The woman who designed the neon sign that has welcomed countless visitors to “fabulous Las Vegas” since 1959 has died.
Betty Willis, credited with designing the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign, died in her Overton, Nevada, home on Sunday.
She was “a wonderful woman and a good mom,” her daughter Marjorie Holland said Tuesday by phone,
Holland said her 91-year-old mother was proud of her design for the iconic “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign, but she never grew fond of how “fabulous” appeared, the single-word adjective not quite as flowing a script as she had envisioned.
“She, to this day, is probably sitting up in heaven saying: ‘That’s right’,” Holland said, laughing. “It looked odd.”
The artist’s often-copied sign sits in a median in the middle of Las Vegas Boulevard south of the Strip.
She said her mother put quite a bit of thought into the sign’s design, arranging the word “welcome” inside seven silver dollars, both a lucky number and winning currency of choice at the time for the destination.
Holland said her mother wanted the entire sign to be festive and happy, adding what she described as a blinking Disney star atop.
The last time Willis visited her creation was May 20, 2013, for her 90th birthday, when she marveled at the parking lot that had been expanded a year prior so more people could park for a photo opportunity in the middle of the road.
“They’ve done all that out here just for that little sign,” Holland said she remarked.
Holland says her mother called the often-replicated sign “the little sign that could,” because she was amazed by its popularity.
“It’s the most recognizable icon in the world,” said Danielle Kelly, executive director of The Neon Museum in Las Vegas, where the signs of Sin City’s past are retired and on display.
The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority called Willis “a visionary who created one of the most iconic and most photographed landmarks in our great city. The Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign will be a lasting legacy to a pioneer who gave not only Las Vegas, but several businesses, their identity.”
The welcome sign’s design, which was never copyrighted, has become a fixture on travel tchotchkes from Vegas and everywhere else, exactly as Willis wanted it, Holland said.
“The fact that everyone loves that sign and its design after all these years is a testament to Betty’s talents,” Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak said. “There is probably no bigger Las Vegas icon than that sign.”
In 2009, the sign was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Willis was born in 1923 in the small town of Overton, Nevada, and her family moved to Las Vegas a short time later. She worked as a commercial artist in Los Angeles before returning to Las Vegas, where she worked in an industry dominated by men.
Willis also designed neon signs for the Moulin Rouge casino and Blue Angel motel in Las Vegas.
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