Saturday, Jan. 22, 2011 | 5:52 p.m.
You have friends in life who are maybe more like acquaintances, people you know in passing or those you’re familiar with through the cybersphere -- Facebook friends, or someone with whom you communicate via Twitter, text or e-mail.
Frank Lieberman was not a Facebook friend.
He was a real friend, someone I’d known for nearly 15 years here in Las Vegas, invaluable in so many ways I can’t begin to calculate. And I can’t believe I’m writing about him now in past tense, as my friend, and the friend of so many other figures in Las Vegas entertainment circles, died this morning in a private room at Summerlin Hospital. He was 68.
The official reason for his death has not yet been determined, but Frank had suffered from a number of ailments over the past few years. For years, he underwent dialysis treatments for failing kidneys, was diabetic (a condition that caused serious infection to both of his feet) and two years ago fractured a hip in a fall at his home in Summerlin. His physical decline accelerated early in the week, when he fell once more at his house and fractured his right shoulder. He was taken to the emergency room at Mountain View Hospital, fitted with a splint and released. But Thursday morning, his son Adam and wife Karen noticed that he was in an almost comatose state and summoned paramedics to return him to the hospital, this time Summerlin Hospital, where he was admitted into ICU.
Frank was moved out of ICU to a private room Friday night but Saturday morning fell gravely ill. Karen and Adam were called about 10 a.m. and told to make it to the hospital as quickly as possible. "But by the time we got there, it was too late," Adam said during a phone conversation today. "It was about 10:30, 10:45, and he was already gone." Frank's funeral will be Tuesday at Eden Cemetery in Mission Hills, Calif.
Frank was a longtime entertainment journalist and PR rep who covered Las Vegas for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner from the early 1960s until that paper folded in 1989. He decided to move to Las Vegas while working as a publicist on the film "Vegas Vacation," in 1997, and for nearly a decade was a publicist for Siegfried & Roy, leaving the duo shortly before Roy Horn was injured onstage on Oct. 3, 2003.
More recently, he had written for the Las Vegas Israelite newspaper and the online publication VegasInsideTips, where his two columns -- Let’s Be Frank and Vegas Scene -- were loaded with interesting tidbits about the Vegas entertainment industry. For decades, Frank helped set the mark for high journalistic standards and productivity in Las Vegas.
In his journalism and PR dealings, the man whose license plate on his red Chevrolet Trailblazer reads “PR GAME” had known practically every major performer in Las Vegas since the ’60s, having worked as a publicist for Sammy Davis Jr. in the early 1970s and had known or befriended such stars as Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, members of The Rat Pack, Tony Orlando, Engelbert Humperdinck, Barry Manilow, Wayne Newton, Shecky Greene and countless others.
Frank was particularly friendly with Clint Holmes and his wife, Kelly Clinton Holmes, and the couple visited him at Summerlin Hospital on Friday, saying that he was suffering from an alarmingly low blood pressure but that their visit lifted his spirits. It wasn’t until this morning that the gravity of his condition was fully felt, too late.
Frank was especially proud of his friendship with Elvis Presley. As a reporter with the Herald-Examiner, he gained unique access to The King and interviewed him backstage soon after he opened at the International (one of our running jokes is that I held on to the copy of that piece for a year, and actually still have it). The story appeared in the Feb. 8, 1970, Herald-Examiner. It was a shining moment for Frank, and over the years, Presley became so fond of Lieberman that he gave him an authentic “TCB” (Taking Care of Business) necklace, which he wore every time I saw him. Karen was given a “TLC” (Tender Loving Care) piece that same night.
It seemed that as Frank weakened over the years, our bond became only stronger, as he shared great tales of his relationships with stars and other journalists. His relationship with Elvis and The King’s inner circle helped lead to a memorable story I wrote a little more than a year ago, which coincided with Elvis’ 75th birthday. Frank was a significant voice in that piece, saying of Elvis, “I don’t think anybody knows, ‘Why Elvis?’ Maybe it’s this: It was his humanity. He’s saying, ‘For the amount of time I am onstage, I am with you.’ ”
The same could be said of Frank, too. I once joked that we had started a kind of “Tuesdays With Morrie” relationship, and he laughed and said, “Which one’s Morrie?” We attended shows and media events together, and over the years, we would run into each other at all sorts of performances and galas. We went, together, to Newton’s news conference announcing his show at Tropicana, and also the “Viva Elvis” press preview at Aria, where Frank was reunited with his longtime friend, Priscilla Presley. I got to wait on the sidelines for Frank to finish his chat with Priscilla -- the only journalist she spoke to that day -- so we could head back to his house, something he teased me about on the drive out of the hotel.
In a wrenching coincidence, just this morning, before I heard the awful news, I finished transcribing an interview with Presley for a Q&A piece pegged to her being honored as the 2011 Nevada Ballet Theatre Woman of the Year. At the end of that conversation, I said to Priscilla that we shared a friend in one of the journalists who would also interview her.
"I'm buddies with Frank Lieberman," I said.
“Frank’s lovely!” she said. “Frank use to help me with PR when I had my little boutique here in Beverly Hills and I was designing clothes. I love Frank. He’s a great guy. I actually saw him when he was in the audience when Cirque opened ‘Viva Elvis,’ and it was so nice to see him again. What great memories.”
What great memories. If there is a fitting tribute, from a fitting person to convey that tribute to Frank Lieberman, it would be that.
Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.