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September 15, 2014

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‘Barry’ Simon’s grandiose MSA charity event boosted by Bill’s Murray-ment

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Denise Truscello / WireImage / DeniseTruscello.net

Kerry Simon and Bill Murray attend the Simon Says Fight MSA benefit at Keep Memory Alive event center Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, in downtown Las Vegas.

Simon Says Fight MSA Benefit

Kerry Simon, second from left, and Bill Murray, right attend the Simon Says Fight MSA benefit at Keep Memory Alive event center Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, in downtown Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »
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Sammy Hagar and Sin City Sinners perform during the Kerry Simon "Simon Says Fight MSA" benefit concert at The Keep Memory Alive Center in Las Vegas on Feb. 27, 2014.

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Slash performs during the Kerry Simon "Simon Says Fight MSA" benefit concert at the Keep Memory Alive Center in Las Vegas on Feb. 27, 2014.

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Bill Murray hosts the Kerry Simon "Simon Says Fight MSA" benefit concert at the Keep Memory Alive Center in Las Vegas on Feb. 27, 2014.

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Kip Winger and Todd Rundgren performs during the Kerry Simon "Simon Says Fight MSA" benefit concert at the Keep Memory Alive Center in Las Vegas on Feb. 27, 2014.

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A general view during the Kerry Simon "Simon Says Fight MSA" benefit concert at The Keep Memory Alive Center in Las Vegas on Feb. 27, 2014.

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Sammy Hagar and Sin City Sinners perform during the Kerry Simon "Simon Says Fight MSA" benefit concert at The Keep Memory Alive Center in Las Vegas on Feb. 27, 2014.

There is that moment when you meet an idol face-to-face and you don’t really know what to say other than your hope that it is not something memorably stupid.

This happened Thursday night, near a temporary bar at a glamorous charity event in downtown Las Vegas.

I was leaning against that bar, standing and talking with a guy I have known for nearly 20 years, Dave Kirvin of Kirvin Doak Communications, experiencing justifiable awe for those who turned out for this event. We spent several minutes spot-checking all of the famous folks in the room, most of them genuine rock stars, at the Kerry Simon Says Fight MSA auction, culinary event and rock show.

The spectacle, at Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, was to honor chef Kerry Simon; the emcee was one of Simon’s famous friends, Bill Murray. The two worked together at a Little Caesars in Chicago, the original hometown of both men. As Murray recalled from the stage, years later he reconnected with Simon and asked the great chef where he got his start.

“Working with you, making pizzas, in Chicago,” Murray said from the stage. “I said, ‘Is your name Simon? I remember working with a Simon, but I just thought your first name was Simon.’ ”

Throughout the evening, Murray referred to Simon as “Barry Simon” or “Jerry Simon,” instead of his real name. At one point, Murray talked of his own personal plight as “one of the beautiful people who is suffering because I have a suite at the Palms that is about 15 percent bigger than this room, and no date. I have no one to share it with, and I am calling housekeeping just to have some company. ‘Hey, my towels are not folded right! Please come up here!’ So I don’t want to hear about Barry’s suffering …”

Minutes later, Murray vacated the stage as Sammy Hagar strode up to perform “No Mas Tequila” and “I Can’t Drive 55” with the night’s core band, The Sin City Sinners. He seemed to vanish during the set, and J.D. Fortune (wearing a ski mask to boost his artistic impact) took the stage.

Then, seemingly materializing out of thin air, Murray walked by us. Dave shook his hand; Murray then reached out to me and said hello. To which I coyly replied, “Hi … I’m John Katsilometes.”

“Hello there, John,” he said. Then he blinked twice and nodded just slightly, and if you know Murray, you understand that look. It’s sort of Murray’s way of saying, “Yeah, I’m impressed.”

As he moved along, I turned to Dave and said, “OK, I’m 13 again.”

That moment highlighted what was about a perfect evening, by any charity event’s standards. The lineup of rock stars was akin to a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame jam session.

Slash was there, oh yes he was, to join The Sinners on lead guitar. Kip Winger, who blew away Vamp’d a night earlier, soared on the bass. Alice Cooper, sporting his long black mane and ever-present walking cane, charged through “School’s Out” andTthe Stones’ “Brown Sugar,” explaining that he chose that song to honor Simon’s brown sugar-encrusted steak recipe.

Todd Rundgren sang “Hello, It’s Me” during his set, Vince Neil turned up with “Wild Side” and “Girls, Girls, Girls.” Matt Sorum, in the original Guns N’ Roses lineup with Slash, hammered away on the drums. Lisa Loeb and her acoustic guitar slowed the pace a bit, and at the end everyone joined for “Come Together,” which was dynamite even as the lyrics were fumbled by just about everyone (though Murray could be heard belting out the song as Rundgren pushed a mic in his face).

The assorted chefs were themselves rock stars in the cuisine culture. Represented at food stations in the room were Simon’s longtime business partner Elizabeth Blau and her husband, chef Kim Canteenwalla; Daniel Boulud, Charlie Palmer, Rick Moonen, Michael Mina, Megan Romano and Jean-Jeorges Vongerichten.

Mayor Carolyn Goodman stopped in to proclaim Kerry Simon Day in Las Vegas. George Maloof took the stage to talk of his long partnership and friendship with Simon, as Simon’s eponymous restaurant has a home at Palms Place.

All of the tickets available for the event, at a cost of $500 and $1,000, were sold. With ticket sales and auction figures tabulated, the event had approximately 450 attendees and raised nearly $525,000. The show was organized in fast fashion, just 10 weeks (and huge credit goes to Laura Herlovich, Alissa Kelly, Hilary Smoot and the team at PR Plus for managing the crush of media requests to promote the event), with the entire Ruvo Center bedecked in rock-star fashion.

The center bar was decorated with tall silver pillars, and looming high behind the stage was the beautifully powerful image of Simon crafted by the brilliant artist Rob Wells of Sixteen Fifty agency in San Diego. The event delivered on its vision to honor and pay tribute to Simon, who is fighting the neurodegenerative disease Multiple System Atrophy, which attacks and impairs the body’s autonomic (or involuntary) functions.

A highly respected chef and beloved personality in Las Vegas and across the country, Simon noticed weakness in his legs three years ago. He has been restricted to a wheelchair when moving around in public. He works through grueling, hourlong physical therapy treatments each weekday at the Cleveland Clinic and last week underwent a stem-cell transplant at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. He was to leave again for the Mayo Clinic this weekend for more stem-cell treatment, lasting up to two weeks.

Though he realizes the daunting challenges of facing a disease for which there is no known cure, Simon was in happy spirits all evening, from the event at the Ruvo Center to the after-party at his restaurant. Most of the rockers and celebs showed up, and the late arrivals included Criss Angel with his “Magic Jam” cast members Nathan Burton, Mateo Amieva and Banachek.

Simon greeted everyone with a smile and a handshake. At one point, he said to me, “This is something else, isn’t it?”

It was. And seated across the room, away from the din of the crowd, was Bill Murray. He smiled slightly, having made this a Las Vegas night to remember.

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

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