Las Vegas Sun

December 10, 2018

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The Strip:

Sixty years of the Riviera: Holmes vs. Spinks; Murray Sawchuck hosts last hurrah

Vintage Vegas Party at Riviera

Larry Burton

Rich Little, Pia Zadora, Lorraine Hunt-Bono, Dennis Bono and Murray Sawchuck attend the Vintage Vegas party hosted by Sawchuck and wife Chloe Crawford on Thursday, April 9, 2015, at the Riviera.

Vintage Vegas Party at Riviera

The Vintage Vegas party hosted by Murray Sawchuck and Chloe Crawford on Thursday, April 9, 2015, at the Riviera. Launch slideshow »

Larry Holmes vs. Michael Spinks at Riviera in 1985

Larry Holmes vs. Michael Spinks at the Riviera in September 1985. Launch slideshow »

Holmes vs. Spinks in 1985

It’s just a little more than two weeks now before the Riviera shuts its doors on the Strip, ending a 60-year legacy as a Las Vegas icon — our first high-rise hotel and casino. Closing day to the public is Monday, May 4, and it’s time now for another look back at highlights through the years.

We’ve looked back at Liberace, Michael Jackson, Dolly Parton and Pia Zadora’s association with the hotel and its huge production “Splash” that preceded the water spectacles of Cirque du Soleil and “Le Reve — The Dream.”

Las Vegas has always had a rich history with boxing, and one of its historical bouts was the IBF World Championship Boxing heavyweight match between four-time defending champion Larry Holmes and then-undefeated Olympic gold medalist Michael Spinks.

The fight with Don King promoting was considered an instant classic. Eleven thousand people turned out for the 15-round heavyweight battle staged in the parking lot of the Riviera on Sept. 21, 1985, with Sugar Ray Leonard as one of the commentators.

Spinks defeated Holmes, who was a 6-to-1 favorite, in a controversial split decision that would be called the “Upset of the Year” by Ring Magazine. In later years, if my research is correct, Las Vegas resident Mike Tyson beat both of these fighters.

The Riviera will take its own body blows with a final knockdown punch in May now that the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority owns it. The agency paid more than $180 million to acquire the hotel and casino, and it will be imploded to make way for its new Global Business District, adding additional and much-needed convention facilities.

Planet Hollywood headliner magician Murray Sawchuck and his “Fantasy” at Luxor dancer showgirl wife, Chloe, decided that it was “now or never “to celebrate at the legendary hotel with a star-studded party in the Presidential Penthouse Suite #6407. It’s the largest suite in the building, and I dropped in on a who’s who of Las Vegas entertainment for one final-night blowout bash.

Guests sang and danced along with a small band playing until 2 a.m. More than 180 guests came to pay their last respects to a hotel that helped create what Las Vegas has become today. Guests along with Murray, Chloe and their magical assistant Doug “Lefty” Leferovich included Pia Zadora, who was married to Riviera owner Meshulam Riklis; “Frank: The Man, the Music” at Palazzo star Bob Anderson; impressionists Rich Little and Peter Pavone; and South Point host Dennis Bono and his wife, former Nevada Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt-Bono.

Also: Smith Center President and CEO Myron Martin; artist Michael Godard; reality-TV personality and stunt rider Ricardo Laguna; comedy magician Ben Young; producer Jeff Kutash; hypnotist Anthony Cools; “Purple Reign” singer Jason Tenner”; “Fantasy” dancers Ashton, Soolin, Kristin and Sonya; and “Rock of Ages” at the Venetian stars Mark Shunock, Troy Burgess and Paul Johnson.

Plus, “Pin Up” at the Stratosphere star Lisa Marie-Smith; producers Adam Steck and Blair Farrington; comedians Sean E. Cooper, Harry Basil and Dom Irrera; singer Jerry Jones; “Jubilee” at Bally’s star Alexandra Grey; original “Crazy Girls” at Riviera star Shellee Renee; and choreographer Mistinguett.

Said Murray: “I have such an affection for Old Vegas. When you were a star back in the day, you were really a star — a triple threat. Look at Frank Sinatra, Fred Astaire, Danny Kaye, Phyllis Diller, etc. They all could sing, dance, act. They had to work hard for their stardom. You learned everything from how to walk into a room to how to walk on a stage from the stars of yesteryear.”

Now in its final days after 60 years, the Riviera will always be remembered as one of the most beloved and memorable destinations in Las Vegas — and the home of the first adult topless burlesque “Crazy Girls.” With more than 2,000 hotel rooms and 140,000 square feet of convention space, the Riviera featured more than 94,000 square feet of casino space.

It was the scene of numerous movie shoots including the original 1960 “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Showgirls” in 1995, “The Hangover” in 2009 and “Casino” with Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Sharon Stone, James Woods, Alan King and Don Rickles. Released in 1995, it still garners solid ratings when replayed on television.

The Riviera will always live on — if only as a video memory. Our final two look backs at its history will be posted in the next two weeks before the May 4 closing.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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