Phyllis McGuire, a Casino Headliner and McGuire Sisters Vocalist, Dies in Las Vegas

Phyllis McGuire, a longtime casino showroom performer and lead singer for the popular McGuire Sisters trio, died Tuesday at her home in Las Vegas. She was 89. The cause of death was not immediately announced.

McGuire Sisters
McGuire Sisters
The McGuire Sisters, with Phyllis McGuire at center, perform during one of their many stage shows. Phyllis McGuire died this week at age 89. (Image: Dayton Daily News)

The McGuire Sisters were daughters of an Ohio steelworker father and minister mother. The trio rocketed to fame after winning the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts contest in 1952. Their songs, such as Sincerely and Sugartime, “went with car fins, charm bracelets, and duck-tail haircuts,” according to the New York Times.

Phyllis McGuire’s wholesome image was bruised in the 1960s when the divorced singer became involved in a relationship with Chicago mobster Sam Giancana. Federal authorities tracked Giancana when he joined up with her in towns where she performed. These included Hot Springs, Arkansas, and Las Vegas.

She had met the high-ranking Mafia figure in Las Vegas in 1961. McGuire said she knew of his gangster reputation, but did not know about his activities in that world, according to the Times.

It makes me look terrible,” she said. It would be different if I were on my own, but Im not a single — Im part of a trio. My sisters and my parents — theyre brokenhearted about this.”

The sisters ceased performing together in 1968. However, they reunited in 1985 and appeared for nearly 20 years at nightclubs and casinos. 

Phyllis McGuire, who lived in a Las Vegas mansion that included a replica Eiffel Tower, performed solo during the years her sisters raised families, the Times reported.

Phyllis McGuire married broadcaster Neal Van Ells in 1952. They divorced in 1956 without having children.

Her sisters preceded her in death. Dorothy died in 2012, Christine in 2019.

Frank Sinatra’s Woes

Phyllis McGuire was at the center of a controversy in the 1960s that led to singer Frank Sinatra forfeiting his ownership in the Cal-Neva Lodge. The now-shuttered lodge was a hotel-casino on the north shore of Lake Tahoe. The lake is on the California-Nevada border near Reno.

During this era, Sinatra performed with other Rat Pack members and Hollywood celebrities at places such as the Sands hotel-casino in Las Vegas and the Cal-Neva Lodge.

In 1963, state gaming officials challenged Sinatra about Giancana being at the lodge. The mobster had been there visiting McGuire, according to news accounts. She was at the lodge performing in the Celebrity Room with her sisters. 

Giancana, rumored to have a hidden partial ownership in the Cal-Neva, had been included in Nevada’s Black Book. This inclusion banned him from setting foot in any casino statewide.

Years later, Sinatra regained a key employee license in Nevada.

Giancana was shot to death at his home in Oak Park, a Chicago suburb, in 1975. No one was ever arrested or charged in the killing. Giancana was 67 at the time of his death.

In 1989, McGuire told Dominick Dunne of Vanity Fair magazine that Giancana was “The greatest teacher I ever could have had,” according to the Times.

He was so wise about so many things,” she said.

Nevada’s Dawn Wells Dies

McGuire is the second celebrity with a Nevada connection to die this week. Dawn Wells, star of the 1960s sitcom Gilligan’s Island, died of complications from COVID-19 on Wednesday at a Los Angeles nursing home. She was 82. 

Born in Reno, Wells was the daughter of a Las Vegas casino owner and real estate developer, Joe Wesley Wells.

In 1959, she was crowned Miss Nevada. In addition to her later television work, Wells also performed on stage, including in a one-woman show at the MGM Grand hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip. 

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