Backstage with Ron Onesti:

Entertainment icons lost, but not forgotten

What a year THIS has been!

I am happy to report that 2016, the 90th year The Arcada has been around, was its best year ever! Over 200 shows played on the grand dame’s historic stage!

Some of the biggest names in entertainment appeared there this year, some for the first time, and some for a command performance, returning due to overwhelming demand.

My column dedicated to our “Year in Review” will be forthcoming as I wanted to pay a final tribute to the icons we have lost this year that were particularly special to me personally.

Patty Duke

One of the biggest personal losses for me this year was the passing of Hollywood legend Patty Duke. Growing up, I remembered her most for her television show, “The Patty Duke Show,” where she played “identical cousins” with opposite personalities. I loved that show!

A few years back, I had the opportunity to show a screening of “The Miracle Worker,” the 1962 Academy Award-nominated film that also garnered her an Oscar nomination for her stunning portrayal of young Helen Keller.

Patty actually hosted the event, and I interviewed her on stage about her career. She was absolutely wonderful, warm, and generous with her fans.

She autographed a vintage poster of the film for me, very personally. We stayed in touch, and she remained a friend to The Arcada until the end.

I’ll never forget her amazing smile, and the way her face lit up as she watched her own film in our classic theater, whispering tidbits of trivia as I sat next to her. She was beautiful inside and out.


Probably the most epic losses this year for me was that of Prince. Not only was he an international superstar, and one of the most talented, all-around entertainers in history, but how the events of his passing unfolded for us was nothing short of, well, epic.

In short, I was introduced to Matt Fink, “Dr. Fink” in Prince’s “Purple Rain” band “The Revolution,” at a talent buyer’s conference in New York last year. He told me about a nationally touring salute to Prince he had put together called “The Purple Experience.” I saw it, and immediately booked it. It was incredible! The young man in front was uncanny as he sang, danced, played guitar and looked unbelievably like Prince himself.

It turned out that Prince passed away the day before that tribute was to take the stage at The Arcada! Since Dr. Fink was the only member of Prince’s original band that was accessible, it became a media frenzy at the theater. We completely sold out with lines around the block.

The band was amazing, especially with a flurry of emotion emanating not only from the crowd, but also from the band itself.

We gave out purple glow sticks to all 900 of the attendees, and when the band did “Purple Rain” as its closing number, the crowd twisted the glow sticks and moved their purple-lit hands to the beat of the song. Yes, it was epic.

Muhammad Ali

I have been involved with the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame for over 30 years. I have produced the organization’s events and galas and have worked with huge names in sports because of my relationship with the group.

As we dedicated a bronze statue of boxing great Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali joined us for the festivities.

We did a few events with him, and I actually witnessed a great deal of his decline in health.

I learned about courage from him — he remained a champ through and through. His passing was a blow to me, as eminent as it was, still because of the era and the strength he once represented. Another icon from my youth, gone.

There were several others that left us, all unexpected and truly huge losses.

Scott Weiland, frontman for the rock group “Stone Temple Pilots,” died just weeks after a solo performance at The Arcada.

Frank Sinatra, Jr. performed his last show here before going back to Florida, where he never made it on stage.

Paul Kantner, original member of The Jefferson Airplane, canceled his first booking at The Arcada because of a heart attack and then subsequently passed away a couple of days before the rescheduled date.

Leon Russell, played a great show recently at The Arcada, so much so that a command performance was being scheduled just as we lost him.

Emerson, Lake & Palmer guitarist Greg Lake did a solo show here, but lost his battle with cancer this year.

Not to mention Glenn Frey of The Eagles, David Bowie, Merle Haggard and George Michael … all icons, who although never played The Arcada Theatre, were influential to so many of those who did, and to those who visit the theater.

Yes, this was a bad year in the world of entertainment. So many gone, but their stars still shine within their creative works and recorded performances.

As I drive down the road singing to the radio, I continue to do the only thing I know would truly salute them properly. I sing their songs at the top of my lungs, feel their music deep within my bones, and give a wink up to the sky when the likes of “Purple Rain” comes on the radio.

Here’s to them, I toast to them all, and commit a tear of joy, a tear of sorrow and an eternal place in my heart, room enough to store the memory of their music.


• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email