Remembering Nevada newsmakers who died in 2018

Updated December 30, 2018 - 7:58 pm

Among the many Nevada newsmakers who died in 2018 were a former Nevada governor and U.S. senator, a celebrity columnist and TV host known for bidding his viewers “Champagne wishes and caviar dreams” at the end of his show and the namesake of The Smith Center for the Performing Arts.

We also said goodbye to a mob attorney, the patriarch of a popular reality TV show about a downtown pawn shop and the drummer of Pantera.

Here is a look at some of the notable figures who died this year:

Government and politics

Former Nevada Gov. and U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt, who was born in 1922 in Reno to a Basque immigrant sheepherder and his wife, died Aug. 6 at age 96.

During his service as Nevada governor from 1961 to 1967, Laxalt modernized the regulation of gambling in Nevada and pushed to allow corporations to own casinos, and helped garner support for the state’s first community colleges and its first medical school.

As a Republican U.S. senator from 1974 to 1986, Laxalt safeguarded spending for Nevada military bases, fought successfully against a plan to base intercontinental missiles in Nevada and Utah and zealously opposed the treaties that would eventually give Panama control of the Panama Canal.

Richard Kent Oram, longtime Nevada campaign manager for prospective governors, sheriffs, county commissioners and judges, died March 12 at age 77. Over a span of 36 years, Oram consulted on or directly managed more than 100 campaigns for city, county and statewide office. Among his clients was Gov. Brian Sandoval, who credited Oram for the success of his attorney general and gubernatorial campaigns.

Shirley Barber, a former Clark County School District trustee honored with a namesake elementary school in Henderson, died in late January at her home in Las Vegas after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to serving three terms as a trustee, Barber was a former educator and elementary school principal and chaired a number of committees in the county. Shirley A. Barber Elementary School opened for the 2018-19 school year.

Friends remembered Barber as a fierce advocate for children, especially those living in poverty, and a great mentor to younger administrators.

Brothel owner and Assemblyman-elect Dennis Hof, whose pursuits placed him in the political, business and entertainment arenas, died Oct. 16, the morning after celebrating his 72nd birthday. Hof owned five brothels in Nevada and dubbed himself the “Trump of Pahrump” when he ran for state assembly this year.

Hof won the Assembly District 36 seat despite having died three weeks before the election.

William Milton Anderson, former tribal chairman for the Moapa Band of Paiutes, died Jan. 28 at his home on the Moapa River Indian Reservation, 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas. He was 44.

Anderson led the fight to close a coal-burning power plant next to his reservation and replace it with the first utility-scale solar power facility built on tribal land in the United States.

Anderson was 26 when he became chairman of the tribal council in 2000, following in the footsteps of his grandfather and several uncles who also served on the council.


Stan Fulton, who founded Anchor Gaming and who donated millions of dollars to UNLV, including a $6.7 million gift to enable the construction of a building bearing his name on campus, died Jan. 4 at age 86. His namesake building houses UNLV’s International Gaming Institute.

Among Anchor Gaming’s biggest accomplishments was the creation of Wheel of Gold, the predecessor to the megahit slot game Wheel of Fortune.

Fred Daniel Gibson Jr., former CEO of Pacific Engineering & Production Company of Nevada, better known as PEPCON, died May 5. He was 90.

The longtime engineer died one day after the 30th anniversary of the historic PEPCON explosions that shook the Las Vegas Valley on May 4, 1988. Gibson, who was CEO at the time of the blast, retired from the post in June 1997 and served on the company’s board of directors until 2013.

His father, also named Fred, co-founded PEPCON in 1955.

Jerry Herbst, founder and chairman of the chain of local Terrible Herbst gas stations, died Nov. 27 at age 80. Herbst helped his family grow the Terrible Herbst company into 160-plus convenience stores, car washes and lube locations throughout Southern Nevada. He also ran businesses in gaming beginning in 2011, and he was described by peers as a pioneer of desert racing.

Felix Rappaport, whose decadeslong career as a resort executive included stints at Station Casinos, the Mirage, Treasure Island, New York-New York, Luxor, the MGM Grand and Excalibur, died June 18 at age 65. Rappaport moved to Las Vegas in 1991 after managing hotels in Pennsylvania, and took the strategies he developed overseeing Las Vegas resorts to Connecticut, where he became CEO of the Foxwoods tribal casino and worked to turn it into a major attraction with nongaming amenities.

Longtime criminal defense attorney John Momot, who represented mob figures and other high-profile clients, died at 74 on April 12 in Orange County, California. Momot practiced law in Nevada for more than 40 years, never turning down a client because of an inability to pay, and he played himself in the 1995 Martin Scorsese film “Casino,” according to

The Smith Center namesake Fred W. Smith, former chairman of the Review-Journal’s onetime parent company Donrey Media Group, died April 29 at age 84.

