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October 25, 2014

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Band member: Gans in ‘top form’ at final show Wednesday

Saxophonist says Gans had recent cold, but had recovered

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  • Russ Fons, Las Vegas Broadcast Center Bureau Chief, interviews Danny Gans in 1996
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Danny Gans

Singer, impressionist and comedian Danny Gans, shown performing at the Encore Theatre on March 20, died suddenly Friday at his home in Henderson. Launch slideshow »

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  • Gans talks about leaving the Mirage for Encore and working for Steve Wynn. (Jan. 2009)
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  • Gans talks about how the show's format allows for flexibility. (Jan. 2009)
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  • Danny Gans on how the economy is affecting the show. (Jan. 2009)
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Danny Gans at Encore

Danny Gans’ final performance was one of his best.

“He did as good a show as he’s ever done,” says Fred Champoux, a saxophonist in Gans’ band for the past nine years.

The performance took place Wednesday. The showroom was dark on Thursdays. His next show would have been Friday. Larry King’s wife, Shawn, was to have been a guest singer.

He died at home early Thursday of unknown causes.

“A couple of weeks ago he had a cold,” says Champoux. “Vocally, I could hear the difference in his voice but he comfortably made it through the shows, but Wednesday night he was in top form and did an amazing show. I remember after the show talking with our musical director, saying 'Wow, he was in really great form tonight.’ He said he agreed and 'I’ll see you Friday.’”

Champoux was still in shock. He’d gotten the news an hour earlier – at about 8 a.m., almost four hours after Gans was found by his wife, Julie.

“He was in top health. Before Wednesday’s show we had a Bible reading and then he was discussing with us a book he was writing with a friend and how positive the book was and how amazing it was going to be when it came out,” says Champoux.

Gans met with his crew before every performance for a prayer session, after which they would talk and exchange stories.

“There was no suspicion anything was wrong, not a clue that there was a problem, no indication at all that anything like this could happen,” Champoux says. “Now, to just this morning find out that he’s gone. It’s mind boggling. Shock doesn’t even begin to explain how I feel or how all of us are feeling.

“It’s devastating news. I am absolutely, completely stunned. My deepest, sincerest feelings go out to Danny’s family, his wife and his children. It’s devastating for all concerned.”

Gans, 52, spent 15 years on the road before settling in Las Vegas in 1996.

“I was a road warrior,” Gans said during his last interview with the Sun in January.

His first show was at the Stratosphere. It lasted seven months and then he went to the Rio for three years and then he moved to the Mirage. At the time Wynn owned the resort. After Wynn built the Encore, he invited his old friend to join him. The show premiered in February.

During that final interview, Gans indicated he couldn’t be happier and that he would never stop working.

“Retirement is a dirty word around here,” he said. “This is as good as it gets. How could I do any better than this?”

Gans was not known for hanging out with other performers. Most of his energy was put into his career, his family and a few charities, including the Danny Gans Champion’s Run for Life to benefit the Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation.

Steve Wynn was in New York when he got the news of his friend’s passing. In an official statement he said, “Elaine and I and all of us in the Company are devastated at the loss of our brilliant, talented and loving friend. One of the most unique human beings and entertainers in the world has been taken from us in an unexpected moment. A profoundly tragic event that leaves us all sad and speechless. The loss of Danny to his wife Julie, his children Amy, Andrew & Emily is at this moment impossible to comprehend. We will all try to go on with our lives without our dear friend. At this moment it seems almost impossible.”

Scott Sibella, president of The Mirage, said, “All of us in the Mirage family are deeply saddened to learn of Danny’s passing. We all knew of his devotion to his family and our hearts and prayers are with his wife and children.”

Champoux described Gans as “A phenomenal entertainer, a great humanitarian, a great person, a man of God. He’s going to be missed by everyone. This is not a loss only to Las Vegas but to the world. He had fans all over the world.”

He said Gans rarely drank and was very conscientious about his health.

“As far as I know he would take some antibiotics if he was sick or ibuprofen if he had a headache – once in a while he would drink a beer or a glass of wine, but he was super health conscious,” Champoux says. “He has a history of being an athlete and he’s maintained his athletic form. He worked out all of his life and he was a real stickler about that – he didn’t even eat pizza. It took such good care of himself.”

Gans’ earliest ambition was to play professional baseball. He was drafted by the Chicago White Sox after college but an injury ended his career before it got started and he turned to entertainment, making a name for himself in nightclubs and then on the corporate circuit before moving to Las Vegas.

Champoux says Gans was rarely ill, but had a number of surgeries as a result of various injuries through the years.

His death came in the prime of his career.

“He was really, really happy with the show and the beautiful Encore showroom,” Champoux says. “The people at the Encore are incredible, they couldn’t have been better in any way.”

Gans’ death is still sinking in. He hasn’t even had time to worry about his own future, how he’s going to support his family after a steady, 9-year gig.

“Danny changed my life with the opportunity he gave me to work with him,” says Champoux, who joined the band when Gans moved from the Rio to the Mirage. “I will never forget him. I will always honor his memory and I will always be extremely grateful for the opportunity he gave me.”

Chip Lightman was Gans’ manager and friend for 18 years. Together they produced other shows, including Gladys Knight and Donny & Marie at the Flamingo.

He too was stunned by the suddenness of Gans’ passing.

“It doesn’t even seem real,” says Lightman. “It’s unbelievable. I left my residence this morning and came up to the hotel and saw the picture of him on the marquee and that’s when I realized this is real. Steve Wynn and I were talking this morning. We can’t figure this out. It makes no sense, none what-so ever.”

Gans completed a CD and a DVD shortly before his death. Lightman says money from the CD will be donated to charity.

A DVD was made of one of the songs on the CD, “What a Wonderful World,” which included 10 voices ranging from Sammy Davis Jr. to George Burns.

“Danny’s family is grateful to the people of Las Vegas, as Danny was when he was alive,” Lightman says. “When he first came to the Stratosphere and was unknown the people of Las Vegas embraced him. When their friends and family came to town they came to the show - that’s why he had such success. Danny never forgot that, ever.”

Jerry Fink can be reached at 259-4058 or at [email protected].

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