By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Tony Orlando is flattered to hear folks young and old say they watched his show, “Tony Orlando and Dawn,” in the 1970s. But two confessions were particular meaningful.
“I did a movie, ‘Sandy Wexler,’ for Netflix and ‘That’s My Boy’ with Adam Sandler,” Orlando recalled. “He and Chris Rock told me they used to watch their show every Wednesday night with their families. Adam Sandler and Chris Rock watched my show? It was really a compliment that I hold dear to my heart. Those guys are good guys.”
Orlando graced TV screens from 1974 to 1977, and he continues to entertain. He’ll perform at the Ovations Showroom at Wild Horse Pass Hotel and Casino on Friday, Feb. 10.
He has won prestigious awards for his talents. In 2016, his honors included Casino Entertainer of the Year Award, recipient of the “Best All Around Entertainer” Las Vegas, which he has won four times, and previously three times in Atlantic City; Jukebox Artist of the Year Award from the Amusement and Music Owners Association of New York; The Ellis Island Medal of Honor one of the nation’s most prestigious awards; The Bob Hope Award for excellence in entertainment from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society honoring his efforts on behalf of veterans.
“They’re all important,” he said of the awards. “The thing that got me was the one I received from Vegas. It was the fourth time I won the award between 1976 to now. To win that over 20-some-odd years made me feel like I’m hanging in there. The Congressional Medal of Honor’s award was something, too. That’s the highest honor. I was humbled by that.”
Orlando’s work with veterans led to him being named honorary chairman at the 40th anniversary at the NAM-POW’s Homecoming Celebration at the Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library in 2014. He serves on the Board of Directors for the Eisenhower Foundation as well as honorary chairman of Snowball Express, an organization that serves the children of fallen military heroes. Orlando hosts the Congressional Medal of Honor dinner annually in Dallas to honor Medal of Honor recipients. He has also served as the master of ceremonies at the Secretary of Defense Freedom Awards at the Pentagon.
“I’ve spent 43 years working on behalf of veterans causes,” said Orlando, best known for his song “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ’round the Ole Oak Tree.”
“I don’t know how many millions of dollars I raised since ‘Yellow Ribbon’ came out. I believe that if God blesses you with 56 years in this wonderful business, you should give back. I’ve been able to visit 40 different countries, and tasted the food of that many cultures. My greatest joy is to be able to give back.”
But, he said, success comes down to luck as well.
“I’ve been very lucky and that’s the truth,” he said. “It’s a blessing from God himself, who has given me an opportunity and continues to keep me in the business I dreamed about since I was a little boy.
“Every single week, my TV show was on in 35 to 40 million people’s homes. I think I’ve been allowed to continue because we take our shows seriously. Every show I do, I do it like it’s the last show we’ll ever do. With the live performances, people know they’re going to get their money’s worth. I put my blood, sweat and tears into the show for the audience. That resonates with people and creates a following.”
Going forward, Orlando would like to record Christian and patriotic albums. His dream is to play the lead in “Zorba the Greek,” like Anthony Quinn.
“I promised my dad that I would play him on Broadway,” said Orlando, who was born Michael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis. “I met Anthony Quinn in Hawaii. I said, ‘Mr. Quinn, someday can I play Zorba to fulfill a promise to my father?’ He said, ‘Tony my boy, when God calls Anthony Quinn, I tell God to make sure Tony gets to play Zorba.’
“That’s my goal.”
Tony Orlando performs at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 10, Wild Horse Pass Hotel and Casino’s Ovations Live Showroom, 5040 Wild Horse Pass Blvd., Chandler. Tickets are $30-$85. For more information, call 800-946-4452 or visit wingilariver.com.