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July 22, 2014

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Jim Belk, one of Las Vegas’ most accomplished and popular musicians, dies at 47

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Jim Belk.

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Tyler Hunter, center, performs as Elvis Presley during a rehearsal for Launch slideshow »

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Robert Lyons, Carla Pellegrino, Martin Kaye, Marc Donovan, Felice Garcia, Tyler Hunter and Ben Hale at the grand opening of Launch slideshow »

Jim Belk played a vital role as a musician: He kept the beat. He made sure those playing around him were tight.

The tight-knit Las Vegas entertainment community is feeling his loss today.

One of the city’s most accomplished drummers, percussionists and music directors, Belk died Tuesday afternoon of a rare form of cancer known as plasma cell leukemia.

Belk turned 47 on July 12. He is survived by his wife, Megan, and two young daughters, Andress (age 12) and Eliza (age 10). Details on his memorial service are pending.

A widely beloved figure among entertainers across the city, Belk was best known recently for his role in the cast of “Million Dollar Quartet” at Harrah’s. Belk was cast as the drummer in the band performing behind during Las Vegas auditions and was in fine spirits and health during rehearsals leading to the show’s opening in January. He performed with the cast through the first week of April before stepping away to undergo treatment for what at the time was multiple myeloma.

To the dismay of his family and friends, Belk’s condition rapidly worsened. He was hospitalized for several weeks at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and last month returned to his home in Las Vegas when treatments failed to arrest advancement of his condition. Many members of the “MDQ” cast saw Belk and his family on Saturday, on what would be their final visit with him.

Belk was a busy performer, playing and writing charts for such entertainment luminaries as David Foster and Don Rickles. A wide array of those with whom he performed have posted their thoughts about Belk on his Facebook page. More than a decade ago, while serving as music director for “Legends in Concert,” Belk met and befriended eventual “America’s Got Talent” champion Michael Grimm.

Belk was the drummer and music director for Grimm through Grimm’s run to the “AGT” title, his U.S. tour with Steve Nicks in 2011 and this spring.

“If it weren’t for Jim, I wouldn’t … I wouldn’t be in Las Vegas, and that is a fact,” Grimm, who is on tour near Philadelphia, said today, his voice halting as he sobbed through the conversation. “He wanted me to play guitar behind the acts in the show. We go way back, he was a dear friend … and I’m just trying to get through this.”

A native of Rockford, Ill., Belk earned his master’s degree in music at UNLV and also was a busy drummer and music director on cruise ships. He performed at Red Rock Resort with Grimm this spring before taking a leave from that gig, too, in April.

“On our last night there, he said, ‘I am going to work to recover from this cancer I have,’ ” Grimm said. “But he never could come back. Our goal, as musicians, is to help watch after those kids and his beautiful wife, Megan. That’s all he was concerned about, and we told him we’d do that before he died.”

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

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