Friday, Aug. 24, 2018 | 8:47 a.m.
At a time when rampant recession was blamed for the loss of jobs and the fear of homelessness was becoming a concern among the middle class — a time when it seemed to so many that the rich were getting richer and the poor, poorer — British-born American journalist Robin Leach each week brought into millions of U.S. homes images of the opulence of the well-to-do.
Leach, via his TV show, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” which broadcast 76 episodes between 1984 and 1995, would show off celebrity mansions, cars and other toys of prodigious materialism. Even the most destitute of viewers desperately clung to hope that one day they too would enjoy Leach’s often shouted catch phrase: “Champagne wishes and caviar dreams!”
Robin Douglas Leach, who ushered in a new era of celebrity adulation, and in the process became through his popular television program the catalyst for today’s public obsession for in-depth media coverage of superstar entertainers, sports figures, royals and the business world’s magnates, died this morning at the St. Rose Dominican, San Martin Campus, where he was under the care of Nathan Adelson Hospice. The Clark County coroner said Leach died of natural causes, specifically end-stage cerebrovascular accident (a stroke). He was 76 and had suffered a stroke in 2017 that brought to an end his days as a journalist.
Leach was a columnist for Greenspun Media Group and the Las Vegas Sun from 2008 to 2016.
“Although Robin will be remembered primarily for his work with celebrities through 'Lifestyles,' he was one of the hardest-working journalists I ever knew,” said John Katsilometes, a colleague of Leach's at the Sun and later the Las Vegas Review-Journal, where the two worked as entertainment columnists.
“Robin was a very determined and dedicated journalist.”
But critics of "Lifestyles" — and, therefore, critics of Leach — claimed Leach too often illustrated the excesses of the superwealthy to the point of celebrating the wasteful extravagance of abundant lavishness. And that served only to magnify the seemingly glaring apathy of the mega-rich toward the many people who were struggling to just barely make ends meet.
To stifle his critics, Leach once musingly commented, “Nobody would watch (a show called) 'Lifestyles of the Poor and Unknown.'"
And there is no question that Leach’s celebrity far outlasted that of many of the stars of the 1980s and ’90s that he profiled — and glorified — but whose fame eventually waned.
In his later years in Las Vegas, when Leach himself was rich (a multimillionaire) and famous (often more so than the subjects he wrote about), Leach was just as dedicated to his profession even though he was 30 years removed from the show that had brought him international fame and sparked scores of similar entertainment news programs that still proliferate the airwaves.
Katsilometes said Leach never lost “the eye of the journalist.”
“Robin started 'Lifestyles' after interviewing celebrities in their homes and looking around and seeing all of the fine things they possessed,” Katsilometes said. “He figured that if those nice things interested him, they likely would interest millions of other people. It took a journalist’s eye to notice the things that Robin noticed. He fully understood that the devil was in the details.
“The last few years that Robin was doing what he did — and working so hard at it — was at a time when he did not need the money. He just wanted to be remembered as a good newspaperman.”
Katsilometes said one sad footnote to Leach’s life was that as the years passed, Leach became a silly caricature of himself — often spoofed by comedians like Dana Carvey on "Saturday Night Live" — such that in his later years many people did not take what he had to say or write seriously.
Still, that did not stop Leach from becoming a strong voice for Las Vegas’s entertainment landscape, extolling the Strip’s vices and virtues to the world, via television, his column and on social media.
“It’s alive here (in Las Vegas),” Leach told The New York Times in a 2014 story. “It’s throbbing. And I want to do my part to get the story out.”
In addition to writing about celebrities for the Sun, Leach, a connoisseur of fine foods who helped start The Food Network in the early 1990’s, wrote about Las Vegas’s many gourmet restaurants and the top-flight chefs who through the years took up residency in Southern Nevada.
Born Aug. 29, 1941, in England, Leach began his journalism career as a teenager attending a grammar school about 10 miles from London, where he edited the school’s magazine. By age 15, he was a reporter for the Harrow Observer. At age 18, Leach was one of the youngest reporters ever for the London Daily Mail.
In 1963, at age 22, Leach came to New York where for a brief period he sold shoes before landing a writing job at People magazine. He also penned stories for the Ladies Home Journal and the New York Daily News before starting Go Magazine. Leach later became the show business editor for The Star.
Leach’s other television credits include serving as a reporter on “People Tonight,” “Entertainment Tonight” and “Good Morning Australia.” For the Fox Network, Leach hosted a tell-all program about pop superstar Madonna. Leach also co-hosted the Lifestyles spin-off, “Fame, Fortune and Romance” with future "Today" show host Matt Lauer.
But none of the work Leach did could equal that of "Lifestyles," which made Leach a pop culture figure and household name — and the envy of male viewers as he often was surrounded by gorgeous bikini-clad women lounging in and around hot tubs and popping Champagne corks.
The celebrities he profiled were numerous and from varied backgrounds. Among Leach’s guests through the years were Elizabeth Taylor, Paul Newman, Jerry Lewis, Walmart founder and owner Sam Walton, flamboyant fitness guru Richard Simmons, Bill Cosby, Whoopi Goldberg, Sophia Loren, Prince Charles, Yoko Ono, Wayne Newton and B.B. King.
When Leach wasn’t showing off the celebrities' homes and their possessions, he was following them around the world, most notably, Dr. Ruth Westheimer to China, Brooke Shields to Kenya and Jonathan Winters to Alaska.
After 11 years as the solo host of "Lifestyles," Leach was joined by actress Shari Belafonte for the final season. The show’s name was changed to “Lifestyles with Robin Leach and Shari Belafonte.”
Leach played himself in a number of TV show appearances. Perhaps the most memorable was when he appeared on the “Roseanne” episode in which the Connor family won the lottery. One of Leach’s lines was the spoof of his catchphrase, “Beer wishes and nacho dreams.”
On a 2012 commercial for Old Navy clothing, Leach appeared as himself alongside Olympic figure skating medalist Nancy Kerrigan.
Leach also was mentioned in numerous song lyrics, including The Notorious BIG’s “Juicy,” Fergie and Ludacris’ “Glamorous,” and Jimmy Buffett’s “King of Somewhere Hot."
In 2014, the Nevada Broadcasters Association honored Leach with the inaugural Mark Smith Ambassador Award, named for the longtime Channel 8 executive and former president of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce.
A philanthropist, Leach had donated to — and raised money for — such Las Vegas charities as Opportunity Village, which trains and provides jobs for developmentally disabled individuals, and Keep Memory Alive, which is an advocate organization for people with brain diseases, including Alzheimer’s.
Ed Koch is a former longtime Las Vegas Sun reporter.