Latter-day Saint Life

Saints in Sin City: From pioneers to the Osmonds, Latter-day Saints have always shaped Las Vegas

Courtesy of Martin Andersen

From Howard Hughes’ handlers and Donny Osmond to the missionaries settling on a lonely creek in 1855, Latter-day Saints have always demanded concessions from Sin City.

Driving from Utah to Las Vegas is a singular experience. The dusty scrubland gives way to a gaudy metropolis—a cityscape of misdeeds rising from a desert wasteland.

But it’s here on I-15 that I get the first glimpse of Sin City’s most clean-cut performer. Reflected in my glasses is a single proper noun: “DONNY.”

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After ending a resoundingly successful 11-year residency with his sister, Marie, Monsieur Osmond is back in Vegas, reinventing himself once again to keep the crowds coming. This time he’s alone, and the venue has moved up the strip from the Flamingo to Harrah’s, but what hasn’t changed is the boyish performer’s uncanny ability to make us swoon.

After wading through two casino floors, I find my seat at a booth in a cozy theater. I’m almost certainly the youngest member of the audience.

Like clockwork, Donny struts onto the stage to the tune of his ’80s comeback hit, “Soldier of Love.” At age 64, he looks 45. Another two songs in, he’s crooning his trademark number, “Puppy Love,” first performed in 1972. But the show doesn’t dwell in the 50-year past; he hits highlights from his entire career spanning 61 albums, a few Broadway musicals and dozens of TV gigs.

He captures the whole chronology in an eight-minute rap that’s as entertaining as it is self-admiring. Donny also performs a couple of tracks from his latest album that was released last year.

At first blush Donny’s affection for a city that overflows with skin, liquor, gambling, and provocation seem paradoxical. Donny’s rap, after all, includes lyrics like “what the hey.” He makes it clear during the show that he’s from Utah and is a devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a faith that eschews about nine out of the 10 reasons people vacation here.

But in truth, Donny’s residency is part of a much broader and storied history of many other “Donnys” in Vegas. From missionaries settling on a lonely creek in 1855 to a quiet band of Latter-day Saints that sought to kick out the mob in the ’70s, the little-known Latter-day Saint heritage of America’s most ungodly city has forced more than a few wholesome concessions that have shaped Vegas.

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