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Authors: Paul Anka,David Dalton


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First and foremost, to my mother and father, for the foundation that they gave me on which I have built this life and profession.

And to Anne, Alexandra, Amanda, Alicia, Anthea, Amelia, Lisa, and Ethan



I have many people to thank for their encouragement and guidance in the writing of this book:

My entire family, daughters, their wonderful mother Anne, my son Ethan, my beautiful and wonderful girlfriend, Lisa, and my sister Mariam.

Stuart Silfen, my friend and attorney for many years, for introducing me to Steve Cohen, our illustrious leader at St. Martin’s, who got this ball rolling. And to Elizabeth Beier, whose energy, professionalism, smarts, and enthusiasm spurred me on and kept me focused. Also, the amazing Michelle Richter, John Karle, Laura Clark, Sally Richardson, Matthew Shear, Steve Snider, Lauren Harms, Kathryn Parise, and Eric C. Meyer.

David Dalton, for all the hours and patience. And my friend Tony Lofaro, of the newspaper
Ottawa Citizen,
for his support and contribution.

My staff for their day-to-day involvement and perseverance: Julie Zhu, Nancy Callihan, and Craig Woods.

Skip Bronson and especially Howard Stern—who, because of one of the greatest moments I had being interviewed by one of the best interviewers—and his fans and his listeners who called in to encourage me to write a book. Thank you Howard!

Annie Leibovitz, the great one, for her talent, her generosity, and her sharing. Thank you for that beautiful photograph.

And last but not least, to my fans, who for years have been requesting what you are about to read.



Photo of Paul Anka

Title Page

Copyright Notice




1. Ottawa

2. Teen Idol

3. Lonely Boy

4. Globetrotter

5. Painted Words

6. Vegas

7. Michael Jackson, Liz Taylor, a Jewel Heist, Kinky Brits, Tennis at Midnight … And Then I Get Pregnant

8. Vegas Redux

9. If Donald Trumps Who Wynns?

10. The Bellini Episodes

11. Moving On

12. And Now for My Encore

About the Author






As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster. To me, being a gangster was better than being president of the United States.… To me, it meant being somebody in a neighborhood that was full of nobodies. They weren’t like anybody else.… I was the luckiest kid in the world. I could go anywhere. I could do anything. I knew everybody and everybody knew me … I was part of something. And I belonged. I was treated like a grown up. I was living a fantasy.

That’s Henry Hill’s rap at the beginning of
but it might as well have been me—not that I ever wanted to be a gangster, I just wanted to be part of a cool scene. My own fantasy was hanging out with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. I wanted to be those guys. I wanted to live that life.

Vegas was a kind of adult Magic Kingdom, where everybody goes by the code, there’s lots of money and girls and champagne and great performers, and everybody is impeccably dressed. We were America’s contribution to civilization. Outside of politics and megacorporations, we’re a hedonistic culture that, let’s be serious, is the way we represent ourselves to the world. That was Vegas in the sixties; pure high-gangster style.

It was another world, a dream world, the Sh-Boom Sh-Boom Room where everything is mellow and cool, where life could be a dream, sweetheart. The soft pink glow from the little lamp on your table, hot chicks, champagne on ice. Torch-song paradise. It’s my version of the American Dream: the gold-plated pink Cadillac, the sharkskin suit handmade in Hong Kong, the $300 Italian shoes.

Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr.—they were little gods in black tie and patent leather shoes. They didn’t talk like other people, they didn’t behave like other people, they didn’t have to play by the rules the way other people had to, the normal day-to-day regulations didn’t apply to them. As Henry Hill says, “I mean, they did whatever they wanted. They double-parked in front of a hydrant, and nobody ever gave them a ticket. In summer, when they played cards all night, nobody ever called the cops.”

Vegas was the Rat Pack’s Camelot, and Vegas, let’s face it, was a hell of a lot more fun than Camelot. That’s why JFK hung out with Sinatra at the Sands. To a lot of us teen idols Sinatra was a god—he was revered and respected. Then this new revolution started happening—“funny music” he called it—in other words, rock ’n’ roll. But Sinatra was such a legend, he’d been a big star since the ’40s—so it didn’t really affect him the way it did other crooners. In a way, rock ’n’ roll enshrined him. We all looked up to this Sinatra Rat Pack because in the beginning that’s all there was—that and us.

Eventually Frank and the rest of the Rat Pack adopted me. I got little jewels of wisdom about performing and behavior from them. From watching the rehearsals in the Copa Room in the Sands Hotel I learned about style, and an insider’s insights about how to present yourself on stage. It was like going to the college of cool. Frank was a perfectionist in everything he did and I guess that I’m that way, too.

