Monday, Nov. 23, 1998 | 9:44 a.m.
"He had a certain way of making everybody believe they were his best friend," Gene Kilroy, a casino marketing host at the MGM Grand hotel-casino and longtime friend of the actor, said after hearing of Blair's death on Sunday.
Though Blair claimed to have small parts in more than 100 movies, he was best-known for the two Hollywood restaurants that carried his name in the '70s and '80s.
Blair failed to repeat his Hollywood success when he opened a new Nicky Blair's in Las Vegas in May 1996. Plagued by Blair's failing health and a contentious relationship with his partners, the restaurant closed in September 1997, reopened in January and closed again in September.
Born Nicholas Macario in Brooklyn, N.Y., the actor occupies a place in Las Vegas history for what was perhaps his best-known screen role: Shorty, Elvis Presley's sidekick in "Viva Las Vegas," the 1964 musical filmed on location.
His Las Vegas restaurant was adorned with signed photos from celebrities, such as one from Frank Sinatra made out to "the Star ... from his favorite bit player."
Blair had one pivotal line at the end of Sinatra's 1960 Las Vegas caper film "Ocean's Eleven," though his scene was filmed on the Warner Bros. studio lot and not in Las Vegas.
Blair's other film credits include "Hell to Eternity," "Operation Petticoat," "Rocky V" and "The Godfather Part III." He also was in the cast of the short-lived 1962 TV drama "Saints and Sinners," which starred Nick Adams. In June, he reportedly rallied from cancer treatments to film a brief role in the upcoming Clint Eastwood film "True Crime."
But Blair spent most of the latter half of his life entertaining his restaurant customers.
The restaurants grew out of his friendship with a gamut of stars, ranging from old Hollywood icons such as Edward G. Robinson to Clint Eastwood, who celebrated his 1993 Academy Award for "Unforgiven" at Blair's restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.
It started in the '50s, when "I used to cook dinners for all the big stars" at his house in Laurel Canyon, Blair told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Author Henry Miller was the conduit. "He was a good friend of mine. Everyone wanted to meet him, so through him I met everybody."
Sunday gatherings over Italian food at Blair's house led to restaurants carrying his name. His first Hollywood location opened in 1971 and burned in 1976. He reopened on Sunset Boulevard in 1986 and closed in 1993.
Blair's plans for a big Las Vegas opening were hampered by his cancer diagnosis.