A couple years ago, I posted a blog about regrets I had in my life. “Regrets I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention” is a refrain from one of my favorite songs, My Way, by Frank Sinatra, but in no way, does it represent my first 60 years on this planet. I have had many regrets and most of them are of my own doing - or lack of doing. Many times, in life, a regret’s true cause is “lack of action.”
When I was on the staff at Western Carolina, our head coach, a native of North Carolina, used to talk about him and his wife going to see Elvis in concert. I had read an article entitled, I think (after all, it was over 30 years ago), “You gotta see these performers live before you die.” It was about whom the top three acts were. In no particular order, they were Elvis, Wayne Newton and Liberace. Each performance was spectacularly done, no expense spared.
It was during the first of my three years (1977-80) at Western when Elvis died. I can still remember where I was standing when I heard the news. Strangely, my first thought was, “Man, I’d better hurry because I don’t want to miss seeing him perform live.” Of course, it soon struck me that I was already too late. The funny thing was the real reason I wanted to go was just to say I saw the great Elvis in concert. In 1980, I left WCU to become an assistant coach at Tennessee, and if you think there was any controversy about who the king of rock ‘n roll was, just live in Tennessee for a couple of days - or a couple of minutes, if you ask the first five people you meet, “Who do you think was the King of Rock ‘n Roll?”
That same feeling came over me tonight as I sat down to watch a CNN program about the 100 Most Influential People this year. In the middle of it was mention that Danny Gans had died. Since I worked for Jerry Tarkanian for his entire seven year tenure at Fresno State, I got to meet many people from Las Vegas, especially when FSU and UNLV were in the same conference (the WAC). On one trip to Sin City, I’d seen many billboards and bumper stickers touting a sensational act, Danny Gans.
I asked my Vegas friends who this Danny Gans guy was and each and every person said, “Are you kidding? He’s far and away the most popular act in Vegas.” After asking what exactly it was he did, many of the people I questioned said, simply, “Everything.” I found out that everything meant - singing, dancing, comedy, impersonations, you name it. I also found out that he was an actor (he was performing in a one-man play on Broadway prior to making the move to Vegas so he could spend more time with his wife and three kids). Oh yeah, and he was an All-American in baseball at Cal Poly SLO and had played in the minor leagues before a career ending injury (which simultaneously turned out to be a career beginning injury - in show business). Naturally, someone this good would, in addition to all else, become a leader in the world of philanthopy. Was he this good?
Remembering my days prior to Western Carolina, I figured I’d go see this show that was getting rave reviews from everybody who’d lived in Vegas and I asked a friend who was in the business of finding tickets and “deals” for shows, meals and hotels how much tickets to a Danny Gans’ show was. I nearly collapsed when I heard the price, but my friend softened the blow when he said, “Don’t worry; you won’t have to pay that price.”
Beautiful! Another perk of working for and knowing Jerry Tarkanian. Except that wasn’t exactly the case. My friend said to me, “Like I was saying, you don’t have to worry about getting tickets to see him. You’re only here for three days and he’s sold out for over a week!”
“What?!?!?!” You mean he’s that good?”
My friend just laughed. Gans had been voted “Entertainer Of The Year” that year. And wouldn’t you know it? He’s been voted that honor every year since. Yup, 11 years in a row, Danny Gans had been voted Las Vegas’ Entertainer of the Year.
What kind of guy was he? In an interview with one of his closest friends, Larry King, Gans told a story of a painting his daughter drew when he was performing in a one-man play on Broadway. She’d drawn everyone in the family, pets included, but no Danny. When he asked his little girl, “Why is there a picture of our family, but daddy isn’t in it?”, she replied, “Oh, you’re in it daddy. There you are - at the top.”
At the top of the sheet he saw a picture of an airplane with a likeness of Danny’s face in one of the windows. That’s the day he knew, “If that’s my daughter’s perception of her dad, I’m working too hard and am away from my wife and kids entirely too much.” The move to Las Vegas really paid off when he hooked up with Steve Wynn and the dollars starting rolling in faster than they could count them. Until yesterday. After he was found dead in his bedroom, apparently dying in his sleep.
Of all the entertainers mentioned in this blog, I’ve only made it to see, in person, Wayne Newton. And his show is . . . breathtaking. Danny Gans was only 52 when he died, but he seemed to squeeze every last drop out of most of those years. He could be the person A. Sachs was talking about when he said:
“Death is more universal than life. Everyone dies, but not everyone lives.”