Wayne ("Mr. Las Vegas") Newton wears a diamond pinky ring the size of a pinball, drenches his 46-inch chest in gold chains and Paco Rabanne cologne, dyes his light brown hair inky black every six months and says he identifies with Ronald Reagan.
"I met him about seven years ago in California," Newton says. "I was very impressed with him. Something just clicked."
In fact, the Midnight Idol was so impressed that he's considering a career in politics himself. "Eventually, maybe," Newton says in a husky baritone. The singer's friends have already urged him to run for governor of Nevada, and who knows, he might want to run for president someday.
"If I went into politics, I'd go all the way," he says."And who knows what will happen 10 years from now?"
Stranger things have happened. Consider Newton's show biz career.In 1964 he was discovered by the late Bobby Darin, cut the best-selling record "Danke Shoen" and the lesser selling "Red Roses for a Blue Lady" before shuffling off to near obscurity, a pudgy kid with squeaky soprano.
Now, 38-year-old Wayne Newton is the highest-paid live entertainer in the country, earning an estimated $12 million a year. Slicker than Ban-Lon, his boffo baritone and matinee-idol good looks have made him the biggest draw in Las Vegas, bigger than Frank Sinatra, bigger than Dean Martin, even bigger than the King himself, the late Elvis Presley. Newton plays Vegas 37 weeks a year -- seven days a week, two shows a night -- to sell-out crowds. Recently he purchased the Aladdin Hotel-Casino Resort for a reported $105 million.
What's more, Wayne just might become Reagan's Willie Nelson -- the unofficial White House chanteur .
Newton campaigned last year for the president-elect, giving seven benefit concerts that raised millions for the candidate's coffers. He's in Washington to host an inaugural ball Tuesday night at the Sheraton-Washington Hotel. The show, featuring Newton (in tails -- no top hat), Ray Charles, the Mills Brothers, Patti Page, Frankie Laine and the Glenn Miller Orchestra, will be aired over closed-circuit television to 100 inaugural galas across the country.
"If Reagan had lost, I would have left the country," Newton says. "I probably would have moved to Australia."
He believes in Reagan because heroes are hard to find.
"I'm one of those people who believe that strength will make this country what it once was. The Iranian situation never would have happened if Reagan had been president. I believe in strength over love."
He also believes in Richard Nixon. "Loved him. Still do."
And will Reagan reward Wayne Newton with command performances at the White House? He shrugs his linebacker-like shoulders. "My motive with Reagan was altruistic. I wanted to see him president. If I had a little bit to do with that, well, it makes me feel good."
Under Reagan, he says, the country will return to basic old-fashioned morals, to a time when men were men and women were not.
"I'm against the Equal Rights Amendment in its present form. I'm not against equal rights for women." But, he says, "Men and women are different. And I love the difference."
Newton says he's been offered the starring role of Errol Flynn in a made-for-TV-movie of the swashbuckler's autobiography, "My Wicked, Wicked Ways." In fact, the 6-foot-3 singer has already started taking fencing lessons.
And what makes Wayne Newton, a name once redolent of white bread, cordovan shoes and "non of your beeswax," think he can play one of the greatest screen sex symbols of all time?
"I don't think it's a matter of Wayne Newton thinking .It's Wayne Newton realizing I can be any character I want. I can understand Errol Flynn. Every true man can. Like every true man can understand Dean Martin."
Which is? "The undisciplined rogue."
Yes, but what would the Moral Majority think? After, Flynn went to trial for rape, died of a heart attack, hepatitis and gonorrhea and was recently alleged to have been a Nazi spy.
"That a lot of crap ," Newton says angrily. "That's like calling him a homosexual. I don't want to know if it's true. I don't believe in destroying our heroes."
He doesn't believe in gambling either, despite the fact that he owns a casino. "I only gamble on myself," he says. And the biggest gamble? "Coming to Washington," he laughs.
Born in Norfolk, Va., Newton began performing on radio at the age of 6. He suffered from bronchial asthma as a child, so the family moved to Phoenix, where Newton continued performing with his older brother, Jerry. The two brothers appeared at the Copacabana in New York, where Darin discovered him. The rest is history.
He doesn't smoke (the asthma), drinks only a little vodka and trims his mustache as thin as a toothpick. "I don't like a big mustache. My face is too flat."
He also won't be running into Johnny Carson this weekend in Washington. The two are still feuding over what Newton calls the comedian's attacks on the singer's "masculinity" 10 years ago.
"That's when it started," says Newton. "I don't like him and I'm sure he's not crazy about me."
For example, Newton says, Carson once joked that Wayne Newton and Liberace were seen in a pink bathtub together. "It may be funny to you, but it's not funny to me." Newton snaps.
The singer says he paid a visit to Carson to complain about the "insinuating innuendoes." Did he threaten Carson? "No, I promised him," Newton says, brown eyes flashing brighter that the ring on his right hand. The ring is the size of a cigarette lighter. It spans three knuckles, bears the initials W. N. and is dotted with several dozen diamonds.
Wayne Newton, once the butt of teen-age jokes, has the last laugh. A high-school dropout from a poor family, he's now got power, money, success, a slimmed-down body, beautiful women hanging over him like wet towels, a 52-acre estate outside Vegas, Arabian hoses, a flotilla of fast cars and the presidential suite in a Washington hotel.
Wayne Newton is, he says, "an example of what America can be."