Barbra crooned. Bette belted. Elton and Tina rocked and stomped. And, a few hundred yards from the ultra-famous, million-dollar performers in Vegas's palatial halls, several hundred thousand anonymous souls did a drunken body hug on the street as the seconds ticked down toward the year 2000.
Inside the casinos, a few gambled on, oblivious to the clock.
It must be the millennium when the three-mile strip is closed to traffic, and it's open season on inebriated hordes, drinking beer from gallon jugs and foot-tall glasses, kissing perfect strangers full on the mouth. People on cell phones, frantic. People with video cameras, recording. Police with helmets, tense. Some revelers had stripped to the waist in the 10-degree darkness, and for an hour before midnight, a deafening din rose from the crowds, shrieking and howling skyward at the junction before the Bellagio and Paris hotels. .
One man climbed up on a street sign at Stardust Road along the strip, apparently to tear down a traffic camera that monitored the crowd, and fell to his death. It did little to dampen the mood. At midnight, the hotel flung a mountain of gold and silver Mylar confetti from the tip of its Eiffel Tower, a half-scale model of the French monument.
Sin City has so much glitz built in that the city decided it didn't need a fireworks display. There was hysteria to spare. Fans had handed over up to $2,500 a ticket to hear Barbra Streisand--reportedly paid $13 million for her two-night engagement at the MGM Grand--sing "Memories" to the fading moments of the 20th century. Sixteen people paid $1,000 each to be in helicopters above the strip at midnight.
The inimitable Bette Midler, dressed in a bright red pantsuit with black lace, cracked to fans who had paid up to $500 for tickets, "It's time to take stock. Not trade stock. But you must trade stock; how else could you afford these seats?" Like many of the pricey events around town, Midler's concert at the Mandalay Bay was left with a third of the seats empty.
Many had complained that greed gripped Las Vegas ahead of the party. Does this surprise anyone? Hotels had to drop their prices from up to $2,000 a night to $299 and below to fill towers of empty rooms. Thousands flooded into town at the last minute. "I feel like I talked myself into the fact that this would be one of the greatest partying weekends on Earth," commiserated Danny Zelisko, who co-produced the Midler concert and paid the singer "in the millions" for her appearance. He was certain to lose money. "I could be walking into the desert with a shovel, or . . . . There's always tomorrow."
Guests paid for fancy balls, but plenty just partied free in the lobbies of the world's largest hotels, where reggae, funk, disco and "Auld Lang Syne" rang from the rafters. For the high rollers, there were private parties with Sheena Easton, Robert Goulet, Tina Turner and Elton John. For paying fans, Santana sang of peace and Stevie Nicks spun her magic.
And at the blackjack tables near midnight at the Mandalay Bay, a dedicated few were still gambling. "You lose track of time in Vegas," said Igor Purlantov, 23, who was down $1,500 and desperate for cash to party through the rest of the night. "You could tell me that Japan blew up, New York had disappeared and I'd have no idea.
"Time is irrelevant here."