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Las Vegas composer, performer Bill Fayne dies

In the end, as it was for 60 years, it was Bill Fayne with Clint Holmes.

Fayne, a master composer, musician and singer, died Wednesday afternoon of cancer. He was 75. He had been placed in hospice care at Nathan Adelson Hospice just this week. Though he’d been suffering since at least last fall, Fayne’s passing seemed sudden, shaking his many friends in the Vegas entertainment community.

Holmes and his wife, Kelly Clinton-Holmes; Fayne’s son, Jeremy; and his ex-wife and still close friend, Elaine King; were with Fayne at his passing at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Fayne was ever-present in the epicenter of the Las Vegas entertainment community. If he wasn’t onstage, he was near it, or preparing some wonderful show to get back to it.

Holmes, especially, felt the loss deeply. The renowned headliner and recording artist expressed in Facebook post late Wednesday, “So many of us lost this brilliant, generous, love-filled man today. Billy and I fought the musical wars together and our careers were intertwined, but there was also tennis, baseball, great food and wine, and our families that grew side by side.”

Thursday morning, Holmes recalled that friendship.

“Bill and I met in college, we were together for decades,” Holmes said in a phone chat. “We both had lounge bands in the 70s. It came to the point where my agent said, ‘If you ever want to get out of the lounge, you have to get a music director, you have to have arrangements.’ So I called Bill.”

The tandem headlined in Atlantic City, and also toured with a series of established stars, among them Diana Ross, Donna Summer, Joan Rivers and Bill Cosby. It was the latter who brought Holmes to Vegas for the first time, at the Las Vegas Hilton, in September 1986.

Fayne moved with Holmes to Las Vegas in 1999, as music director for a run at the Golden Nugget. They would soon move to Harrah’s in January 2000 for a residency show at the showroom renamed for Holmes. Joined by Santa Fe and The Fat City Horns, Fayne led the music production for a 6 1/2-year run.

The Holmes-Fayne familial connection dated to 1964, when Fayne and Holmes were freshmen at State University of New York at Fredonia.

In piece of stage shtick from their Vegas show, Holmes told audiences, “We went to college together,” with Fayne cutting in, “But I graduated,” and Holmes adding, “And now you work for me.”

Fayne worked independently for a decade as music director for a summertime series at the Sporting-Monte Carlo club in Monaco, beginning in 1985. Fayne had led the orchestra in a massive, kick-off event for Prince Albert’s Monaco Red Cross charity campaign.

“It was one of those, everyone-in the-world-was-there nights. Frank Sinatra, Sean Connery, on and on and on,” Holmes recalled. “The show was such a hit that Billy was offered the musical director position for the show, and there were people like Sammy Davis Jr. and Anthony Newley. He was in the base show every week, performing with the best in the business.”

Fayne musically referred to his position with Holmes in his own Vegas headlining performances. Fayne had toured the world and also many shows around the city, including at Myron’s (and earlier, Cabaret Jazz) at The Smith Center, Suncoast Showroom, Bootlegger Bistro, Italian American Club, The Stirling Club, Sam’s Town, The Vegas Room at Commercial Center and Starbright Theater.

“When he did his solo shows, he would always do the song ‘Mr. Cellophane,’ from the Broadway show ‘Chicago,’” said Jeremy Fayne, who is crew chief and technical manager of The Strat Theater for SPI Entertainment. “He had been Clint’s musical director, his right-hand man, and never the man in front unless he was in his own show. It was done with a sense of humor, because it meant so much to him to work with Clint.”

Fayne was a huge fan of legendary Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim, developing a tribute show he performed at the Suncoast in 2011. He was a mentor to dozens of Vegas performers.

Friends would often ask Fayne why his “Fayne & Friends” often involved up to a dozen singers. “Because they all deserve to sing,” was the usual response.

Fayne’s partnerships were often at once inspired and totally unexpected. In the spring of 2021, he worked with Justin Shandor, famous as one of the world’s predominant Elvis tribute artists. But this was not a “Jailhouse Rock” revival, but instead variety-fashioned performances at The Vegas Room and Italian American Club.

With Fayne at the keys, Shandor — who once won the International Elvis Tribute Artist competition in Memphis in 2010 — sang from the Great American Songbook and Broadway. “Where Do You Start?” “Our Love is Here to Stay,” “What Kind of Fool am I?” and “What Matters Most” were in the set list.

Fayne also held a deceptively edgy sense of humor. A dozen years ago, yours truly met with Fayne at a Starbucks in Henderson. He had just weathered a cancer scare, his esophagus removed. He had been in a medically induced coma for two weeks. He would need to re-train himself to sing.

The topic of conversation that day was an upcoming fundraiser for Fayne at the Suncoast Showroom. Dozens of members of the Las Vegas entertainment hierarchy would turn out. As I walked into the coffee shop, I instantly noticed Fayne’s hat, which read, “I’m Not Dead Yet,” from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

Fayne’s grin illuminated from under that message. Even his smile was melodic.

Fayne’s son knows that hat, and sentiment, very well.

“It was sad and dark, but sometimes that’s how his sense of humor was,” the younger Fayne said. “I’ve been cycling through photos, and I have so many photos of him in that hat. It was him, with his humor, living life.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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