ThrowbackThursday! Joey Villa at the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas!
Here’s the story about Joey Villa and the time we met Perry Como and Jilly Rizzo at the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Tuesday, June 14, 2016 – Today they imploded the Monaco Tower at the Riviera.
Tuesday, August 16, 2016 – Today they imploded the last towers of the Riviera
Thanks to the Las Vegas Review-Journal for the live video!
We worked on a film (you’ve probably never heard of or seen it) called “Eternity” in 1990.
We met many famous people: Jon Voight, Armand Assante, Wilford Brimley, Lainie Kazan, Kaye Ballard, Steven Keats, Eileen Davidson, John P. Ryan, Charles Knapp, Eugene Roche, Robert Carricart, Frankie Valli and Joey Villa.
We became good friends with Joey Villa and he invited us to visit him, first at his home in Beverly Hills which doubled as his booking office, and then at the Riviera Hotel and Casino on The Strip in Fabulous Las Vegas where he was performing. He was friends with Meshulim Riklis and Pia Zadora, who owned the resort at the time, and was a headliner in “Splash!” in the big showroom at the Riviera for nine years. Joey also booked acts, hosted and headlined in the comedy room at the hotel.
Joey Villa (Joseph Charles Villani) was born on March 19, 1937. He was an actor and comedian, known for “Heat” (1986 with Burt Reynolds), “Eternity” (1990) and “They Call Me Bruce?” (1982). He died at the age of 68 on December 16, 2005 in Las Vegas, Nevada from complication from a stroke.
Villa, a native of New York, appeared in just a handful of movies, but he made his mark as a stand-up comedian, performing in Las Vegas as well as clubs around the country. He also spent many years performing on cruise ships, and eventually booked acts for the ocean liners. Villa opened for many famous entertainers, including Nat King Cole, Paul Anka, the Pointer Sisters and Diana Ross and the Supremes. He was a frequent guest on talk shows, including “The Merv Griffin Show” and “The Mike Douglas Show.” Villa was a close friend of both Frank Sinatra and of Sinatra’s “right-hand man” Jilly Rizzo. He gave one of the eulogies at Rizzo’s funeral when the celebrity restaurateur was killed in a car accident by a drunk driver in 1992 in Palm Springs, California.
Joey’s famous opening line from his stand-up comedy act for over 40 years was, “I’m going to live until I die” ……and then he would drop to the stage floor. Every audience roared with laughter as Joey stood up after falling down and began his show. He kept the audience laughing throughout his entire performance. “At the end they always applauded and cheered and left smiling, feeling they were parting as friends.”
“Joey was loved by everyone, from Sinatra on down,” Larry Manetti said.
Villa had no children and died at a local hospice. Survivors include three sisters. Joey and his former wife divorced in 1982 and remained close friends. “He was a gentle man, a much kinder man than most people knew,” she said. “He was born to make people laugh — and he made thousands laugh and applaud, and for a very short time they would forget their problems.”
Nelson Sardelli, a close friend of Villa, said the comedian will be cremated and his ashes cast into the sea. “He requested that there not be any services…He was a gentle person…Sometimes he looked like he was looking for approval…A little accolade, that’s want he wanted.” One friend described him as “happy on the outside, but sad on the inside. He was sort of a lonely person, but at the same time loved to be around people and make them laugh. But I think that is the way most comedians are.”
Vegas in the 1980’s before the Mirage opened in 1989 was a wild place! The last Casino holdouts of “Old Vegas” (before they tried to turn it into a “family friendly” destination and eventually turned it into Disneyland for Adults when the big corporations took over) were the main attractions. It was all about GAMBLING (not gaming) in the 80’s and they “comped” players to rooms, meals, shows and more without a plastic card. It really was “Sin City”! You could drive The Strip from Tropicana to Sahara without traffic and there were still undeveloped empty lots on The Strip!
There wasn’t a Fremont Street Experience, there was Fremont Street and Downtown Vegas, uncovered and dirty. Strip Clubs, showgirls, 99 cent buffets, free drinks, cigarette girls, $2 Blackjack…. even then we preferred The Strip.
Back in the day, we stayed and played at many of the classic hotels and casinos.
We saw “Seigfried and Roy” at the Mirage when it was the new joint on the strip.
Circus Circus, Thunderbird Hotel, El Rancho, The Landmark, Dunes, Desert Inn, Stardust, Barbary Coast, Wild Bill’s, Sahara, Aladdin, El Morocco, La Concha, Imperial Palace, Riviera, Las Vegas Hilton, Monte Carlo
Caesars Palace, Flamingo, Harrah’s, Bally’s, Tropicana, Bellagio, Palms, Hard Rock Hotel, The Rio, Treasure Island, Mirage, MGM Grand, Venetian, Palazzo, The Cromwell
Pierino Ronald “Perry” Como (May 18, 1912-May 12, 2001) was an Italian American singer and television personality. During a career spanning more than half a century, he recorded exclusively for RCA Victor for 44 years after signing with the label in 1943.
Ermenigildo “Jilly” Rizzo (May 6, 1917-May 6, 1992) – On his 75th birthday, Rizzo was killed when his car was hit by a drunk driver in Rancho Mirage, California
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Farewell to the Riviera Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas!
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