Bullying strikes chord with Las Vegas entertainer

Everyone has a story when it comes to bullying. Earlier this week, I posted a Facebook video of how a bullied overweight teen responded to being punched repeatedly.

He was a bully’s worst nightmare.

My reaction wasn’t exactly restrained.

Among those commenting on the video was a friend of mine, George Bugatti of Las Vegas.

“I hope it was a lesson for that kid never to bully anyone again,” he wrote in the comments. “I was bullied to no end as a kid — beaten up, had buttons ripped off my coat, had my lunch stepped on — all because I was different because I played the piano.”

He added, “I almost quit because of it, and it shook me long after I left elementary school, into adulthood.”

A few days after our Facebook exchange, I received a message from Michelle Alejandra Booth, director of communications at the Clark County School District.

She asked if I could fill in for County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly, whose mother died this week. Weekly was the scheduled speaker at Cimarron-Memorial High School for the culmination of the Week of Respect, proclaimed by Gov. Brian Sandoval, who signed an anti-bullying bill into law three years ago.

I agreed to address the assembly today, but Bugatti’s reaction to the bullying video and his line “because I was different” piqued my interest.

We met 15 years ago, the first week I arrived in Las Vegas, while he was performing at one of the elegant lounges at Bellagio.

Over the years, I knew he regularly entertained at vintage Vegas restaurants like the Casa di Amore and the Bootlegger. Two years ago, he moved back to New York to star in the off-Broadway show, “The Wonderful Wizard of Song: The Music of OZ composer Harold Arlen.”

Bugatti grew up in Brooklyn as an aspiring classical pianist. The bullying started in kindergarten. Two boys named Gus and Alphonso took delight in taunting, intimidating and roughing up Bugatti, who has lived with a mild case of Tourette’s syndrome.

“I was afraid to go to the playground, because that’s where they would get me,” he recalled.

In the fifth or six grade, Bugatti said two brothers who were in high school — the Ross boys — took notice one day and said, ‘Who’s the guy doing this to you?’ They decided it was payback time.

As Bugatti was walking home past a party, they would jump Gus, who often bothered George on his way home.

“They grabbed him and held him and told me to beat him up,” Bugatti said. “I’ll never forget how frightened he looked. I couldn’t do it. I told them to let him go.”

Two years ago, when Bugatti moved back to Brooklyn for “Wizard,” he stayed in his childhood home. He wanted to confront his past. He wasn’t talking about the bullies.

“I was beaten by my mother. I had to go back and face that. And something came out of that. I realized, ‘What hell had my mother gone through?’ We’re all a work in progress.”

On Oct. 17, the day “Wizard” begins its three-day run at Cabaret Jazz at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, 250 kids will bused in for an abbreviated version of the show that will end with a singalong to Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow.”

SCENE AND HEARD

Katherine Burt, a blind World War II veteran, celebrates her 91st birthday this weekend in the company of World War II survivors and fallen heroes at Arlington National Cemetery.

She is one of two women among about 40 going to Washington, D.C., as part of the Southern Nevada Honor Flight program for war veterans, particularly those who served in WWII.

Sunday will be a special day. Burt, who lost her sight 10 years ago, will be accompanying the delivery of a wreath at Arlington.

She took a nasty fall recently, an accident she kept from her daughter, Kristin McMillan, president and CEO of the Las Vegas Metro Chamber of Commerce. McMillan is accompanying her mother as her sponsor.

“If I have to crawl, I’m going to do it,” said Burt, who joined the Women’s Army Corps shortly after her 20th birthday.

She took the Queen Mary liner to Scotland on her way to London, where she worked as a telephone operator during the war.

SIGHTINGS

R&B singer Brian McKnight, at “Georgia on My Mind: Celebrating the Music of Ray Charles,” at The Venetian on Wednesday. McKnight’s brother, Claude, is part of the 10-time Grammy Award-winning group Take 6, which is part of the performance. … Mirage headliner Terry Fator, recording a voicemail message Wednesday for Stratosphere headliner Claire Sinclair in the voice of “South Park” character Cartman during “DJing with the Stars” at Mix 94.1. … Miss USA Nia Sanchez, judging the inaugural Miss Chateau pageant on Wednesday at Chateau Nightclub & Rooftop (Paris). Brittany McGowan, a top five finisher for Miss Nevada USA 2014, won Miss Chateau.

THE PUNCH LINE

“Your applause makes up for me not being invited to Clooney’s wedding.” — David Letterman

Norm Clarke’s column appears Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at 702-383-0244 or norm@reviewjournal.com. Find more at normclarke.com. Follow @Norm_Clarke on Twitter.

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