Wayne Newton stands on stage in Las Vegas, preparing to perform a medley of Elvis Presley songs. At this point, The King’s passing is still very raw. But as the performer starts to sing, the atmosphere in the room becomes unquestionably eerie. For one, the lights suddenly stop working, plunging everything into darkness. Then, as Newton looks up, Elvis’ iconic outline catches his eye. It’s a moment that’ll stay with him for decades.
Yep, even today, Newton believes Elvis’ spirit lives on. At first, you can see why that’d be a comforting idea for fans of the King of Rock ’n Roll. But there are plenty who think that Elvis’ untimely death means he left unfinished business on Earth. Thankfully, celebrity medium Kim Russo has shed more light on the forces that may be at play here.
Russo hosts the show The Haunting Of, where she attempts to connect well-known people with the ghosts of their past. When the series premiered in 2012, she firmly told People magazine, “I don’t dial the dead. It’s whoever shows up.” And that concept of “whoever” may well send a little shiver down your spine.
In the episode where Newton reveals all the goosebump-giving details of his supernatural encounter, he meets Russo outside the Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino. The building dates back to the 1960s, and it was previously known as the International Hotel and then the Las Vegas Hilton. It was the last place Elvis ever performed. And according to Russo, a powerful and frightening energy can be felt both inside and out.
Looking up with trepidation at the towering hotel, Russo told viewers, “Anything could have happened here – anything. I really have my work cut out for me today.” And what she could sense was obviously very dark, as she added, “I hope Wayne gets here soon because I just can’t take another minute of how I’m feeling.”
When Newton arrived at the Westgate hotel, he was revisiting a place that he hadn’t been back to in ten years. Russo told him, “You had something happen to you here.” Newton answered simply, “Yes. I want to understand what happened to me and why.” But maybe some things are best left alone…
Newton and Elvis are both very connected to Las Vegas. Elvis had a residency there, though it’s Newton who has the city in his nickname. Because once upon a time a reviewer called him “Mr. Las Vegas” in an article, and the name stuck. Given they were both in Vegas so much, you’d have thought the pair would’ve met there. But actually, Elvis and Newton bumped into each other elsewhere by chance.
In 2020 Newton told the story of that meeting to the Las Vegas Review-Journal newspaper. He said, “What happened is I was invited to guest star on the show Bonanza. I flew to Los Angeles and went to the Paramount lot. I was studying my script one day, hoping not to mess up. The next stage over, Elvis was filming one of his movies.”
Newton went on, “Elvis came over from his set and put his hand on my shoulder. I turned around and just about had a heart attack. Then Elvis started asking me about a girl he knew. ‘Do you know this girl?’ he asked. I said, ‘Yes, I do. We’re dating.’ He said, ‘So are we.’ We both started to laugh and became instantaneous friends.”
And the two men remained like that right up until Elvis’s untimely death in August 1977, at the age of just 42. Many years later, in 1991, Newton talked about his relationship with the King to Ralph Emery on the television show Nashville Now. He said, “We were very close friends.”
Emery asked Newton, “Didn’t [Elvis] used to come out on stage and say, ‘Hi, I’m Wayne Newton’?” Newton answered, “He did. Many, many times. It’s on several of the live records that he did from the Hilton.” Elvis performed no less than 636 shows at that hotel altogether, and all of them sold out.
The presenter also posed the question to Newton on Nashville Now, “Was [Elvis] easy for you to get close to?” Newton replied, “Very. He was a wonderful human being. I have refused to read any of the books surrounding him, his life, simply because none of them mirrored the person who I knew and loved as a friend.”
Newton remembered his frequent conversations with Elvis. He said, “We would talk about people we had in common in our lives, did we like being married, did we not like being married. The things that guys talk about.” Emery asked, “Did he reveal things to you that he’s not revealed to anyone else?”
Yes, he did. Because Newton responded, “Towards the end we had quite a conversation, one night in his dressing room where he talked about his loneliness, his love for his daughter, the fact that he felt for him it [his life] was pretty much over. The conversation went on for about two hours and he was very troubled.”
It’s not a secret that Elvis was a troubled man, of course. His wife Priscilla often witnessed strange behavior from him. In a 1985 piece for People magazine she revealed that one night Elvis sat watching horror movies with her and then took her to a morgue. Despite her fear, he insisted she look at the dead bodies with him.
And some say that people’s troubles can remain in the world long after the person themselves is dead. Elvis was tormented right up until his very last days – maybe he even had his own ghost following him around. His twin brother Jesse was stillborn, and reportedly Elvis never really got over it.
Because some Elvis biographers have suggested that being the surviving twin left Elvis with feelings of survivors’ guilt and loneliness. There’s a letter out there that gives a bit of insight into his state of mind during his last days – and Wayne Newton now has it in his possession.
Newton talked about this on Nashville Now. He said that when Elvis was staying at the Las Vegas Hilton, “by his bed he had a little notepad and he wrote some words down.” This was a short message, in Newton’s view “actually kind of a message to God and to himself” which he crumpled up and threw away.
But Newton said, “One of [Elvis’s] guys evidently retrieved it and kept it. About seven or eight months ago this note showed up at a Sotherby’s auction sale and some people called me knowing of my friendship with Elvis. And when I heard what the note said, it just tore my heart out.”
According to Newton himself, what the note said was along the lines of, “I’m finally alone, I’m glad they’re all gone now. I probably won’t rest tonight. I have no need for all of this. Help me Lord.” It was this saddening piece of paper that led Newton to write his song The Letter.
