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Sammy Shore, Elvis’ opening act in Las Vegas, dies at 92

Updated May 18, 2019 - 6:30 pm

To Sammy Shore, one man’s medical device was another man’s comedy prop.

“I got a pacemaker put in, and the other day I had an itch, so I scratched my chest,” Shore joked a few years ago. “And down the street, a lady in a motorized wheelchair started spinning circles.”

Shore, the great comic who opened for Elvis Presley in Las Vegas, died Saturday morning in Las Vegas at 92. In 1972, Shore co-founded the Comedy Store in Hollywood, for years operated by his ex-wife, Mitzi Shore. The Comedy Store Facebook page confirmed Shore’s death from natural causes, reporting that Shore was surrounded by his family.

Shore is survived by his wife of 29 years, Suzanne Dennie Shore, his children: Scott, Peter, Pauly, as well as two grandchildren: Lola and Caleb. Shore’s daughter, Sandi, died in 2018.

Shore’s son Scott said there are plans for a funeral in Los Angeles. Additional plans for a service honoring Shore are pending.

An avid dog lover, Sammy Shore famously doted over his three dogs: JJ, Tallulah, and Matty. He headed up the annual “Funny Bones” dog-rescue charity shows in Las Vegas, performing at venues including The Orleans and the Palms.

“When I meet someone, I ask if they have a dog,” he once said. “If they have a dog, I have time for them.”

Shore’s career as as a stand-up began in the Catskills, when he and fellow comedy icon Shecky Greene were paired as a comedy team.

“He was my first partner, and I loved him,” Greene said Saturday upon hearing the news that Shore had died. “I’ve been calling him and singing to him. I called him every morning to sing to him. He was a wonderful man and so, so funny.”

Shore was a popular featured comic, opening for such headliners as Tony Orlando, Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr., Tom Jones, Ann-Margret, Connie Stevens, Bobby Darin and Glen Campbell.

Shore’s son Pauly also posted a statement on Facebook: “My dad sacrificed a lot of his career for his family even though all he wanted to do was be on the road and tell jokes and be free.”

Sammy Shore drove Pauly to the younger Shore’s first stand-up show, at a restaurant called The Alley Cat Bistro in Marina Del Rey on Sept 25, 1985. The two toured together for more than 20 years on a series dubbed, “A Family Affair Tour.”

“Most of the audience would be like, ‘Pauly Shore’s dad’s opening for him?’” Pauly Shore wrote. “They thought it was some sort of a joke, (but) they soon realized the joke was on them.”

Sammy Shore advanced to club management. According to The Comedy Store bio of Shore, he and his writing partner, Rudy De Luca, founded the world-famous club in Los Angeles on April 7, 1972. Two years later, Sammy Shore relinquished the club to Mitzi Shore as the couple divorced.

Shore was especially proud of his days with Elvis, dressing in the same beige suit with dark-brown trim he wore during opening night at the International Hotel in Las Vegas in 1969. Shore’s mic actually went dead as he performed on opening night.

“I tapped the microphone with my finger, really hit it, and nothing,” Shore recalled in a 2010 interview. “I thought, ‘Noooo!’ So I looked up into the balcony and started reciting Shakespeare, just ad-libbing whatever lines I could think of. I was finally given a new mic, and I knew this one worked, but I just kept doing pantomime like it was dead.

“It worked out, but man, I was nervous, you bet. It was the biggest show ever in Las Vegas.”

Shore was also a writer throughout his career, releasing, “The Warm-Up,” “70 Sucks!” (for which he won five Drama-Logue Theatre Awards and Critics Choice Award) and “The Man Who Made Elvis Laugh.” Before his death, Shore was finishing a book under the title, “Last Comic Sitting (Confessions of a Pissed-Off Comic).”

Shore recorded several albums, including, “Brother Sam, Come Heal With Me,” and “70 Sucks, But 80 is Worse.”

Shore also appeared numerous films, among them “The Bellboy” with Jerry Lewis and “Life Stinks” with Mel Brooks. He also was a guest on Redd Foxx’s “Sanford and Son.” Shore was especially proud of his appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” a hallmark moment early in his career.

Late in his career, Shore performed a comic rap act onstage, flipping his cap backward and ordering up strobe lights. He routinely referred to himself as “Brother Sam,” calling out his jokes as if performing a sermon in church.

“Sammy was one of those hip cats; he had his whole lingo,” said comic and Laugh Factory at the Tropicana manager Harry Basil, who booked Shore at his last headlining gig four years ago, marking Shore’s 88th birthday. “He had a lot of jokes later on about getting old. I love that he toured with Pauly, and made fun of him onstage: ‘My son says, “Hey buuuudy.” What the (expletive) is that?’”

Basil continued, “To see Pauly with his dad, and how much he loved and respected him, was just terrific.”

Pauly Shore, who joined his father onstage at his final show in Vegas, ended his message with, “Dad, you lived an amazing life and I’m so proud to say that you are my father. When you’re in heaven, I’ll be killing the crowds night after night and carrying on your legacy.”

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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