For nearly a decade, Norm Clarke has tracked VIP high jinks for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. His new "Norm Clarke's Vegas Confidential: Sinsational Celebrity Tales" (Stephens Press, $15.95) chronicles star turns that happened in Vegas, but didn't stay there. He shares some with USA TODAY's Kitty Bean Yancey.
Q: Your book talks about Jennifer Aniston getting onstage at the Forty Deuce club to dance for Vince Vaughn, Britney Spears having to be helped out of Pure nightclub a couple of New Year's Eves ago, the late Anna Nicole Smith coming on to Chippendales dancers. Celebs can play in L.A., too, so why do they go wild here?
A: It's one-stop shopping. You can go from gambling to fine dining to clubs, even in one (casino resort). Celebs come to Vegas and have three shots of Cuervo and think they're invisible.
Q: What's one of your recent celeb sightings?
A: We had (Olympic swimming champ) Michael Phelps stand up on the catwalk at Tao (nightclub at The Venetian) wearing a hoodie and shouting out the lyrics to rap songs.
Q: When you came to town, casinos were not eager to have celebrity antics publicized.
A: Vegas was in the "what happens here stays here" mode with celebs. They come to let their hair down, and the feeling along the Strip was that no good could come from having guests in a gossip column. As it turned out, celebrity gossip helped fuel Vegas (as a destination for average people hoping to glimpse or emulate celeb partying). The second question people ask when you go home — after "Did you win?" — is "Who did you see?"
Q: What changed casino managements' minds?
A: The opening of the Palms (Casino Resort) in 2001 with its celebrity-centric approach. Owner George Maloof courted celebrities. Paris Hilton was his date to the opening. The Real World: Las Vegas was filmed there. He befriended Britney Spears (she was staying at the Palms when she impulsively wed fellow Louisianian Jason Alexander). He has a solid friendship with Michael Jackson. He threw an 81st birthday party for Hugh Hefner.
Q: Aside from going out on the town, how do you get your material?
A: It comes in from everyone: publicists, valets, doormen, taxi drivers, even some bodyguards.
Q: Tell me about more memorable VIP antics.
A: There's so much. I don't really protect celebrities, and some don't like how they are portrayed. I was slapped by Pete Rose because he was upset that I had written about him as one of the worst tippers. … And Kid Rock, who was jealous about Pamela Anderson supposedly getting together with ex-husband Tommy Lee, once went looking for Tommy at the Hard Rock (Hotel), and the occupant said bodyguards tried to kick in the door of a suite. But it was the wrong suite, and the guy inside was terrified.
Q: Which celebrities do people love?
A: Floyd Mayweather Jr., the boxer, is known for coming into clubs wearing more diamonds than Lucy in the Sky, throwing maybe $20,000 in hundred-dollar bills into the crowd — "making it rain," as they call it. Dennis Rodman sort of started that. He did it so often and once mistakenly left a sack (of cash) in a parking lot. One of the more beloved tippers is Drew Carey, known for $5,000 tips. Strippers see him coming and dream of new cars.
Q: How is Vegas doing in the recession?
A: To say that it is not grim here would not be accurate. There's a lot of concern how deep this will go. There is talk that several casino resorts are in serious trouble. It also has brought (construction) to a grinding halt. Many projects are stalled; some (hotel) towers are being closed because there's not enough occupancy. I quoted (casino kingpin) Steve Wynn as saying 2009 will separate the men from the boys.
Q: And what about Vegas and celebs?
A: To bring in Paris Hilton I think a year ago, we heard she was paid close to $250,000 (on top of comped suite and expenses). The Britneys and Parises are going to get (offered money to come to a Vegas event), but others won't. Casinos and clubs are not paying crazy appearance money to B- and C-listers anymore. We've had a sort of Rat Pack decade here … It was really cranking. Now we may be at the end of one of the more definitive decades of Vegas … a gilded age. And we don't know where things are going to go.