boy. He not only sang; he also acted. He was the benchmark in music. There was an edge to Sinatra that no other singer on the Strip or anywhere has ever had. So how terrific to do my first film with him.

Years later, when I would have lunch or dinner with him at Cubby Broccoli’s house along with Sidney Korshak or with Jilly Rizzo at Matteo’s, I would get the lowdown first hand and the great stories of The Golden Age buried beneath the ruins of a new, emerging Las Vegas. One of the names that kept popping up in those stories was Don Rickles, and with each mention of his name, there would be an explosion of laughter.

Today, Vegas is an enchanting getaway where you can travel to Venice, Paris and New York all within an hour, and you can experience the best in food, accommodations, gambling, shopping and entertainment that money can buy. You can go to Ancient Rome or have a run in with pirates. But while you can rock with the ages or see the marvelous music acts and comedians of today, what you do not get is the sense of what it was like when The Chairman of the Board was in town.

Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of shows dedicated to The Rat Pack era to enjoy, but, look, there is one man standing from that era, one guy who for 54 years has entertained by ripping apart the biggest in the business while tearing your insides out with laughter. One man who also is one of those few knighted by Mr. Sinatra himself as Sir Bullethead. The legendary, iconic comic genius Don Rickles. Yes, Mr. Warmth himself! He got his big break from Sinatra, as I did. A Queens boy, like myself.

When I started singing and doing my shows and getting the kind of notice I was hoping for, I secretly held the hope of performing on the same bill as Mr. Rickles, The Frank Sinatra of Comedy! Thanks to Terry Jenkins and Tony Oppedisano, the longtime right hand of Mr. Rickles, this Saturday and Sunday at 8 p.m. at The Orleans, come see and hear for yourselves.

A night of classic Las Vegas elicits that pit-of-your-stomach excitement. I only wish my mother and father were alive to see that all the singing lessons they paid for are finally paying off. I remember watching my father, who was Sicilian, as tears streamed down his face with laughter whenever he would see Mr. Rickles on one of his many TV appearances.

I invite all of you who may know me from one of the 150-plus films, countless TV appearances and my new album, and of course those who love Mr. Rickles, who is as current and relevant as he was when he first opened in Vegas. Please join us at The Orleans. Trust me: Someday you’ll tell your kids about it.

You can read my interview with the actor-singer posted Feb. 9, 2012. There’s a group of us going to hear him sing Sinatra this weekend, so we hope to see you there.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.

Follow VDLX Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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