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April 23, 2017

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Q+A:

Tony Sacca looks back at his 30 years of Las Vegas entertainment

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Leila Navidi

Tony Sacca, entertainment director, stands near the rides during the San Gennaro Feast at the Rio on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011.

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Rich Little and Tony Sacca on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015, at Tropicana.

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Robert Nash and Tony Sacca mess around on the red carpet for ENTSpeaks on Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014, at Inspire Theater.

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Tony Sacca and his wife arrive at the red carpet for the 2013 Canon USA and National Center for Missing and Exploited Children benefit at the Bellagio on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013.

San Gennaro Feast at the Rio

Violin player Sandor Beke entertains the crowds near the food booths during the San Gennaro Feast at the Rio on Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2011. Launch slideshow »

Singer and entertainer Tony Sacca has been a beloved fixture in the Las Vegas scene for the past three decades. Last month, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from The White House signed by President Barrack Obama.

Tony is a staple here on television and as host of the annual, long-running San Gennaro Feast of food, fun and entertainment. This month, he became the 23rd recipient of the Las Vegas Star of Fame for his outstanding achievements and service to the community. It will be placed on the sidewalk in front of Mon Ami Gabi at Paris Las Vegas.

On Thursday, he will share his 30-year celebration as producer and host of his long-running “Entertainment” TV series. In 1986, with his twin brother Robert, Tony ventured from Philadelphia to seek recognition in Las Vegas as disco lounge lizards, and the rest is history 30 years later.

He’s introduced talent to our desert kingdom, interviewed hundreds of celebrities and showcased countless productions, shows, comedians, magicians and specialty acts. His annual tradition of “Merry Christmas, Las Vegas” is legendary, and No. 30 airs in December.

I talked with Tony in advance of Thursday’s festivities.

What made you leave Philly for Las Vegas in the first place?

I started going on the road at age 21 — my twin brother and I started touring around the country. We were very aggressive young kids. We started performing at all the major hotels around the country, the Sheratons and the Hiltons, and we performed all around the country for years. Robert and I were 21 years old, and our whole thing was entertaining, performance and being a show band.

We never really thought about recording records and things like that because my brother and I, being identical twins, people just really took to us, and we worked all the time. People kept saying, “You’re a Las Vegas act, you’re a Las Vegas act.” But we worked so much that we didn’t have time to even pursue a Las Vegas career because we were so successful as a show band as The Sacca Twins Revue.

I remember, 27 years old, we get a call to perform in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and I will never forget this. I said that’s not enough money for us to go to Puerto Rico. They came around and gave us a little more money, so I took the gig for four weeks, and it turned into a three-year engagement at the El San Juan Hotel.

At the end of 1980, Siegfried from Siegfried & Roy was performing there, and all the entertainers told him that he had to see The Sacca Twins. I didn’t even know Siegfried was in the audience, and at the end of the show he came back stage and said we needed to come to Las Vegas and perform.

Robert and I get through our three-year engagement, we travel over to Las Vegas for the first time in 1981, and that’s how it happened. Siegfried encouraged me to go to Las Vegas and perform in 1981, and we never left town after moving here in 1986. (Editor’s Note: Robert died from leukemia in August 1999 at age 48.)

And out of that visit you’ve built your own local TV dynasty, your own hosting gigs, and you are the goodwill ambassador of Las Vegas.

Robin, all my life I’ve always shared my success with other entertainers and helped other entertainers. I never even looked back about that. I’ve always been a goodwill ambassador. We performed at the Desert Inn, Sands, Hilton. I had always wanted to do a TV show because of The Smothers Brothers and Hudson Brothers, so in 1985 we put a pilot together and submitted it to Channel 13. We did really well with the ratings and just kept doing what I’m doing.

My show was the only game in town in 1985-1986. I got calls from Anthony Quinn and all these other entertainers to bring them on my TV show. It’s different right now. If I was to do what I’m doing years ago, I don’t think I would have broken into the city like I did in 1986. It was just the right time; it’s just like buying land in Las Vegas. If you bought land in the 1970s and ’80s, you became a millionaire by the ’90s.

How does the entertainment scene compare today with when you landed here?

I’ve watched the entertainment scene go from major headliners in ’83 and ’84, then they couldn’t afford to pay the exorbitant $100,000 to $200,000 weekly gigs. So they started bringing in magicians, then the impressionists to town. It was a very soft market from 1983-1986. There was no Cirque de Soleil. There were no mega-resort properties.

Of course the entertainment industry right now is so different than it was years ago. It’s a really sad state of affairs because of entertainers having to buy their own rooms with four-wall deals. It’s not like it used to be. If you want to be a headliner in a property, you’ve got to come up with the money, you’ve got to come up with ticket brokers, you’ve got to talk to ticket brokers. It’s really sad.

I predicted 10 to 12 years ago that local venues would be the only ones supporting local entertainers who are very talented. I predicted that the entertainment scene for entertainers who are not headliners who don’t have that national recognition will be working around the local, off-Strip venues. I think it’s going to go back to where we were in the early ’80s when the nightclubs are going to start bringing in shows. It will be back to the future.

So you’re glad you made the move here?

Yeah, I am very excited. My life could have been very different in 1979 before I went to Puerto Rico when I wanted to go to New York as an actor, but my twin brother said, “No, let’s go to Puerto Rico.” And then that all happened and moved me to Las Vegas. I can’t complain for a young guy who doesn’t have a hit record to achieve what I’ve achieved in this town.

How long did your twin-brothers act continue until his death in 1999 from leukemia?

The twin-brother act made its first headline debut in New Jersey in 1972 and continued until ’94 or ’95 when I felt that it had run its course. It was time for me to become a solo performer, which my brother did not like and my parents did not like.

I wasn’t used to being an entertainer by myself. When you’re working with a partner, your whole psychological thinking as an entertainer changes when you’re performing onstage by yourself. It really took me 10 years to become a seasoned entertainer doing Tony Sacca.

In 1982, I wrote the song “Las Vegas the Greatest Town Around” and sent it to Paul Shaffer, who said that all entertainers from Las Vegas were lounge lizards. Four years later, he’d kept my song, and I was the first guy to perform on “Late Night With David Letterman.”

I brought my twin brother on “Letterman.” I don’t think my mother ever got over the fact that I wanted to be a solo performer when I realized that Robert and I had run our course as a twin act.

After 30 years, what are you left to achieve here in Las Vegas?

The new thing I’m doing right now, Robin, is a result of spending 30 years on television. I’ve accumulated some of the most incredible footage. Last week was my 20-year interview with David Brenner. The week before that was my interview with Tony Curtis.

Next week’s show is Donna Summer and Bo Didley. I have all these great interviews from the stars of yesteryear. The week after that, it’s going to be Mary Wilson and Frankie Avalon. The Family Network just picked me up, so I’m producing shows now from all my own footage. I’m putting a historical approach on who the Las Vegas entertainers were.

You have to keep reinventing yourself to stay relevant in Las Vegas. So my next reinvention is me creating classic Las Vegas entertainment. My new thing is showing all of these old interviews like American Movie Classics, and I’m getting back onstage.

I did two Smith Center dates last year with a full orchestra, and I’m doing a contemporary Las Vegas show like the singer with two showgirls and four-piece horns. My next reinvention is classic Las Vegas entertainment as a TV host, producer and entertainer.

Everything comes full circle.

I think so. I’ve got to go back to my roots. I’ve got to go back to really what I was all about years ago — being an entertainer and entertaining people. I’m doing it better now than I’ve ever done it in my entire life.

Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” fame 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.

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

Follow Las Vegas Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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