Tony Zoppi, a longtime entertainment booker for the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, died Aug. 24 at a nursing facility in Dallas, his granddaughter said Wednesday. He was 92.
In his 17 years at the high-rise hotspot starting in the mid-1960s, Zoppi booked such acts as Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. He signed Ann-Margret for her first live performance in 1967 and planned her wedding in May of that year to 77 Sunset Strip star Roger Smith — and even served as a groomsman.
“Ann was crying so much during the ceremony that the preacher stopped and asked, ‘Young lady, are you sure you want to do this?’ ” he recalled in 2001.
Before he joined the Riviera, first as a publicity exec and then in charge of entertainment, Zoppi wrote a "Dallas After Dark" column for The Dallas Morning News. Tony Bennett often credited Zoppi’s review of a 1956 show the crooner gave at a Dallas hotel for giving him the courage to play all over the U.S.
Raised in Long Branch, N.J., Zoppi was known for a column he wrote about strip-club owner Jack Ruby, who shot and killed John F. Kennedy’s accused assassin Lee Harvey Oswald on Nov. 24, 1963. The journalist was acquainted with the short-tempered Ruby, who was always seeking publicity for his clubs, and spoke with him days after the Oswald shooting.
“I said, ‘Jack, why in the hell did you do it?’” Zoppi recalled. “He started crying and told me he didn’t want Jackie Kennedy to have to come to Dallas and appear in court against ‘that Commie rat.’ ”
Survivors include his daughters-in-law Joan and Norma and seven grandchildren. A service will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Patrick Catholic Church in Dallas.