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Phyllis McGuire

McGuire Sisters
Courtesy Wikipedia Commons
Trade ad for McGuire Sisters' single "Dear Heart".

Phyllis McGuire died at the end of 2020, and with her died a lot of the history of show business, Las Vegas society, and, yes, organized crime.

She and her sisters Christine and Dottie started singing as kids in the 1930s in Ohio, where their mother was an associate pastor of a church. They made it big in the 1950s with million-sellers like “Sincerely” and “Sugartime.” They stopped performing publicly in 1968, with their last appearance here at Caesars Palace being televised on Ed Sullivan’s variety show. By then, Phyllis McGuire had bought a home in Rancho Circle, then and now an elite Las Vegas neighborhood.

Phyllis pursued a solo career and became involved in investments in oil and real estate. The McGuire Sisters reunited in the mid-1980s and occasionally performed for another two decades, with Phyllis standing in the middle, as always, and including imitations of other legendary entertainers who were around Las Vegas as well … Judy Garland and Louis Armstrong, to name two. The McGuire Sisters performed at several Las Vegas locations, including the Riviera, the Desert Inn, and the Hilton. Dottie died in 2012 and Christine in 2018.

But after moving to Las Vegas, Phyllis McGuire became part of the community. She was active in philanthropy, often anonymously … One obituary described her as “a constant unidentified donor to many charitable organizations.” That included opening her home for fund-raising events, and she had much to open. According to a famous profile of her, her home featured 26,000 square feet, replicas of the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower, waterfalls, a room that functioned like a nightclub, and a tennis court where she said Johnny Carson learned to play the sport. For many of her later years, her significant other was Mike Davis, the owner of Tiger Oil. For several years, she also dated legendary Las Vegas casino owner Bob Stupak, who built Vegas World and the Stratosphere. She also dated Dan Rowan, as in Rowan & Martin, the stars of Laugh-In, who also played Las Vegas.

Her most famous relationship also had a Las Vegas connection. When the McGuire Sisters were at their height, she began dating Sam Giancana, who was a boss of the Chicago mob. At first, she knew him by his alias, Sam Flood. As she said, she knew nothing about what he did in connection with his work. Well, his work could be bloody, and illegal, of course. He allegedly owned parts of several Nevada casino properties. He was rumored to have been involved in everything from a plan to assassinate Fidel Castro to supposedly helping elect and possibly helping to kill John Kennedy. Another girlfriend of Giancana’s, Judith Campbell, also had an affair with Kennedy.

Her involvement with Giancana hurt Phyllis McGuire’s career and reputation at the time. She made it clear: They were both single, and they loved each other. And she loved Las Vegas, lived here for more than half a century, and did a lot for the community. A lot of people sang her praises, and as for her, she sure could sing.