Ask the legendary Wayne Newton, aka "Mr. Las Vegas," if — at age 65 — he's lost his mind by signing on to a grueling dance marathon like Dancing with the Stars and he doesn't miss a beat: "Listen," says Newton, "I think I've been out of my mind for so long that if I didn't make as much money as I do, they'd have put me in a rubber room a long time ago."
Crazy or not, Newton has watched the show faithfully since Season 1. "My wife insisted," he says, laughing. And he had an even better reason to be glued to the set after the show's producers came to him a year ago and asked him to help fill their dance card. "The first time, I just laughed and said I couldn't do it," he says. "I wasn't mentally in a place where I was ready to apply myself to that kind of workout on a daily basis. I've worked my entire life — doing two shows a night, seven nights a week. But this is still a whole different ball of wax."
In his private life, Newton says, "I deliberately have not danced a lot, because if I got out on the dance floor and started dancing and somebody came up and asked my partner to dance — or asked me to dance — I'd feel obligated to do it. And I don't want to be in that position." Because all his female fans would want to take a spin? "It works both ways," he says. "If they do, it's bad news and if they don't, it's bad news."
So it's not surprising to hear that Newton has had no formal dance training. "The only thing I might have done is The Jackie Gleason Show, where they put the June Taylor Dancers around me. I would just stand there and sing and sway to the music."
But dancing with a gifted professional on a hit television show is another matter. This time when they asked, Newton had a change of heart. "Blame it on age," he says. "This gives me the chance to relive my high-school days and — at the risk of sounding corny — learn something that I've always wanted to learn but haven't had the time to do."
A self-admitted workaholic, Newton has stayed fit over the years working the crowds from Harrah's main stage. He also rides horses "pretty much on a daily basis," water-skis and exercises every other day in his home gym. But on Dancing, he confesses, he might get tripped up by his left knee, which was surgically replaced five years ago.
"I said to the doctors, 'How long am I going to be out of work?'" says Newton, recalling that painful time in 2002. "And they said, 'Three months.' And I said, 'Not a chance. I have to be back to work within six days of this operation.' And they said, 'Fine with us.' My wife panicked, of course."
She had good reason. Newton did manage to hobble onto the stage six days later. But because they had taken blood in case he needed it during the surgery, he says, he felt light-headed and weak. "My knee really hurt," he says. "And about halfway through the show, I felt like I was headed east. I picked up a violin bow and it felt like I was picking up a telephone pole." Now he may have to find the strength to pick up two-time champ Cheryl Burke.
The Vegas Strip will have to manage without Newton for the run of the show, but that doesn't mean he's on some sort of all-dance vacation: He'll still be singing for his supper. "There were some road dates that we just could not move," he says. "So I'll be taking my partner with me and we'll be rehearsing before my shows in New York, Minneapolis and West Virginia."
Newton clearly doesn't know how to stop. Nor does he want to. When informed that fellow Dance contestant Mark Cuban has had a hip replacement, Newton gets jazzed. "Really? Great! It'll be the battle of the new joints, and we'll see which one holds out."
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