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Tuesday 20 March 2018

Artist behind Vegas neon sign dies

Betty Willis, who designed the famous Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas neon sign has died (Las Vegas Sun/AP))
Betty Willis, who designed the famous Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas neon sign has died (Las Vegas Sun/AP))

The woman who designed the iconic neon sign that has welcomed countless visitors to Las Vegas since 1959 has died.

Betty Willis, 91, died at her home in Overton, Nevada, according to an obituary on the Virgin Valley & Moapa Valley Mortuaries website.

The artist is credited with designing the famed and often mimicked Welcome To Fabulous Las Vegas neon sign that sits in the middle of Las Vegas Boulevard south of the Strip.

The sign has become such a popular photo backdrop that a car and tour bus park in the middle of the street was expanded in 2012.

Ms Willis also designed neon signs for the Moulin Rouge casino and Blue Angel motel in Las Vegas.

"It's the most recognisable 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 welcome sign's design, which does not have a copyright owner, has become a fixture on travel knick-knacks from Vegas and everywhere else.

"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.

Ms Kelly called Ms Willis' designs dazzling and said her personality was akin to a strong, fast-talking female lead in movies like His Girl Friday.

"A little salty, a little irreverent," she said. "I thought she was a classic broad."

Ms Willis, born in 1923 in the small town of Overton north east of Las Vegas, worked as a commercial artist in Los Angeles before returning to Las Vegas, where she worked for sign companies and designed that famous diamond-shaped beacon of flashing lights.

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