Sir Paul McCartney: 'Play Las Vegas like Elton? That's where you go to die'

Anita Singh
·4 min read
Sir Elton John at his Red Piano show in Las Vegas - Jae C Hong/AP
Sir Elton John at his Red Piano show in Las Vegas - Jae C Hong/AP

Sir Elton John’s concert residencies in Las Vegas were, in his own words, a “spectacular and successful” chapter in his career. Just don’t expect Sir Paul McCartney to follow suit.

In remarks unlikely to keep him on Sir Elton’s Christmas card list, Sir Paul has described Las Vegas as an “elephants’ graveyard” where the stars “go to die”.

The former Beatle was asked by an interviewer if he had “ever considered doing a residency in Vegas, like Elton John, or doing what Bruce Springsteen did on Broadway?” Springsteen performed five nights a week for more than a year at a theatre in New York City from 2017-18, while Sir Elton played 450 shows over two residencies at Caesars Palace to 1.8 million fans.

“Some people would like me to do it, as they say I’ve got plenty of stories and plenty of songs, but one of the things that’s holding me back at the moment is that Bruce has just done it, you know?

“It feels a bit like, ‘Oh, suddenly I’ll do it now then!’ So I think that’s made me a little reluctant to follow in his footsteps or follow a trend. The idea is ok,” Sir Paul told GQ magazine.

“As for playing Vegas, that’s something I’ve been trying to avoid my whole life. Definitely nothing attracts me about the idea.

“Vegas is where you go to die, isn’t it? It’s the elephants’ graveyard.”

Some of the world’s biggest stars have played Las Vegas residencies, from Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley to Celine Dion and Cher. Acts booked for 2020 include The Righteous Brothers, Sir Rod Stewart and Sting.

Sir Elton has admitted to misgivings about launching his first show in Vegas, The Red Piano, in 2004. Writing in his memoir, the singer recalled: “My immediate thought was that I didn’t want to do it. In my head, Las Vegas was still linked to the cabaret circuit I’d escaped in 1967. 

“It was The Rat Pack and Donny and Marie Osmond. It was the Elvis I’d met in 1976 - seven years on the Vegas strip visibly hadn’t done him much good - and performers in tuxedos talking to the audience: ‘You know, one of the wonderful things about showbiz…’”

However, he was persuaded to go ahead and the show ran until 2009, although it shocked some concertgoers - the set featured a reconstruction of Sir Elton’s 1960s suicide bid and images of a naked, transsexual model in an electric chair.

Sir Elton said the groundbreaking nature of the show “changed the image of Las Vegas a little, made it seem less showbiz, a bit more edgy; it became a place where Lady Gaga or Britney Spears or Bruno Mars could perform without anyone raising an eyebrow.”

His second and less controversial residency, The Million Dollar Piano, ran from 2011-18. Together, they are said to have grossed nearly $300 million.

Sir Paul, who celebrated his 78th birthday during lockdown, currently has several projects on the go including a Netflix adaptation of High In The Clouds, a children’s adventure he wrote with Philip Ardagh, and a musical version of It’s A Wonderful Life. He was due to headline Glastonbury this year before it was cancelled due to the pandemic.

Discussing the nature of modern fame in comparison to the height of Beatlemania, the star said he cannot understand celebrities posting details of their lives on Instagram.

He said: “I just don’t want to have to engage that much. ‘Ok, everybody. I’m at a restaurant. This restaurant is called, you know, Quaglino’s, and I’m having this.’ Why would I want to tell anyone where I was? Why would I want to tell them what I’m eating? For me, I’m glad [fame] happened in the innocent days of the 1960s.”

Sir Paul McCartney is in the September issue of GQ - Mary McCartney
Sir Paul McCartney is in the September issue of GQ - Mary McCartney

:: Read the full feature in the September issue of British GQ, available via digital download and on newsstands Friday 7th August