- - Thursday, March 16, 2017

Pia Zadora may have had the most diverse career in the history of show business. She started as a kid on Broadway before graduating to sex symbol status in the steamy early ‘80s flick “Butterfly,” which earned her a Golden Globe. More films followed, including her brilliant comic turns in “Hairspray” and “Naked Gun 33 1/3.” And as a singer she’s toured with everyone from symphony orchestras to Frank Sinatra.

However, life hasn’t been perfect for the star, but even through tough times Miss Zadora has kept her sense of humor. This year finds her in her adoptive home of Las Vegas performing live weekly at one of Sin City’s coolest old school joints: Piero’s. She is also working on an intimate album of the classic songs she loves.

Miss Zadora invited me in to discuss the highs (“Hairspray”) and lows (“Lonely Lady”) of her acting career and the best advice she ever got from Frank Sinatra.

Question: What was Las Vegas like when you first came here?

Answer: I was here in the ‘70s into the ‘80s. I was just on the cusp from when the corporations came in and took over from “the boys” who ran the town. If you watch the ending of the movie “Casino,” it was like that. I’m lucky enough to have been a part of — I don’t want to say old because I hate the word — let’s say “classic” Vegas.

And the new Vegas. I kind of like the old Vegas better. It was just classier. Which is why I love Piero’s. It’s where I plug into classic Vegas.

Q: How did you discover the legendary old-school joint Piero’s.

A: Ruta Lee took us to Piero’s for her birthday. I had never been in the old days in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I was secluded. I was at the Riviera [and] never really went on the town.

Ruta brought me there, and I thought, “Wow, this is a very cool place.” The food was great. It’s dark, classic, vintage-age Vegas.

Then I met the owner, Freddie Glusman. He has a voice that could chop wood, and he knows where all the bodies are buried. He’s like the big brother I’ve never had.

Piero’s is the hub of the world. You plug into that old-school vibe. I told him, “The thing that frustrates me about this town is you can do a show here and there, but you can’t play more than three times a year.” He looked at me and said, “Well, what about this place?” I agreed, and “Pia’s Place” was born. Four years later it is still running. I play there every Friday and Saturday.

Q: I hear you have your own signature drink there.

A: Yes, it’s called the “Piatini.” It’s my life juice. I always say alcohol is a preservative.

Q: How may Piatinis do you drink during your show?

A: Just one a night. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to see my way to the stage. (Laughs)

Q: Are you also working on a new album?

A: I’m working on a new CD with the guys who play with me at Pia’s Place, The Joe Lano trio. Joe Lano worked with Sinatra and Ella [Fitzgerald]. It’s a whole new sound now because it’s a guitar trio. It’s a labor of love because I did these type of songs over the year with different orchestras [like] the London Philharmonic [and] local symphonies [and] when I toured with Frank [Sinatra] with a 30-piece band.

Now my passion is to be intimate with these songs.

Q: I know your main focus in the past decade has been singing. Is the acting behind you?

A: Nothing is ever “behind” me. I believe that you just go forward. Life is a work in progress. I’ve been all over the friggin’ place in my career. Not always at my own choice. Singing here in Las Vegas is at my own choice. The songs I’m doing now I feel like I’m acting them. The music helps me tell the story.

Frank Sinatra was the ultimate teacher [when I opened] for him every night.

Q: Did Frank Sinatra ever give you any advice?

A: Every night before the show, he could come over, take my hands in his, look me straight in the eye and give me the pep talk. He said, “Don’t screw up.”

Q: When you look back on your career, are there any roles you regret?

A: Probably … everything. (Laughs)

I think “Butterfly” could have been better, but we had a lousy director. There was a connection between me and the character. It was interesting and there were great actors in it. But I think the direction was off. But hey, I won a Golden Globe, so I’m not complaining.

I should not have done “Lonely Lady.”

Q: How did you end up in the original “Hairspray” film?

A: That’s the best thing I did. I did an article in American Film on “Lonely Lady” with John Waters. We connected. It was a really strong connection.

When he was doing “Hairspray” he wanted me to play Deborah Harry’s daughter, the bitch prom queen, but I was on tour. And my manager was brain-dead.

Actually it worked out because the role I did was very different. Since we were traveling on the tour, there was a day off, and I told John I could do a cameo. He said, “Come on, just get here. You’re gonna be a beatnik.”

A beatnik? I’m a sheltered girl from Queens. But for John I would do anything. He gave me bongos, took me to a shop in downtown Baltimore and bought me a copy of “Howl” (Alan Ginsberg’s book) a black wig, beret and viola: “Let’s get naked and smoke!”

For all things Pia Zadora check out PiaZadora.com.

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