Center’s painting thrills best friends

Larry Ruvo was a 20-year-old front desk clerk at Caesars Palace when he struck up a friendship with a guest who was in town as a part-owner of the Frontier.

“Even back then he gave a handsome gratuity,” Ruvo recalled on Wednesday.

Months later, Ruvo ran into his new friend in the Frontier before it opened.

“What are you doing here?” asked Ruvo.

“I’m the slot manager,” said Steve Wynn, then 25.

“I’m the night manager,” said Ruvo, whose father, Lou, was a close friend of Burton Cohen, the Frontier’s general manager.

“Forty-four years later, we’re still best friends,” said Ruvo, senior managing director of Southern Wine & Spirits, the nation’s largest liquor distributor.

Best friends, indeed.

What may have been the apex of their friendship came Saturday at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, Larry Ruvo’s tribute to his late father, who died of Alzheimer’s.

On hand was iconic painter James Rosenquist for the unveiling of his 20-foot-by-10-foot oil painting “Cervello Spazio Cosmico,” Italian for “brain space” at a private party for the donors.

Rosenquist’s involvement was the result of a tour of the brain institute that Larry Ruvo gave Wynn more than a year ago.

“This building is the sculpture,” Wynn told Ruvo. “You need one great painting and nothing more.”

Wynn brought up Rosenquist, who reportedly receives more than $10 million for an artwork commission. Standing next to Ruvo and Wynn was Libby Lumpkin, the center’s art curator.

“Libby said, ‘Steve, that’s way out of our budget,’ ” said Ruvo.

Undeterred, Wynn put in a call to Rosenquist, who turns 77 on Monday. When Rosenquist arrived at the Frank Gehry-designed brain institute, “he looked to the left and then to the right and said, ‘wow, wow, wow at least 20 times,’ ” recalled Ruvo.

Wynn commissioned the painting. Rosenquist, who has lost family members to brain disease, “was very touched by our project,” said Ruvo.

Wynn’s gesture was “overwhelming,” said Ruvo, who was running the Los Angeles Playboy Club when Wynn lured him into the wine business in the early 1970s.

“But I have to look beyond my own feelings and think in terms of what it means to the center,” he said. “It brings even more exposure to the Gehry building.”

To make his point, he recalled a recent visit by California first lady Maria Shriver, who was working on a feature for ABC.

The day the story aired, “the opening shot on ‘Good Morning America’ was our building with the headline ‘The most important building to open in Las Vegas is not a casino.’ “

Added Ruvo, “The epicenter against all brain diseases is going to be in Las Vegas.”


Another example of our community stepping up to the plate in these challenging times: At the 55th annual joint meeting of the Rotary Club of Las Vegas and the Kiwanis Club of Las Vegas on Wednesday at Lawry’s, their combined canned food goods drive blew away last year’s record of 134,000 cans. This year: 260,000-plus, with the Rotary Club collecting 203,237, up from 76,870 last year.


“Some people think Bristol Palin is only doing well on ‘Dancing With the Stars’ because of an organized effort by the Tea Party. I hope the Democrats will respond by helping Nancy Pelosi win on ‘Flavor of Love.’ ” — Craig Ferguson

Norm Clarke can be reached at (702) 383-0244 or Find additional sightings and more online at

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