Throughout his whole career, Newton has talked about the impact Elvis had on him. In 2009 he told the Las Vegas Sun newspaper, “Elvis and I were very good friends. We were such good friends that, on the day that he passed, I was the first one his father called, to let me know what had happened.”
Yet four months before Elvis’ death, Newton told the paper, he approached his friend and they had a long conversation about the difficulties in their lives. Elvis was devastated about losing custody of his daughter Lisa Marie, and the two of them talked for so long Newton ended up missing a show.
And in some ways, Elvis was like a mentor to Newton. In 2017 the singer told the channel Fox News, “It was more important for [Elvis] that the people got to see the kind of show they paid their hard-earned money to see than [for him] to just be doing things that a producer had written for him to do. He was really very wise that way.”
Newton went on, “Because when you start doing things that other people write for you, you quit doing you and you become them, if you know what I mean.” He added, “[Elvis] was one of the nicest people I’ve known. He was the last guy in the world to take himself seriously.”
So that was the close friendship between Elvis and Wayne Newton. But could such a friendship carry on even after death? That was what Kim Russo set out to explore. But first, she had to learn Newton’s spine-chilling story about how he believed Elvis’ ghost had once appeared to him on stage.
The Haunting Of replayed an old 2012 interview Newton had done with the show Celebrity Ghost Stories, complete with a reconstruction of events. He began, “Two or three months after Elvis passed my agent called me and he said, ‘The Hilton wants to book you.’ And frankly, I had some reservations about working the Hilton, because that was the last place he worked before his passing.”
Yet Newton decided to play the show anyway, and work in tribute to his late friend. Then one night – and significantly – the balcony area of the theatre was closed off – and Newton got ready to do a medley of Elvis songs. But then, as he told Celebrity Ghost Stories, “When I started to sing, the room went totally black.”
The lights had gone out in error or malfunction, apart from Newton’s one spotlight. But the band kept playing anyway. And then, as Newton himself tells it, “As I looked above the spotlight, up to the balcony, I saw the image of a man. And I stared at it because there wasn’t supposed to be anybody there.” It was his friend, his dead friend, Elvis.
On that one haunting moment, Newton said, “It was like we were in the room all by ourselves.” But then, “the lights came back on miraculously, and he was gone and everything was normal. That truly was one of the most incredible things that’s ever happened in my life. And I’ll never forget it.” He definitely never did.
Back in the present day, Newton said to the camera for The Haunting Of, “I’m going to be very, very interested to see what Kim’s take is.” Did the ghost of Elvis really reside in what used to be the Hilton Hotel? And if so, would anyone else, people who had never known or loved or even met him, be able to feel the presence of his restless spirit?
Newton led Russo through some long, creepy corridors to the now-empty stage area where Elvis had appeared before him. Right away, Russo felt a supernatural energy in the place. She told her companion, “I just got the eeriest feeling. I just feel so many emotions. It’s bittersweet.” And Newton felt the same thing.
Onstage Russo said, “I’m feeling another energy here.” She was standing on the exact spot where Newton had had his ghostly encounter. After a few more moments she said something else, the sort of thing which could either reassure or terrify a still-grieving friend, “I feel like Elvis has joined us.”
Over the next few minutes, knowing Elvis was possibly in the room with him, Newton recited his story about seeing Elvis on the balcony. And Russo added that she was getting a message from Elvis: “He winked at you.” Yes, Newton said, he smiled and winked. Russo said, “He asked me to ask you if you saw the wink.” Newton answered yes again.
Russo added that Elvis had told her, “Ask him about the dressing room.” Apparently something very important, like an important conversation perhaps, had taken place in Elvis’s dressing room. Newton, Russo and their film crew headed away from the stage and towards that room. Was Elvis’s presence still following them?
There, Newton talked about something which had happened in that room. It was there he and Elvis had had the conversation about Elvis’ daughter and marriage troubles. Elvis told Newton he was working too hard, and also told him, “What I’m going through, I’m going through. But I’m worried about you.”
Russo said, “Now I see why he showed himself to you. After that conversation you did something that changed your life.” Newton recounted a story about returning home and deciding to spend more time parenting his daughter. Without the dressing room conversation with Elvis, he said, “I would have taken the wrong road.”
Was the ghost of Elvis really on the balcony that night, giving his friend the support he’d also given him in life? Newton himself thinks so. And in Celebrity Ghost Stories he was sure to point out there was another witness too – his drummer on stage with him that night also saw someone on the balcony.
Plus the current Westgate hotel staff are pretty sure Elvis still has a presence in the place he knew as the Hilton. In 2020 Vice President of Public and Community Relations Gordon Prouty told the Vegas-based KTNV website, “Yeah, I do believe his spirit is still present in this building and when people feel it, there’s a real feeling there.”
Prouty also remembered the details of Newton’s balcony ghost story. He relayed, “[Newton] said that he looked at him. Elvis looked down at Wayne. He looked at peace, smiled at him. And when Wayne tells the story, he said it made him feel that Elvis was telling him he was okay and was appreciating the performance.”
Newton has done many, many performances since then and is still going strong today. Perhaps Elvis knew that would happen all along. And in 2018 Newton remembered that last three-hour conversation with his friend. He told Globe magazine, “He stared at me as if it was the last time … he knew he was going to die… and said: ‘Just remember it’s yours now, it’s all yours.’ He was telling me: ‘You’re the new king.’”