Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015 | 1 p.m.
When Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli usually takes the stage, it’s before an audience of thousands in a stadium, arena, park or an Olympic or Expo ceremony. In 2011, more than 150,000 Brazilians packed into an open-air concert, and his cold, rainy evening concert in Central Park with our Caesars Palace headliner Celine Dion drew more than 60,000 fans.
Celine said while introducing him during her Christmas special for “These Are Special Times” in 1998 that “if God would have a singing voice, he must sound a lot like Andrea Bocelli.” Record producer David Foster has often described Andrea’s voice as “the most beautiful in the world.”
He is a remarkable and generous talent currently on a tour that played MGM Grand Garden Arena last Saturday and ends this Sunday in Washington, D.C., promoting his new album “Cinema” with 16 hit movie tracks.
So it’s a rare and privileged moment in his globetrotting that he sits for a brunch with just a hundred or so fans and unexpectedly sings and plays piano for them. His visit came less than a week after Tony Bennett toured the Ruvo Center and agreed to be our honoree for next spring’s annual “Power of Love” gala.
Who else but our Southern Wines and Spirits head honcho Larry Ruvo and his wife Camille could pull that off as a brunch benefit at our beloved Keep Memory Alive charity that funds the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health downtown?
Twelve couples and yours truly shelled out $2,000 apiece to have our photograph taken with Andrea as part of the fundraising event. Other supporters donated $500 apiece for the brunch, which included Bocelli Family Vineyard wines. At the Ruvo Center, we now have a Rolando Brunelli Caregiving Program named after the late grandfather of Andrea’s wife, Veronica. He suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, which also claimed the life of Larry’s father, Lou Ruvo.
Andrea and Veronica have pledged their support to the caregiving program here at KMA, which is the latest of many continuing activities at the clinic aimed at providing education and support to family members and patients living with brain disorders.
In honor of their commitment to raise funds and awareness for KMA, a life-size, three-dimensional marble portrait statue of the superstar was unveiled. “Omaggio a Andrea Bocelli” was created by Gualtiero Vanelli, known as the “Marble Man,” from a 5-ton single block of stone from the same quarry as Michelangelo’s David statue in Florence.
Gualtiero, who also has sculpted a statue of Leonardo DiCaprio, told me it took him 6 months to make the masterpiece: “I only had him for a 20-minute sitting, so my computer captured all of his nuances and features. It was then 6 months of nonstop carving. The most difficult part is the head because that has to be lifelike and an exact facial copy. I left that to the last, so there was no way I could make the slightest mistake.”
Andrea, who has been fully blind since the age of 12 in a soccer accident although suffered from glaucoma from a nearly aborted birth, raised the gold cloth covering and ran his fingers over the statue, laughing: “I recognize this man.”
Celebrity chefs Alex Stratta, Luciano Pellegrini and Benoit Comet were on kitchen duty for the seven-course brunch that was served with six Bocelli wines including his Veneto prosecco, Venezie Pinot Grigio and the beautiful Tuscan Sangiovese. For nearly three centuries, the Bocelli family has made classic Italian wines on their estate in Tuscany near Pisa. To this day, Edi Bocelli, Mamma, enjoys working in the fields carefully hand-tying the vines. Some are more than 70 years old and have grown classic Tuscan varietals that have attracted visitors from all over the world.
Members of the UNLV Jazz group played for the gathering, and Andrea went onstage to thank them. It didn’t take more than a few seconds for him to pull up a piano stool and start playing and singing. Fashion designer Camille Flawless from Palazzo staged a runway show, with some models wearing bodices themed from the clinic’s “mind museum” Frank Gehry design.
The Cleveland Clinic became the medical partner of the Ruvo Center, which was designed by Frank in 2006. It opened in May 2010. By this year, we had achieved $250 million in fundraising since its inception. The medical center is dedicated to the pursuit of more effective treatments for brain diseases and to provide state-of-the-art care for patients and families affected by them.
Now the Bocelli caregiver program will enrich the lives of hundreds of caregivers isolated at home while providing essential care to individuals with declining cognition.
Larry told guests that Frank is already at work drawing initial plans for a much-needed expansion of the facility. “Every 70 seconds, someone in America is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s,” he said. “Between 7 million and 10 million people have Parkinson’s. Alzheimer’s ended my father’s life after a difficult journey of diagnosis and limited treatments and changed mine forever.”
The Ruvo Center accepted its first patient for treatment in July 2009 and has played host to celebrity and VIP supporters including Larry King, Muhammad Ali, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Since opening, the Ruvo Center has had more than 55,000 patient visits, now sees some 225 new patients monthly and is studying more than 30 clinical trials in search of a cure. It has reached capacity with waiting lists into the spring. Larry and his celebrity friends have begun plotting the next stages of the expansion, another remarkable gift to the Las Vegas community.
