Celebs turn out in force for Jerry Lewis tribute
If the late Jerry Lewis had produced and directed his own celebration of life’s memorial service it would not have been any better, smoother, funnier or more sincere and heartfelt as yesterday’s event was at the South Point. It was appropriate that it took place on Labor Day marking the comedy legend’s dedication to the Muscular Dystrophy telethon he hosted over three decades and raised a staggering $2 billion for.
Tony Orlando who hosted the on-stage salute recalled that he’d met Jerry first when he was only 10 years old and donated a jar of coins to the telethon fundraiser. Later, the two men worked together for 35 years on the telethons.
It was a simple setup onstage: an empty directors chair that each person bowed their heads to, three large bouquets of flowers and his autograph and facial caricature on the rear screen. It was all video taped for South Point hotel owner Michael Gaughan, who was away in Ireland.
Former Caesars Palace headliner and singer Matt Goss flew in from England where he’s on tour to sing ‘Unforgettable.” Said Matt: “Jerry was like royalty who put electricity into the air.” Among the other stars there paying last respects to “the nutty professor” were veteran comedian Marty Allen, magicians Penn & Teller and David Copperfield, prop comic Carrot Top, singers Clint Holmes and wife Kelly, actress-singer Pia Zadora and Mayor Carolyn Goodman with former mayor Oscar Goodman. Jerry’s wife, Sam, and their daughter, Danielle, dabbed their tears in the front row.
The event took on the air of a Jerry Lewis telethon. Said his former telethon co-host Jann Carl, “There would be no MDA without Jerry Lewis.” She said he’d started the first telethon in 1966 with just one New York City TV station that raised $1 million before he rolled it out nationwide to the Love network. “He was the surgeon general of laughter as his medicine.”
Other speakers included comedian Dane Cook and “The Voice” singer Billy Gilman who sang Jerry’s favorite Frank Sinatra song “My Way” in an amazing rendition that had people in tears. Film historian and actress Illeana Douglas, who works with the Turner Classic Movies cable channel, said that the network had changed its schedule yesterday (Sept. 4) to run five Jerry Lewis films back-to-back with interviews and told how, in pre-Beatles days, the comedian had originated a Mellotron instrument at his home radio station — way before the days of podcasts!
There were video clips of a walk down memory lane of Old Vegas when entertainers and orchestra musicians all wore classy tuxedos. Singer Jack Jones sang and showed an old Canadian TV clip of Jerry instructing him how to best present a knockout humorous version of “I Only Have Eyes for You.”
But it took Dean Martin’s daughter Deana and roastmaster general Jeff Ross, who flew in from New York, to properly eulogize Jerry with some brilliantly crafted zingers that brought levity to the sober occasion. Deana said: “I’m trying hard not to shed any tears which would be his instruction. My Uncle Jerry was caring, loving and had the heart of a child … in a jar … on his desk!” Somehow, Jeff managed to top that, retelling a line at a Friars Club roast that had Jerry in hysterics. “The telethon is over — a 5-year-old just got out of his wheelchair, walked to the TV set and turned it off.” And Jeff added: “When a legend dies at 80 he gets a tribute from fellow legends. When you die at 90 you get me.”
The tribute to “The Jew of the Desert” — as he’d nicknamed himself — ended appropriately with words from his rabbi, Sanford Akselrad, who explained the late comedian’s courage and discipline, and Danielle Lewis, who said of her father: “He was one of the most amazing people on the planet.”
But it was natural that Jerry, who died Aug. 20 at age 91, would close the program. He sang the tear-jerker “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” which closed each labor Day telethon. Tony Orlando summed up later: “It’s very simple. He was a genius who taught the world to laugh.”
It was a beautiful and heart-warming celebration of life, exactly the way Jerry would have wanted because he’d always said he hated funerals!
Golden Gate expands
A new chapter is beginning for the 121-year-old Golden Gate downtown — the original Las Vegas hotel from 1906 and with the city’s first telephone number “1” back in 1907! New owner Derek Stevens has completed a major renovation, the second in more than 50 years. Derek also saw the addition of a five-story luxury tower in 2012.
Now the hotel that once hosted Rat Pack stars Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin has nearly doubled its casino size of 5,000 square feet with 91 new slots and a 24-foot tower of television emerging from a fountain. The bar has grown by 20 feet out onto the Fremont Street Experience and a new lavish entryway with golden velvet drapes that weigh a glamorous 500 pounds.
