Betty Willis, designer who left mark on Vegas with famous sign, dies at 91

Tue Apr 21, 2015 4:15pm EDT
 
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(Reuters) - Betty Willis, an artist who designed a popular welcome sign on the Las Vegas strip and created a number of other famous neon signs in the tourist haven, has died at age 91, a mortuary said on its website.

Willis died on Sunday at her home in Overton, a community about 45 miles (72 km) northeast of Las Vegas, according to Virgin Valley & Moapa Valley Mortuaries.

In 1959, the Nevada native was working for a neon sign company when she designed a welcome sign that said "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada" and cost $4,000 to construct.

The diamond-shaped sign with a spiky sun atop it has long been popular with tourists, who come to pose for photos next to it on the Las Vegas Strip near Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino. In 2009, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Over the years, Willis' landmark design has been reproduced in the form of key chains, mugs, T-shirts, phone cases, welcome mats, snow globes and numerous other pieces of merchandise.

She told the New York Times for an article published in 2005 that she would have liked to have seen some money off the bonanza from her design, which was in the public domain.

"I should make a buck out of it," she told the paper. "Everybody else is."

Despite the sign's enormous popularity, Willis also confessed to the paper that she felt dissatisfied with the way the hand-drawn lettering on the word "fabulous" looks. "I sweat blood when I take a good hard look at it," she told the paper.

Also popular for their originality were signs Willis designed for the Moulin Rouge Hotel and the Blue Angel Motel in Las Vegas.   Continued...

 
A view of the 'Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas' neon sign is seen before Earth Hour in Las Vegas, Nevada, in this March 27, 2010, file photo. Betty Willis, an artist who designed the iconic welcome sign, has died at age 91, a mortuary said on its website, April 21, 2015. REUTERS/Richard Brian/Files