There were the spectacular showgirl acts called production shows at the Stardust, the Lido, and the Copa Room. The showgirls would often open the show at the Copa sands. Shirley Ornstein (who later came to play a small part in my life) was an eighteen-year-old Copa showgirl until she caught the eye of Burt Bacharach. Barbara Sinatra, Frank’s last wife, started out as a showgirl at the Copa, too. These shows were big-production numbers with lots of elaborate sets and costumes, the showgirls with their big feathers like erotically plumed birds in skimpy g-strings and long sequin-studded gloves. The orchestra striking up, the curtain is pulled back to reveal a secret world. Then backstage, a little tawdry, cramped, and sweaty with showgirls and performers putting on their makeup, getting their hair done, pressing their clothes, and the support groups hovering: the makeup girl with the powder puff, the costumier with clothes on a hanger, the hairdresser, the agents, the stage manager, the MC. All the stars, all of us had to play for two to four weeks, two shows a night. If you didn’t like it, you didn’t get the job. It was very tough on the voice but nobody cared—anyway you had no choice.

Vegas in those days was the kind of place you never wanted to leave. You wanted to live there forever. That’s the way I felt when I first walked into the Copa Room at the Sands Hotel in 1959. Vegas in the old days was very theatrical. Every night was a spectacle. You’d go from the showroom—packed with out-of-towners there to see the big stars, comedians, and showgirls—into the casino. When the showroom emptied, all the people poured out into the casinos. It was not uncommon to see Dean, Sinatra, and Sammy taking over from the dealers and handing out cards to the guests, visiting stars from L.A., high rollers, and so on. There weren’t tourists in Vegas in those days the way there are today—it was an exclusive, elite group of people and the gaming areas were small.

You’d see some movie star look at his cards and say, “Hit me,” but Frank or Dean would tell them, “Aw, in your position? You don’t wanna hit.” There was that kind of playfulness going on. We’d deal a table, give them winners—there was a lot of frolicking about it. It was loose and had its own cinematic kind of touch to it. It was the place to be. The people were elegant, and there were real movie stars there, European royalty, and then Kennedy and other politicians would secretly come in. You knew you were on this happening roll. It was the only place in the country with something like that going on. It’s not like today with the boy bands and the generic yeah-yeah rock groups. It was cool, so it was cool to be around it. And elegant—very different from what you see today in Vegas, with the mobs of tourists in madras shorts and trainers.

And then there were “the boys”—or whatever you want to call them. They came in all shapes and sizes. In most cases they talked very low key, they were nattily dressed, always wore tailored shirts, expensive suits, and they walked with that kind of authority you would if you owned Las Vegas. The mob had run Vegas since the beginning. The mob-type guys that were running the casinos were everywhere then, but they didn’t look like the gangsters you see in the movies. They were businessmen and behaved like gentlemen—unless you were skimming, pocketing markers, or committing other no-nos. Those were the kind of no-nos that could get your legs broken or your head cracked open—outside the city limits, that is. Who knew how many bodies were buried out there in the desert. Even when Howard Hughes took over he still needed the mob and their guys to operate the casinos.

When the guests had gone to bed a whole unseen underworld emerged. The connected guys would relax, get casual, but be out of the sight of the public. When the showroom emptied the owners would clear, say, twenty tables, create a space, and they’d all sit down and play gin. They’d take off their jackets, loosen their ties, sit there under a little work light playing gin at some ridiculous level, like a dollar a point. You’d play cards all night with the boys, then you’d walk across the street, hang out with another crowd at breakfast. You have to remember there were only five hotels there back then—and beyond the strip just desert and sagebrush.

By and large the mob understood the perception the public had of them, but they were businessmen. You’ve got to remember that once you establish a place like Vegas, you’re not operating out of back rooms in New Jersey or a grungy office in the meat district in New York, dealing with backdoor deliveries of merchandise.

Vegas was a classy place, and these guys believed in dressing up. Everybody dressed. Frank and the boys dressed to the nines. When you ran into connected guys they weren’t these scary characters. They were very gracious; women were magnetically attracted to them. There wasn’t anything they wouldn’t do for you. Comp your room, give you complimentary markers … It was a much looser situation. Whereas today you pay for everything—unless you’re a high roller, then you do get comped and are given all kinds of extravagant gifts like white fur coats and other stuff.

Early in the ’60s, you’d see a classic mob guy like Johnny Roselli in the lounge. I’d sit with him at the bar after my show and he’d say things to me like, “Keep your nose clean, Paul, be a gentlemen, blah blah, blah,” giving me advice you’d expect to hear from an uncle of yours at Thanksgiving. Funny, because “Handsome Johnny” Roselli was a mobster, connected with the Chicago outfit involved in the CIA plot to assassinate Fidel Castro.

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