Derek says that the evolution of the property is all part of his plan to transform downtown, including his highly-anticipated plans for the neighboring 18 Fremont Street project. Our thanks to contributing photographer Tom Donoghue for his gallery of local dignitaries, Derek with Mayor Carolyn Goodman at the red ribbon ceremony to celebrate the opening of the expansion.
Wicked whispers & racy rumors
— Hard-fact gossip around real-estate insiders is that the Brookfield asset management company that owns the Hard Rock Hotel has put it up for sale. I’m reliably told that the Seminole Indian tribe that owns two Hard Rock hotels in Florida and the Hard Rock parent company will seek to acquire the Las Vegas property and have it run far more like their Florida casinos. Our local Hard Rock was opened 22-years ago, and in 1997 Peter Morton, co-founder of the Hard Rock Cafe operation, bought out his Harveys Lake Tahoe partners. Morgans Hotel Group operated it until February 2011 when Brookfield and Warner Gaming took over the property.
— Longtime Vegas casino executive John Unwin who most recently was the CEO of The Cosmopolitan until December 2014 is being tapped to run the new-look Fountainbleu that last week was acquired from business mogul Carl Icahn by New York based real estate company Witkoff. It’s been eight years since construction halted on the 3,900-room property. The long moth-balled skeleton structure between Encore and SLS on the east side of the Strip was sold for $600 million.
— 100-well-heeled Vegas VIPs are paying $200,000 a couple to fly today (Sept. 5) to Rome where they will be met tomorrow (Sept. 6) by Camille and Larry Ruvo of our Keep Memory Alive charity that is the fundraising arm of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. Singer Andrea Bocelli and his wife Veronica will also greet the philanthropic donors to the Italian Affair. The celebrity guests traveling on the private 767 Boeing aircraft donated by another Vegas tycoon include rockers Steven Tyler and The Band Perry, jazzman Chris Botti, singers Reba McEntire, Brooks and Dunn, actresses Sharon Stone, Susan Sarandon and Bo Derek, former royal Sarah Ferguson, musical conductor David Foster, TV personality Katie Couric and actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Sir Elton John will fly in from London on Friday to perform with Andrea Bocelli in the real world-famous Colosseum. The president of Italy, Sergio Mattarella, will welcome all the guests to his residence, the Palazzo del Quirinale on Thursday.
— It’s now definite that “Laverne & Shirley” star Cindy Williams will stay on in Vegas as a guest star in the “Menopause” musical at Harrah’s. Fans have been snapping up tickets and the demand has been so strong that producers asked her to continue performing through Dec. 16.
— The third annual RISE Lantern festival will be held Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 7-8, at the Moapa River Reservation, 35 miles north of downtown Vegas. But from now until Friday, Oct. 6, people that are unable to attend can still share their hopes, wishes and prayers. They can post them on Instagram along with a photo and then the RISE team will print them on small cards and send them skyward during the lantern release. Over 10,000 people are expected to attend the live ceremonies of releasing the lanterns into the night sky.
Killing with a butter knife?
Historic Vegas comes to life during the Oscar Dinner Series with former city of Las Vegas mayor and mob attorney Oscar B. Goodman at Oscar’s steakhouse inside the Plaza. Next Thursday’s dinner (Sept. 14) will feature Oscar discussing “Humor in the Middle of Mayhem and Murder.”
He will reveal:
— the city councilman who tried to kill federal agents with a butter knife;
— which judge rode shotgun in a police car with a machine gun
— how his Rolls Royce was seized by government agents
— and who pretended to be a gorilla during a trial.
“This is just a taste of the stories to come,” Oscar told me at yesterday’s Jerry Lewis memorial celebration of life ceremony.
As Oscar sips his famous martini, guests will enjoy a gourmet three-course meal paired with red and white wines while listening to his extraordinary experiences as a criminal defense attorney that have become hallmarks of our city’s unique and fascinating history.
To attend RSVP or for more information call 702-386-7227 or email RSVP@playlv.com. His Oscar’s Beef ∙ Booze ∙ Broads restaurant is a glamorous and unique steakhouse inside the iconic dome of the Plaza Hotel and Casino that overlooks the lights of Fremont Street and downtown Las Vegas.
Donny Osmond and sister Marie return to their residency run at the Flamingo through Oct. 7. … A history of organized crime’s use of guns will be displayed and the subject of discussion at “The Mob, the Law and Firearms” at downtown’s Mob Museum. … DJ Kayper will control the mischief that abounds at the Drai’s Swim Night party atop The Cromwell.