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Published: Saturday, 5/2/2009

Las Vegas Strip performer Danny Gans dead at 52

ASSOCIATED PRESS

LAS VEGAS Singer, actor and impressionist Danny Gans, a one-time minor league baseball player who spent more than a decade as one of the most popular entertainers in Las Vegas, died suddenly Friday, authorities said. He was 52.

Gans was pronounced dead in his bed shortly after police and paramedics were summoned to a report of a man not breathing at Gans' upscale home in a gated community about 3:45 a.m., said Henderson police spokesman Todd Rasmussen.

Foul play was not suspected, but police were investigating "according to standard procedure," Rasmussen said.

Clark County Coroner Michael Murphy released a statement saying a medical examination would be done Friday, but it could take several weeks to receive laboratory results and determine the cause of death.

Gans' manager and longtime friend, Chip Lightman, said Gans was in good health but slept poorly after Wednesday's show and took a nap late Thursday afternoon, a day off. He stayed in bed into the evening, and his wife, Julie, summoned police when she couldn't rouse him after 3 a.m.

"This makes no sense," said Lightman, who said Gans had no apparent medical issues.

"I managed him 18 years and health was never an issue," Lightman said. "Danny lived a good, clean Christian life. He was not a drug user. He would have a glass of wine because they say red wine is good for you. He didn't smoke."

Lightman described Gans, who had a bit part as third baseman "Deke" in the 1988 classic baseball film "Bull Durham," as an energetic health nut who watched his diet, loved to perform, and relished his involvement in Las Vegas-area fundraisers and philanthropic causes.

Gans was mourned as a "great entertainer and Las Vegas icon," by two Las Vegas entertainment legends, Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Horn.

Like Gans and singer Wayne Newton, the careers of the German duo became synonymous with Las Vegas after they brought their acts to the Strip.

"We were blessed to be touched by his generous spirit, kind heart and insurmountable talent," said Siegfried & Roy in a statement that noted they all performed at The Mirage.

Daniel Davies Gans grew up in Torrance, Calif., met his wife in college in San Luis Obispo, and parlayed a comedy and impression routine he developed on bus rides as a minor league baseball player into a fledgling entertainment career, Lightman said.

"Danny at that time was just a fun guy on the bus," he said.

After Gans hurt his leg playing baseball, he made a first comedy club appearance on a dare. It worked, and he began honing his routine as a variety show performer in Palm Desert, Calif., before touring the country as a banquet performer for business groups.

In 1995, Gans began a one-man show, "Danny Gans on Broadway: The Man of Many Voices," at the Neil Simon Theater in New York.

"A hardworking, eager-to-please entertainer who does rapid-fire imitations of show-biz personalities ranging from Tony Bennett to Al Pacino to Sarah Vaughan," AP Drama Critic Michael Kuchwara said of Gans in a review.

"He's fun if you like your impressions in 60-second doses."

Gans' dexterity switching through the voices of John Travolta, Clint Eastwood, Rodney Dangerfield, Wayne Newton, Woody Allen, Robin Leach, Bill Cosby and others in "The Twelve Days of Christmas" impressed Kuchwara, who characterized Gans' humor as "the cozy comedy of ... nudge-nudge, wink-wink reaction."

The reviewer said a duet between Kermit the Frog and Jimmy Stewart made "a great twosome."

Officials at Wynn Resorts, where Gans had performed four nights a week at the 1,500-seat Encore Theater since Feb. 10, and at The Mirage, where he performed from April 2000 to November 2008, said they were stunned by Gans' sudden death.

"The loss of Danny to his wife Julie, his children Amy, Andrew and Emily is at this moment impossible to comprehend," said Steve Wynn, who installed Gans as a headliner when he owned The Mirage and hired him again to perform at Encore, a sister property to the Wynn Las Vegas.

Gans said in statement in November that reuniting with Wynn was a dream come true.

"I feel I'm at the top of my game and the best is yet to come," he said.

Wynn called Gans' death "a profoundly tragic event that leaves us all sad and speechless."

The large electronic marquee in front of the Encore posted Gans' photograph and the message: "Our friend forever, Danny Gans. 1956-2009."

Donny and Marie Osmond paid tribute to Gans at the end of their show Friday night before a crowd of about 600 people at the Flamingo Las Vegas.

They played a two-minute video of Gans performing songs from his act. At the end of the video, Donny Osmond said, "God bless you, Danny Gans." Gans was a co-producer of the Osmonds' show.

Gans worked his way up in Las Vegas, after deciding to leave Broadway in 1997 to be closer to his family in La Canada Flintridge, Calif., Lightman said.

He became a headliner at the Stratosphere hotel-casino, and the next year went to the Rio hotel-casino before Wynn brought him to The Mirage on the Strip.

"This town allowed Danny to go home and be with his family every night and not be on the road," Lightman said. "That meant the world to him, it really did. And Las Vegas embraced him and made him a household name."

Gans won entertainer of the year honors 12 times in 13 years in a Las Vegas Review-Journal readers' poll, his manager said, and his face was a fixture on billboards around the town.

He also became well-known as a host of Las Vegas-area charity events.

He held a pro-am golf tournament to raise money for the Danny Gans Junior Golf Academy, which funds golf programs for children, and helped raise some $250,000 to build the Lili Claire Family Resource Center to promote awareness of Williams Syndrome and other neurogenetic disorders and birth defects. Gans also hosted an annual 5K run and children's walk in Henderson to benefit the Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation.

Lightman said Gans was excited in recent weeks about plans to shoot a music video to accompany a compact disc he was recording using several voices to sing the song "What a Wonderful World," made famous by Louis Armstrong.

"It's got Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, George Burns as the voice of 'God,' Kermit the Frog, and closes with Louie Armstrong," Lightman said.

Lightman said it was among Gans' favorite songs.

"It was something he was so proud of," he said.



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