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October 30, 2014

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Larry Ruvo’s power of persuasion makes ‘Power of Love’ a philanthropic force

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Kristen Peterson

Larry Ruvo, left, leads a tour of the nearly complete Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health for architect Frank Gehry, seated, in April 2010.

2012 KMA Power of Love Tribute to Ali: the Gala

Siegfried & Roy at the 2012 Keep Memory Alive Launch slideshow »

These galas roll around each year, one bigger than the previous, the celebrity power and money raised more astounding with every Keep Memory Alive “Power of Love” event.

Saturday night at MGM Grand Garden Arena is no different for the annual “Power of Love” gala to raise funds and awareness for Keep Memory Alive, which is the charity arm of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. The auction, dinner and live performance honor a pair of giants in the entertainment industry: Sir Michael Caine and Quincy Jones.

These two are celebrating their 80th birthdays, which were actually March 14. The list of presenters and performers is as stacked and staggering as any in the history of the gala, which has seen the onstage reunion and send-off of Siegfried & Roy in 2009 and the celebration of Muhammad Ali’s 70th birthday a year ago.

The most recent official list of those scheduled or expected to appear, perform and pay tribute in some capacity on Saturday: Alfredo Rodriguez, Amy Poehler, Andreas Varady, Arsenio Hall, Babyface, Bebe Winans, Chazz Palminteri, Cindy Crawford, Carlos Santana, Chaka Khan, Chris Tucker, Emily Bear, Gayle King, Greg Phillinganes, Herbie Hancock, Jackie Collins, James Ingram, Jaime Camil, Jason Derulo, Jennifer Hudson, Jordin Sparks, Larry King, Marcus Miller, Nikki Yanofsky, Patti Austin, Paulinho Da Costa, Peggy Lipton, Pia Zadora, Rande Gerber, Rashida Jones, Siedah Garrett, Siegfried & Roy, Snoop Dogg (aka Snoop Lion), Steve Schirripa, Tom Scott, Vinnie Colaiuta, Whoopi Goldberg, Will McCormack, Barbara Davis, Franco Harris, Gordon Ramsay, Guy Laliberte, Joseph “McG” Nichol, Romero Britto and Steven Lagos.

Unknown at the moment is the status of other superstar guests expected to appear, but, as in years past, surprises are the order of the night at “Power of Love.”

The formidable lineup discounts the hyper-powerful and influential guests in the room who might not be hyper-famous. The “Power of Love” gala is what I like to call a “meteor” event. As in, if a meteor were to wipe out the room, the city of Las Vegas would grind to a stop. And I’ve long said Ruvo is the best-connected individual I know in the city, which is to mean he has the highest volume of close friends who happen to wield power.

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Rande Gerber, Cindy Crawford, Stefanie Graf and Andre Agassi at the 2012 Keep Memory Alive "Power of Love Gala" tribute to Muhammad Ali's 70th birthday at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2012.

An example of Ruvo’s influence: Among athletes, Andre Agassi is the model — certainly in Las Vegas — for philanthropic activity. The tennis legend seems to be close friends with every Vegas power player; longtime family friend Kirk Kerkorian donated $18 million at the most recent “Grand Slam For Children” event in 2011. And Agassi considers Ruvo his own mentor for raising money for worthy causes — in Agassi’s case, his Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy and its charity foundation, the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education.

At last year’s KMA event, Agassi said of Ruvo: “He’s been a leader for me from the very beginning. First of all, his involvement in my own foundation has been a huge reason for its success. But tonight, this blows all the others away. Forget it, this redefines what we can do in Las Vegas. It’s incredible.”

How does Ruvo forge such strong relationships, exactly? His approach is so simple, hearkening to the days of the Venetian.

“It’s handshake agreements,” he says. “It’s developing friendships. It’s keeping your word and following through. It’s remembering friends. It’s all of those things I learned growing up watching my dad at The Venetian.”

He talks of the Venetian restaurant, not the resort on the Strip. The Venetian was an Italian restaurant owned by Lou and Angie Ruvo that opened in Downtown Las Vegas in 1955, then moved to West Sahara Avenue and Valley View Boulevard in 1966. Today, the building is home to Herbs & Rye.

Throughout the Ruvos’ ownership, the Venetian was popular among those individuals who helped make Las Vegas such a distinctively alluring destination. Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin were among regulars at the restaurant. The Venetian stayed open very late to cater to straggling Rat Packers, and even as a kid Larry Ruvo had some very famous friends.

“My dad was very personable and had a lot of integrity, and this was very important to him at the restaurant,” Ruvo says. “It’s how he put food on the table, but he really loved what he did, too.”

So it is fitting that the honorable spirit of the elder Ruvo lives on today in his son’s life passion: treating and curing the types of diseases that claimed his father’s life. Lou Ruvo died in 1994 of complications of Alzheimer’s disease. Ever since he first fell ill, Larry Ruvo, who today heads up Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada, has sought to fight neurodegenerative diseases.

Since launching in 1994, more than $100 million has been raised to build the medical structure designed by Frank Gehry and fill it with the greatest medical professionals available to combat brain disorders.

The center’s director, Dr. Jeffrey Cummings, arrived in Las Vegas three years ago. He had served as director of the Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer's Disease Research at UCLA and is known across the country for his research of brain disorders related to Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.

In February 2012, Ruvo tabbed Dr. Stanley Prusiner, then the director of the Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases and professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco, to be the chairman of the center’s Scientific Advisory Board. Prusiner won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1997 for his research on the cause of mad cow disease and its human equivalent, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

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Steve Lawrence, Eydie Gorme and Larry Ruvo at the Honor Wall at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health on Wednesday, March 13, 2013.

Carlos Santana, Bono and Stevie Wonder are exciting, no doubt. But Ruvo is as passionate about his medical team as he is about the superstars who lend their time and fame to the gala.

“This is all about raising money to go toward the clinical trails and benefit the world. When I got Jeff Cummings to come to Las Vegas and when I got Stanley Prusiner to move to Las Vegas to join in this fight, I began to think worldwide,” Ruvo says. “I have to tell you, this is an international problem. It’s not a Las Vegas problem. It touches everyone.”

Ruvo says that when Cummings joined the medical team in Las Vegas, he began to consider a broader reach for the gala. Today he talks of an international telethon, similar to how the Muscular Dystrophy Association has raised billions of dollars over the decades via live TV.

This year, for the first time, the “Power of Love” gala will air live on cable TV. Produced by Bill Edwards Presents, the show will air on AXS TV at 9 p.m. on Saturday and again at 6 p.m. Sunday. Owned by Ryan Seacrest and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, AXS is available on CenturyLink Channel 1105, DirecTV Channel 340 and Dish Network Channel 362.

Also this year, a text component has been added to the in-person contributions being made. Text MEMORY to 80888 at any time before or during the show to donate $10 to Keep Memory Alive.

“The most important thing we’re doing that’s new is the ability to text and give, reaching out to homes around the world,” Ruvo says. “We would like for it to evolve, to an international telethon, to let people know what the Cleveland Clinic is all about and let them know there is hope out there.”

It’s a far wider scope, but for Larry Ruvo, the principle has never changed.

“It goes back to remembering names, remembering people, remembering their kids,” Ruvo says. “It’s taken down from my family, from my mom and dad. I just enjoy talking to nice people, and through that I am an ambassador for Keep Memory Alive. I’m like the Johnny Appleseed -- spreading the word and gospel, and I love it.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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