Las Vegas Sun

November 23, 2017

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Columnist John Katsilometes: Hitting the jackpot with Tom Jones

John Katsilometes is the Sun features editor. His column appears Mondays. Reach him at [email protected] or 259-2327.

Up in Jackpot, a big moment is to spot Sherman Hemsley walking through Cactus Pete's.

I know this because it happened once while I was actually at Cactus Pete's. I wasn't there to stargaze -- spotting Wheezy's cantankerous husband and Archie Bunker's foil was an odd happenstance. I was there only to spend quality time with Mom, who lives in nearby Twin Falls, Idaho.

Yes, it was Twin Falls where Evel Knievel tried to jump his rocket bike over the Snake River Canyon. And yes, it was my uncle who helped build the crane that hoisted Evel into the rocket for the daredevil's apparent attempt at nationally televised suicide.

Anyway ...

Jackpot is where people who live in Twin Falls go to "get loose." Cactus Pete's is the town's major resort, its own little MGM Grand, which sits just a couple of miles from the Nevada-Idaho border. On the night of our visit we spied Hemsley, who was performing that evening at the Cactus Pete Grand Garden Arena, or wherever the major acts in Jackpot are showcased.

"Look! There's Sherman Hemsley!," Mom said excitedly.

"This is the greatest moment of my life," I said, sniffing back the tears.

Having established Mom's celebrity threshold -- impressed by George Jefferson, maybe not so much by Mr. Carlin from "The Bob Newhart Show" -- I invited her to town for a visit to the real MGM Grand. During her stay Tom Jones was headlining at the Hollywood Theatre.

Now, Mom is not an adept impressionist, but there are two celebrities she has mastered: John Mellencamp and Tom Jones. Mellencamp from his "Crumblin' Down" video, and Jones from his "This Is Tom Jones" variety show from the early '70s (neither entertainer would want to hear this, but their respective dance moves are inexplicably alike).

Anyone who remembers "This Is Tom Jones" will recall the show's, um, climax, when T.J. sang his final number on a lighted floor surrounded by women bubbling with estrogen. It was at this moment that Mom would leap from the couch to mimic the gyrating Welch singing legend. It was weird and funny and the subsequent visits by county child-protection representatives were purely coincidental.

But Mom had never seen Tom Jones in person, so this was a monumental occasion. Sensing that her Tom Jones impression was laying inert in the recesses of her soul, I pleaded with her not to rise and do it.

"I make no promises," she said as we were led to our seats. She even bothered to warn an unfortunate couple seated near us, "I might be going over the table to dance with Tom."

(Mom's no comic either, but that was pretty danged funny.)

T.J. was in fine voice and still has a couple of moves left over from his 30s. He ran through all his hits, borrowed a couple from the likes of Prince and Tracy Chapman and made us all feel wonderful to be in "Las Vegas, NE-VAH-DAH!"

Mom? She stayed seated, but bounced and swayed and smiled and waved. She wore a new dress, one she bought up in Twin, and was just about shaking as we left.

"Beats Sherman Hemsley, huh?" I asked with a laugh.