Friday, June 6, 2003 | 9:12 a.m.
What: Golden Rainbow's 17th annual "Ribbon of Life."
When: 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Where: Paris Las Vegas Le Theatre des Arts.
Tickets: $25, $50, $75, $100, $175.
Information: (702) 384-2899.
Almost half a million people have died in the United States from AIDS since the infectious disease was first identified in 1981.
More than 2,000 of them were Nevadans.
Among the 2,000 was a dancer on the Strip, whose death in 1986 was a catalyst for the creation of "Ribbon of Life," the largest HIV/AIDS fund-raising event in the state. The unidentified performer died while living in his brother's garage, unable to afford housing because most of his money went toward the purchase of expensive drugs.
"I did not know the person," former dancer Jack Townzen said. "He was a dancer with 'Jubilee.'
"A lot of the cast members knew him and they decided they wanted to put word out around town with other shows and see what we could we do to raise money about him dying without a home. We kind of got together and talked about it and put on a show."
Out of that initial meeting grew Golden Rainbow, an organization formed to provide housing and financial assistance for HIV/AIDS patients in Southern Nevada.
To raise money for Golden Rainbow, the "Ribbon of Life" benefit show was created. To date, it has raised about $2 million.
The 17th annual "Ribbon of Life" production, "Hot, Hot, Hot," will be held Saturday and Sunday at the Le Theatre des Arts at Paris Las Vegas.
Townzen, a founding member of Golden Rainbow, is directing this year's show. It will be his seventh time in the director's chair.
"We get a tremendous amount of support from performers on the Strip," Townzen said. "Especially the show kids."
This year's show will feature nearly 300 performers, including representatives from "Folies Bergere" (Tropicana); "Jubilee!" (Bally's); "Midnight Fantasy" (Luxor); "Show in the Sky" (Rio); "Siegfried & Roy" (Mirage) and "Thunder From Down Under" (Excalibur).
Breck Wall, star and producer/director of "Bottoms Up" at the Flamingo, will be among those performing.
Stand-up comedian Rita Rudner and vocalist Loretta Holloway also will be among the cast of celebrities.
Rudner performs nightly in the Cabaret Theatre at New York-New York. In January, Rudner (who has authored three books) launched a syndicated daily TV show, "Ask Rita."
Holloway, noted for her velvety smooth voice, has opened for such entertainers as Bill Cosby, Whoopi Goldberg, Garry Shandling, Don Rickles and Jay Leno. This will be her third appearance in the "Ribbon of Life" show.
There is still a need to raise AIDS awareness.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, between 800,000 and 900,000 people in the United States have HIV.
In a 2001 report to the CDC, Dr. Helene D. Gayle, director of the National Center for HIV, STD & TB Prevention, noted that through the discovery of new medications and treatments, the infection rate was reduced dramatically in the early 1990s.
"Throughout the 1990s, major increases in new infections were prevented," Gayle wrote.
She noted that advances in treatment improved the length and quality of life for many of those infected with HIV.
Those advances may have taken the epidemic off the front page of the newspapers, but Townzen says the illness has not gone away, and victims still need help.
"In some ways it's more difficult today to raise money," Townzen said. "People seem to think that with a lot of new drugs on the market, this isn't quite the problem that it used to be.
"But the cost of some of those new drugs is what puts people in the position of having to ask themselves, 'Do I buy the medicine or pay the rent? Do I eat or do I buy my medication?' "
Those are the same questions people with HIV were asking 17 years ago, prompting the founding of Golden Rainbow.
"That's sort of where we come in," Townzen said.