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Glenn Puit

Stewart: Rio Wouldn't Let Me Re-book Show

2 September 2005

LAS VEGAS -- Rock star Rod Stewart told a jury Wednesday he has always been willing to perform a concert at the Rio to make up for a canceled concert in 2000, but the resort never gave him the chance to earn the $2 million advance he received for the show.

"I know we've been trying to arrange a date for the last three or four years," Stewart said. "I leave it up to my managers."

"Have you ever refused to perform a concert for the Rio?" asked his attorney, Louis "Skip" Miller, in U.S. District Court.

"No," Stewart replied.

"Would you do a concert at any Harrah's property?" Miller asked.

"Yes," Stewart said.

Stewart offered the testimony in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks on Wednesday as part of a trial stemming from a lawsuit filed against the rocker by the Rio in 2001.

According to the lawsuit, the Rio paid Stewart $3 million in 1999 for a millennium eve concert at the off-Strip property. Attorneys for the Rio claim just days before the show, Stewart's business operatives were adamant about getting a contract for a second show at the Rio for Stewart the following day.

With Stewart's handlers threatening to pull Stewart out of the millennium show because of the stalled negotiations, the Rio agreed to pay Stewart $2 million in advance for another show the following New Year's weekend at the Rio.

The millennium concert went on as planned, but in 2000, Stewart was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and the second concert for December 2000 was canceled.

Attorneys for the Rio say Stewart then kept the $2 million for the second show, and he has refused to reimburse the resort.

In court Wednesday, Stewart's testimony centered mainly on his singing career and not the intricate details of the business contract with the Rio. A blushing Stewart told jurors he was 60 years old, then recounted a nearly four decade career encompassing major success in both the rock and easy listening genres.

He said he started singing when he was 19, and he didn't have a hit until seven years later, when "Maggie May" rose up the charts. Since then, he's had success across the globe and made millions via his raspy voice that Stewart said was modeled after American blues greats such as Muddy Waters.

"I've had tremendous success ... I'm very lucky," Stewart said.

In addition to his rock hits, Stewart told of the success he's had on three recent albums, a series known as "The Great American Song Books." The albums contain standards such as "Moonglow" and "Embraceable You."

"That was a turning point in my career," Stewart said, adding, "We've sold in excess of 3 million (copies) in the U.S. alone."

However, last year Hard Rock officials said they went through a "learning experience" when they priced some Stewart tickets at $750 for a concert showcasing the standards. The concert fell short of expectations.

"It's going to make us look a little harder" at ticket pricing and "price things more competitively" down the road, Hard Rock President Kevin Kelley said at the time.

Stewart testified that in 2000, a routine physical revealed thyroid cancer, and doctors successfully removed a tumor from his throat.

"I was in disbelief," Stewart said. "I play a lot of soccer, I keep fit. This doesn't happen to me. Like most people, they think it won't happen to them."

Stewart said he lost his singing voice for nearly a year. After the surgery, he struggled to get his voice back and at times became frustrated with the progress.

"I started singing in the bathroom," Stewart said. "Nothing was coming out. It was ghastly."

"It was what?" Miller asked.

"Ghastly," Stewart said, drawing laughter from both jurors and courtroom observers.

"There was no power, no range whatsoever," Stewart said.

"I was petrified, I was so scared," he said. "This was my life."

Eventually, however, he said, the voice came back.

"How's your voice now?" Miller asked.

"It's superb," a smiling Stewart said, drawing laughter again. "It's great."

Stewart said he barely reads contracts for concerts, and he leaves all his business negotiations up to his personal manager and attorney.

"I trust them," Stewart said. "I just OK the schedules and I turn up to sing, basically."

Under cross-examination from Rio attorney Steve Morris, Stewart was asked what his policy is regarding advance monies he receives for shows that end up being canceled.

"If we can't reschedule the shows, we have to give the money back," Stewart said.