Smith, who had lived in Pebble Beach, California, in recent years, left a permanent legacy through The Smith Center for the Performing Arts, which opened in 2012 in downtown’s Symphony Park, thanks in part to $150 million in Donald W. Reynolds Foundation donations.


Marty Allen, 95, a comedian who gained fame performing in showrooms and on TV shows with stage partner Steve Rossi, died Feb. 12. The comedian, who had big eyes and wild black hair and leaned on a modified Louisville slugger in place of a cane, was a staple of TV variety shows, game shows and talk shows for decades starting in 1957.

Pahrump-based radio host Art Bell, 72, died April 13. Beginning in the mid-1980s, Bell captivated listeners with his fascination with the unexplained, including UFOs, alien abductions and crop circles, on his late-night AM radio show, “Coast to Coast.”

Bell retired from full-time hosting in 2003 and launched a satellite radio program from his Pahrump home.

Dave Dave, a respected Las Vegas artist who was badly scarred as a boy when his father tried to burn him to death in Southern California, died July 15 in Las Vegas. He was 42.

Dave, who was born David Rothenberg, was a close friend of Michael Jackson, who met him after the boy survived a 1983 attack that left him with burns over 90 percent of his body.

Pat Dingle, a former North Las Vegas police detective turned zoo operator, died Feb. 15 at age 71 after a battle with cancer.

His Southern Nevada Zoological-Botanical Park on Rancho Drive operated for 33 years. Dingle would describe the no-frills zoo decades later as a classic case of “a hobby that got carried away.”

Richard Harrison, who became known to millions of “Pawn Stars” fans as “The Old Man,” died June 25 after a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s disease. Known as the sometimes-grumpy, often-wisecracking patriarch of the show, filmed at the Gold & Silver Pawn shop in downtown Las Vegas, Harrison was 77.

Joe Jackson, father of Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson and their talented siblings died June 27.

Jackson, who lived in Las Vegas, took his family from poverty and launched a musical dynasty when he formed the Jackson 5 with five of his sons. Jackson, named Best Entertainment Manager of All Time in 2002 by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, had been battling pancreatic cancer before he died.

Celebrity TV host and columnist Robin Leach, who famously signed off each episode of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” with his signature catchphrase, “Champagne wishes and caviar dreams,” died Aug. 24 at 76 years old after suffering two strokes. He helped create “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” in 1974 and helped start the Food Network in 1993 before moving to Las Vegas to write for the Las Vegas Sun and, most recently, the Review-Journal.

Vinnie Paul, former drummer of the metal band Pantera, died from natural causes related to heart disease on June 22 at his Las Vegas home. Paul, 54, was the co-founder of Pantera and had been touring and recording with Hellyeah at the time of his death. Paul and Hellyeah most recently headlined in Las Vegas at the Foundry at SLS Las Vegas in June 2016.

Ghalib Ghallab, a respected and popular jazz pianist and composer who ruled Las Vegas’ intimate nightspots for 30 years, died June 15 in Las Vegas after fighting cancer for more than a year. He was 67. The keyboard great was well-known as a headliner in the early days of the 51st-level VooDoo Lounge at the Rio, and later at La Terrazza Restaurant lounge at Caesars Palace, among many other Strip and off-Strip nightspots.


David Humm, one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in Las Vegas prep history, died March 27 at Mountain’s Edge Hospital from complications of multiple sclerosis. He was 65.

After graduating from Bishop Gorman High School, Humm played football at the University of Nebraska, where he was an All-American in 1974, and then spent 10 years in the NFL, including seven years with the Raiders. Humm was the first inductee into the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame. Then-Raiders owner Al Davis flew in for the 1997 ceremony, as well as former Nebraska coach Tom Osborne. Humm also was inducted into Nebraska’s Sports Hall of Fame.

Royce Feour, a boxing writer who covered the sport’s most iconic fights for the Review-Journal for nearly 40 years and who is enshrined in at least four halls of fame, died Dec. 25 after a long illness. The 79-year-old Las Vegas native was honored in 1996 by the Boxing Writers Association of America and was a member of the inaugural class of the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame in 2013.

Dan Ayala, the most successful coach in UNLV women’s basketball history (109-23), died Sept. 17 at age 82. Ayala followed Jerry Tarkanian as basketball coach at Pasadena (California) City College, where Harvey Hyde was the football coach. All three would wind up at UNLV and experience considerable success. Ayala helped Tarkanian coach the Rebels before taking over the Lady Rebels.

Others in the Las Vegas sports realm who passed this year include former UNLV football player Kenny Keys, 25, who died July 26, and longtime baseball scout Manny Guerra, 88, who died Aug. 1.

Contact Kimber Laux at Follow @lauxkimber on Twitter.

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