We’ll have details shortly of our next major “Power of Love” gala fundraiser with Tony as we celebrate his 90th birthday with an all-star musical tribute. Previously, we’ve had Quincy Jones and Sir Michael Caine celebrate their 80th birthdays there, Muhammad’s 70th, along with entertainers Siegfried & Roy making a historic return farewell performance, Barry Manilow, Gloria Estefan and this year Celine and Andrea.
At the “Power of Love” Gala in June, Andrea offered a staggering auction item — to join him in his home in Italy for a concert, followed by a papal visit and other Florence attractions. Bidding was so furious that 12 couples stepped up to pay $200,000 each to donate to Keep Memory Alive. Andrea has already promised to create a different auction package with him in Italy at our 20th anniversary gala scheduled for Saturday, May 21, which I am proud to reveal will be the 90th birthday salute to Tony with top recording stars including Lady Gaga.
Talking about “Brunch With the Bocellis,” Larry said: “This is truly a family affair. We are all about family here. We are happy Andrea’s mother is here with us. We met her when we were in Italy. She was so exhausted because that day she had bottled hand-corked 13,000 bottles of Bocelli Family Wine.
“There’s something really important where all this funding and money is going to because all of you in this room, if you don’t act as one presently, ultimately everyone in this room is going to be a caregiver for somebody with this awful disease.
“When Veronica’s mother came into this room today, I started seeing these giant tears, and I didn’t know Rolando’s story. She was his caregiver for 12 years. You know first-hand, Elaina, what it is to be a caregiver. Veronica knew first-hand, what it was to be a caregiver, too. Many of you may not be aware, but caregivers often die before their patients.
“They’re malnourished, sleep deprived, they’re stressed, so I said wouldn’t it be great if we could use some of this funding and create a program. So the Rolando Brunelli Program exists, and what we do is help people who are caregivers. There’s no research, there’s nothing more valuable than helping caregivers understand what their role is. We realize the importance of caregiving.
“Talk about emotions because that’s what happened when we were in Italy and Camille and I went to Andrea’s concert and we saw this magnificent marble sculpture, which comes from the same quarry that Michelangelo came from. I thought it would be very special to have it in Las Vegas. Andrea took me over to the sculpture to explain it, ran my hand over every curve.
“I knew that it had to be in Las Vegas and how important it was to Andrea. He gives so much to the world, I thought it would be very special to have something that was that meaningful to him and Veronica here at the brain center. It will now be here to mark his generosity and support.”
Andrea told us: “I’m very happy to be here, and I’m very emotional. As everybody knows, I’m not used to talking in front of people, but we feel like family here now. We were telling a friend yesterday that we didn’t have a reason to come to Las Vegas before we met you all, so thanks to Larry we now have a lot of friends.
“Thank you for everything you did for our family, for the wine, for the caregiving program that will support a lot of people. I await for all of you in Italy next September or whenever you’d like to come. You have a house in Tuscany now, so thank you.”
Larry explained the Italian trip: “Veronica graciously donated the trip to Italy and said it’s for ‘your ‘Power of Love’ auction.’ Those of you who went the first time ought to come back because it’s a completely different event we’re working on.” Tony Bennett, Reba McEntire and The Band Perry were just a few of the celebrities who joined the Las Vegas donors on the Mark Cuban private jet to Florence for the festivities.
Still one more surprise remained at this remarkable Sunday brunch, one for me. I volunteer for many projects at Keep Memory Alive and also donate all of my commercial endorsements and voice-over payments to its wonderful work. Larry told me two weeks ago that the center needed a new MRI X-ray machine, and I was fortunate to be able to make a Christmas gift donation to get that ordered and ready for delivery.
Larry walked me into the garden at the center and in recognition of the gift showed me a seat named for me for the clinic’s patients. I was speechless, as I prefer remaining quiet about my support there, but Larry wanted my sons and grandkids to know of my work for KMA.
I’d love to see more people volunteering and contributing to the work of Keep Memory Alive. It’s the largest neuroscience footprint in America with the No. 1 clinical trial programs in the country. The Lou Ruvo Center is recognized as one of the leading brain health centers in America. I believe, just like Larry, that the scientists and doctors who work here in Las Vegas will discover new treatments and eventually the cure!
June’s star-studded concert with Andrea and Celine, hailed as the best one yet, will take some beating, but we will pull that off with Tony Bennett starring at our 20th annual fundraiser. I talked with Tony about the festivities when he toured the center a week ago, and we’ll have that interview right here at Vegas DeLuxe next week.
Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.
Follow Las Vegas Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.
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