Artist, who designed 'Las Vegas' sign dies

Betty Willis, who created iconic 1959 sign welcoming visitors to centre of 'Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas', dies aged 91

Updated Jul 28, 2015

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.

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.

Willis is survived by her daughter, Marjorie Holland, and her grandchildren and one great granddaughter.