Wayne's Whirl

updated 04/25/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/25/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

IT WAS ALMOST SHOWTIME IN VEGAS, and as the sun set over the 52-acre Casa de Shenandoah estate, the owner's personal peacock flock stirred nervously, 100 ivory candles set the mood—and an audience of 200 waited in silent anticipation. Then from the wings came the faint crackle of a walkie-talkie: "One minute. Okay, Wayne. Ready."

Welcome, folks, to the Newton nuptials.

Precisely on cue, blindingly blond Cleveland attorney Kathleen McCrone, 30, arrived at the singer's antebellum desert mansion in a white horse-drawn carriage for the traditional ceremony. The lavishness of the April 9 event—which featured a forest of nine-foot, tulip-draped topiaries and a pink-and-blue helicopter that shuttled the newlyweds to their reception at a nearby country club—made it far and away the best show in town. "When we started planning the wedding, I envisioned Kat as a reincarnation of Grace Kelly," said Newton, 52. "I wanted something that would frame that regalness." Hours before the ceremony, Wayne himself could be seen pulling weeds and hanging ribbons. "That's about all I was capable of doing," he says with a laugh.

Newton's marital enthusiasm marks a turnaround from his glum demeanor in the wake of the dissolution of his 17-year marriage to flight attendant Elaine Okamura in 1985. "Divorce," he says, "is tough on the man too." Severe business setbacks, caused by bad management and a falling real estate market, only added to his worries. In 1992, Newton petitioned for a business reorganization under a Chapter 11 bankruptcy, saying he was $20 million in debt. In the meantime he lives comfortably on the $250,000 he receives each week for his twice-nightly performances at the Sands—more than enough to maintain his stable of Arabian horses and a gaggle of resident penguins.

Through it all, Newton says his greatest source of support has been McCrone, a federal judge's daughter whom he met when she visited him backstage after a Vegas show in 1990. The two chatted briefly that night, but they kept in touch and became serious in the fall of 1991. "She brought a brightness to my life," he says. "I'm 180 degrees from where I was before meeting her."

The other woman in Wayne's life, his daughter Erin, 19, agrees. Since meeting McCrone, "my Dad's totally cool," she says. It was Erin who first suggested that Newton get engaged. And she was present on the houseboat last May where McCrone found the platinum engagement ring that Newton had put in a contact lens case and hidden in his beloved's slice of chocolate mud pie. When they called Kat's mother in Cleveland, "it was cute," says McCrone. "Wayne said, I just hope she doesn't throw the ring overboard.' "

She didn't. And at the ceremony, it was obvious that Newton was delighted. "My dad is really sentimental," said Erin. "But he cried even more than I thought he would."

From Our Partners