Thursday, April 12, 2007 | 7:27 a.m.
When Dr. Robert Buckley accurately diagnosed ailments afflicting two friends of Howard Hughes without even meeting them, he won a new patient: the reclusive billionaire himself.
By moving from California to Las Vegas, the doctor would land on easy street.
"I told Howard the guy had a successful private practice in California and that it would be difficult to get him to leave it and come to Las Vegas," Hughes' confidant and alter ego Robert Maheu said Wednesday. "Howard told me, 'I want that brilliant diagnostician by my side for the rest of my life.' "
Maheu said Hughes became impressed with Buckley after he correctly diagnosed - on the telephone - a strange illness that afflicted a relative of Hughes' wife, Jean Peters, and after he made another diagnosis by phone that resulted in life-saving surgery for Hughes' chief of security.
So Maheu gave Buckley a lucrative 20-year, $50,000-a-year contract to be one of Hughes' personal physicians. But the job lasted just two years, ending in 1970, when an ailing Hughes was whisked from Las Vegas.
Buckley, who went on to become a prominent Las Vegas internist and retired in 2003 as medical director of outpatient clinics at the University Medical Center, died Monday in Las Vegas. He was 83.
A memorial Mass for the Las Vegas resident of 39 years will be celebrated at 1 p.m. Friday at Our Lady of Las Vegas Catholic Church, 3050 Alta Drive. A private burial is scheduled for that morning at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City.
Aside from providing Hughes' internal medicine care, Buckley treated guests at Hughes' gaming properties, including the Desert Inn , Sands, Castaways, Frontier, Silver Slipper and Landmark .
"Dr. Buckley was a very effective physician for Howard Hughes' Las Vegas hotels," said Maheu, who ran Hughes' operation for most of Hughes' four-year stay in Las Vegas. "He developed procedures for providing customers the best of health care during their stay here."
Maheu, Buckley and other top Hughes officials were fired after Hughes was spirited out of his penthouse at the Desert Inn Hotel in November 1970 by aides who were collectively known as the "Mormon Mafia," put on a plane and flown to the Bahamas.
Hughes never returned to Las Vegas. He died on April 5, 1976, on a plane from Mexico to Houston .
Hughes' departure from Las Vegas under a veil of secrecy sparked a major legal battle that ended with the sacking of those who had fired Maheu, Buckley and others.
Buckley was born in New York on May 7, 1923 and served in the U.S. Army during World War II. After the war, he earned his medical degree from Georgetown University and moved to Southern California.
There he worked for Santa Monica's St. John's Hospital and Veterans Administration facilities, and had a private practice in Pacific Palisades.
Buckley also had a private practice in Las Vegas and, in 1983, became chief of internal medicine at Valley Hospital. In 1988, he went to work for UMC for 15 years, serving as chief of staff from 1989 to 1995.
Buckley was involved in several charitable organizations, including Helen Keller International and the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, and was a professor at UCLA and the Nevada School of Medicine.
Buckley is survived by his wife of 57 years, Barbara; nine children; a sister; and 29 grandchildren.
The family said donations can be made in Buckley's memory to the Haitian Health Foundation, 97 Sherman St ., Norwich, CT 06360.