Jerry Brown could out-smoke anyone in a casino. One time in the mid-1990s, he kept dangling lit cigarettes off the edge of a craps table. But he kept leaning on those lit cigarettes. So eventually:
"Sir," the craps dealer told him, "you've gotta step away from the table -- you're on fire."
Brown survived. And every year for two decades, he rustled 15 to 25 pals to fly from Kansas City to Vegas for a weekend of March Madness at Palace Station.
After last year's trip here, he died at 60 on Easter Sunday in his recliner, with smokes and a beer, watching sports. He died of unknown causes, friends say. (He never went to doctors.)
Today, 15 buddies (ages 29 to 65) plan to fulfill Brownie's last wish -- to scatter his ashes at Palace Station, from a coffee can emblazoned with his photo and stickers of Budweiser and Marlboro.
"There are a lot of tears shed about him not being here, by tough guys," said Pat Duckers, one of his closest friends.
Brownie's friends remember him as a widower (his wife died of cancer in her 30s), a father, a grandfather and "the greatest guy in the world," who "would do anything for anybody."
Raising beers to him Thursday, they laughed about the time Brownie (all lanky 6-foot-4 of him) fell backwards off a bar stool and didn't spill his Bud.
They laughed about when he led his friends to Glitter Gulch strip club for a comical protest.
"He was highly against strip bars, but he would lead a parade -- we'd walk in and walk out," as strippers yelled, Duckers said.
On Thursday, they showed Brownie-in-a-can to Palace Station workers who got to know him.
Duckers said Brownie (a process server and Kansas State fan) got a last laugh, because he used to rib Duckers for being a casket salesman. By being cremated, Brownie screwed Duckers out of a sale, Duckers said and laughed.
Today, the self-described "Kansas City Boys" look for hallowed grounds to sprinkle him.
"Our hope would be to throw them out on the craps table, but I don't think they'll let us do that," Duckers said.
"If you're walking through here, and you put your feet in some ashes," Ducker joked, "it's probably Jerry."
Brownie lived for four things, he said: March Madness; fishing in Minnesota; canoeing in Missouri; and most of all, his two kids and five grandkids.
"If you're gonna put this in an article," he said, "you should say he was very proud of them. He always talked about how proud he was of them."
Doug Elfman's column appears on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. He also blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.