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Encore Theater packed one last time for Gans

Friends, family mourn entertainer at memorial service


Sam Morris

Elaine Wynn speaks at a memorial for Danny Gans on Thursday, May 21, 2009.

Updated Friday, May 22, 2009 | 12:32 a.m.

Danny Gans Memorial Service

Friends and family remember Danny Gans at the Encore Theater on May 21.

Danny Gans Memorial

People are reflected in a mirror as they head toward the Encore Theatre for a memorial for Danny Gans on Thursday, May 21. Launch slideshow »

As in life, in death Danny Gans filled the showroom.

More than 1,000 fans, friends and family members said goodbye to the much adored impressionist Wednesday afternoon at the Encore Theater –- which had been his home for barely four months when he died at his house unexpectedly on May 1 of unknown causes.

Celebrities such as George Wallace, Rita Rudner, Louis Anderson and Carrot Top shared the sorrow and the joy with fans from all walks of life.

In true Las Vegas style, it was a 90-minute memorial production filled with music and laughter and tears and reminiscing.

Elaine Wynn opened the private service with the observation, “Today, sorrow and joy share the same stage.”

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

His first show was at the Stratosphere. It lasted seven months and then he went to the Rio for three years, then he moved to the Mirage, where he stayed for almost 10 years. His show at the Encore started in February.

Steve Wynn recognized Gans’ talent early on. He owned the Mirage when he brought Gans there to headline. And then he brought him to the Encore.

“I marveled at the remarkable ability this man had to entertain,” Wynn told the audience.

But he was more than an entertainer.

“The Dalai Lama says, as an observation, if you experience enough of life you will come to the conclusion the only way to live a happy life is to make happiness for other people,” Wynn said. “I believe that to be true, and I can say with confidence that our friend Danny Gans had a most successful life.”

Speakers at the memorial also included pastors Gary Morefield and Benny Perez, Mayor Oscar Goodman, Donny Osmond and Gans’ children, Amy, 21, Andrew, 19, and Emily, 14.

In proclaiming May 21 Danny Gans Day, Goodman noted he was “the quintessential entertainer, and to the city of Las Vegas he was a wonderful partner ... If you asked Danny to do anything, he never said no.”

Osmond and his sister Marie perform at the Flamingo in a show that was produced by Gans and his partner, Chip Lightman.

“This doesn’t seem real, does it?” Osmond said. “It’s a very surreal experience.”

Osmond noted that Gans was an entertainer of the people, admired by the common man.

“He mingled with the average person,” he said. “I was on a service elevator by myself when a janitor walked in. He had a mop in his hand. He was filthy from working and he was tired. He recognized me and, with tears in his eyes, the janitor said ‘I’m going to miss Danny Gans.’ That meant more to me than any one of his colleagues saying they would miss Danny. He was able to reach everyone.”

Osmond announced that he would be hosting the Danny Gans Run for Life in October, a charity that raises money for childhood cancer research.

“I have been honored to keep his legacy alive in this one specific area,” he said.

The Victory Choir sang “Oh, Happy Day” and then Gans' children spoke about their father, giving fans a peek behind the curtain into their personal lives.

With tears and laughter they told about some of his quirks, talked about his strengths and about what a joy it was to have him as a father.

“The loss is so devastating and hard to comprehend,” Amy said. “The only way I can be at peace is to have faith in the Lord. My dad would not want me to be sad. He would want me to rejoice knowing he was with the Lord.”

Among the mourners was 51-year-old Laurie Pollock, who lives near Sacramento. She went to high school with Gans in Torrance, Calif.

He was a year older, graduating in 1974. They were among 2,500 students, but knew each other well.

“Danny had a crush on me when I was 15 and he was 16,” she said. “But we never dated or anything. We were just very close friends.”

She knew him because Gans and her brother were on the baseball team. Pollock never thought her friend would become an entertainer.

“His focus was professional baseball,” she said. “He wanted to be a professional. His parents were in vaudeville, his dad was a comedian, his mom a singer, so he had that in his family. It was part of his personality.

“I never saw this, but my brother said on the bus to and from baseball games Danny would do little standup comedy routines, some impressions. Not so much singing. That came later.”

A shoulder injury early in his baseball career caused Gans to switch to entertainment.

Pollock lost track of him until one day in the early '80s she was living in Hermosa Beach, Calif., and heard an ad on the radio announcing Gans' engagement at a theater in Santa Monica.

“I called him and left a message and he called me back and started talking to me in a Sylvester Stallone voice,” she said.

Gans got her tickets to that show and a dozen more over the years after he landed in Vegas.

She was in Hawaii when she heard about Gans’ sudden death.

“I was there to attend a memorial service for my dad, another shocking situation,” Pollock said. “He died in a car accident.”

Gans passed away at about 3 a.m. on May 1, which was 11 p.m. in Hawaii.

“I’d already gone to bed,” she said. “When I woke up the next morning I had seven missed calls and several text messages. I heard it first through a text message.”

Pollock recalls that Gans was a popular athlete in high school.

“He was a good player, and he gave 110 percent at anything he did.”

In the lobby outside the theater, a long table was covered with paper for people to sign and write messages.

A few of the notes said:

- “To the kindest man in the world.”

- “Oh, Danny Boy, we will miss you.”

- “Your special gift to all will be remembered.”

- “Thanks for all the laughs, Danny.”

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