LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Mikhail Gorbachev’s 2004 visit to Las Vegas included a lecture in front of more than 8,000 people at UNLV, dinner at the Russian-themed Red Square restaurant at Mandalay Bay and a Celine Dion show at Caesars Palace.
The headless statue of Russian communist hero Vladimir Ilich Lenin outside the Mandalay Bay restaurant didn’t sit well with him. Gorbachev wasn’t amused, said the man who hosted the visit.
“Gorbachev thought it was very inappropriate,” Thomas Tait said.
The restaurant closed in 2019 and the statue was removed.
Tait, who played a major part in Gorbachev’s visit, recalled some details from the five-day itinerary after the former Soviet leader’s death on Tuesday. Tait posted on his Facebook page today: “He will be missed by all those he touched. Rest in Peace, gentle giant.”
In 2004, Tait was working as an executive at Lake Las Vegas and as a tourism consultant for the State Department. He invited Gorbachev to take part in the creation of the Russian Heritage Highway Foundation, a tourism project that was conceived while Tait was in Russia in 2002 and early 2003. Gorbachev agreed and ended up serving as a co-chair for the project, along with former Nevada Gov. Bob Miller.
By that time, Boris Yeltsin had taken over and the Soviet Union was breaking apart. Tait’s vision of an historic tour route along the “M10” highway connecting St. Petersburg and Moscow continued to develop over the years. But work on the idea stopped as Russia’s war with Chechen separatists grew.
The 700-kilometer highway is dotted with towns that produced some of the biggest names in Russian cultural history. Tait listed them during a Wednesday interview: composers Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Igor Stravinsky, playwright Anton Chekhov, poet Alexander Pushkin, writer Leo Tolstoy and novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky. “It truly is the route of Russian culture,” Tait said.
“It’s not just the luminaries we mentioned,” he said, marveling over the rich history of the area. Tait said the highway is about the same length as the drive from Las Vegas to Reno.
Gorbachev stayed at the former Ritz-Carlton at Lake Las Vegas for five days, attending three days of board meetings on the project, Tait said.
Collaborating with tourism leaders who worked on programs like “Scenic Byways” in the U.S., Tait and the Russian Heritage Highway Foundation laid out the project. Funding was later secured from the Russian government, but the project remains unfinished.
Tait said he arranged Gorbachev’s participation in the Barrick Lecture Series, which grew quickly as demand for tickets became apparent. A speech initially planned for an audience of 800-900 people grew to 10 times that size and was moved to the Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus.
At more than 8,000 in attendance, it was the most popular Barrick Lecture in the program’s history. Only President Bill Clinton brought a larger crowd for a UNLV speech, but that wasn’t part of the Barrick program.