Wednesday, April 24, 2024

The Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas is Closing After 25 Years: Memories of Kevin Costner, The Eagles, and George Clooney


I just heard that the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas is closing after almost exactly 25 years. I went to the opening weekend in March 1995 and wrote about it for New York magazine. A quarter of a century has passed. Amazing.

What do I remember about the opening weekend? A lot. The Eagles played a concert to open the music venue, which was called The Joint. Their famed manager, Irving Azoff, came in during rehearsal, saw the name ‘The Joint’ hanging over the stage and made the manager take it down. He didn’t want the drug reference.

Peter Morton brought in a lot of celebrities for the opening. Among them was George Clooney, an overnight sensation on “ER.” New York Post Page Six columnist Richard Johnson and I played black jack with him. I finally folded, but Richard continued on. A lot of people were just going to sleep the next morning when I came down for breakfast.

But the big ‘get’ of the weekend was Kevin Costner. He was up in the balcony, where there were bar tables, watching the show. Everyone was jammed in. Janet Charlton, the peripatetic columnist for the National Enquirer, spotted him and came running out. She said, “Kevin Costner’s in there and he’s got his hands up some girl’s sweater!”

My curiosity was piqued because Costner was filming “Waterworld,” already rumored to be a gigantic disaster. Word was he’d fired the director, Kevin Reynolds, and had taken over. So I took Janet’s directions and headed into the darkened room. The Eagles were singing “Hotel California.” I settled onto the wooden barstool next to Kevin. The girl turned out to be Kevyn Wynn, daughter of Steve and Elaine Wynn. After introducing myself I asked him all about “Waterworld.” I couldn’t take notes because I was jammed in between the Kevins and the stranger to my right.

After we finished talking, I ran outside into the lounge, pulled out a pad and pen. Merle Ginsberg, another journalist on the trip, was waiting for me. She said, “What happened?” I said, “You be Kevin, I’m me, I’m re-creating the conversation!” The result was a good story for New York’s Intelligencer, the column I wrote with Pat Wechsler. It was called “A Tale of Three Kevins.”

The next day I called Kevyn Wynn, who’d actually been kidnapped two years earlier. Her ransom had been $2.5 million but her dad negotiated it down to $1.45 million. The kidnappers were caught and sent to jail. Somehow, Kevin and Kevyn had met along the way and had become great pals. Maybe they still are. Who knows?

To me, the Hard Rock was much more interesting than the other casino hotels. Because of the rock connection, they had accumulated a ton of memorabilia. I hope it’s going now to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. The design was cool, too, very David Rockwell before its time. The crowd that came, at least at the beginning, was of a higher quality than say, Ballys, or the Golden Nugget.

Well, all good things come to an end. And so will the Hard Rock. But the memories live on. “Waterworld,” of course, was a bomb, as were “The Postman” and a few others that followed. Still, Costner has prospered and has turned out to be a keeper in Hollywood despite a lot of razzing. The Hard Rock will be renovated and rebranded by Richard Branson and friends as a Virgin Hotel. It’s going to be run by the Mohegan Hotel people from Connecticut, making it the first Las Vegas venue run by Native Americans. And Kevyn Wynn? I guess she’s 52 now (holy smokes!). She’s a celebrity in Vegas, owns a big home in Pacific Palisades, and has a line of luxury slippers. Everything has worked out for the best.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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