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November 24, 2014

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LAS VEGAS AT LARGE:

Longtime pal recalls Danny Gans

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Steve Marcus

Entertainment manager Chip Lightman.

Danny Gans

Singer, impressionist and comedian Danny Gans, shown performing at the Encore Theatre on March 20, died suddenly Friday at his home in Henderson. Launch slideshow »

Coroner rules on Gans' death

Clark County Coroner Michael Murphy discusses the cause of death Tuesday afternoon of Las Vegas entertainer Danny Gans. Launch slideshow »

In 2009 entertainment manager Chip Lightman saw the act he helped bring to Las Vegas, “Donny & Marie Osmond,” vault to the top of Strip entertainment at the Flamingo Las Vegas as one of the city’s top-selling productions, and he helped broker the deal that brought Garth Brooks to Wynn Las Vegas.

But for Lightman, 2009 will most be remembered for the death of one of his closest friends and the man he managed for nearly 18 years, Danny Gans. The 55-year-old impressionist died in May from a combination of a pre-existing heart condition and an overdose of the painkiller Dilaudid.

Lightman talked about Gans during an hourlong interview in the VIP section of Le Reve Theater at Wynn Las Vegas.

Go back a year ago. What do you see?

I see Danny’s show closing at the Mirage, I see everyone onstage, including myself, taking a final bow in the theater. It was a very happy time.

What was your biggest concern at the time?

The biggest concern was the room (Encore Theater). People said it was a bad-luck room, it’s cursed. Dan was saying, “ ‘Spamalot’ didn’t work, ‘Avenue Q’ before ‘Spamalot’ didn’t work. Nothing has worked, and they were very good shows.” My response was, maybe it hasn’t worked because they were trying to do Broadway in Las Vegas, and Broadway just wasn’t working in Las Vegas. And we immediately started selling 1,200 seats a show. When we’d sell out, he’d text me and ask, “What are you giving away — hot dogs or something?”

How did he seem to you in the days leading to his death?

A few days before he died, I said, “You don’t look like you feel well.” He said, “I’ve been fighting something. I’m just drained beyond drained. My shoulder has been acting up, the kids are sick, everyone around me is sick.” The Wednesday night before he died — we always sat and met before onstage, usually at 7:10 — and he didn’t look good. He looked worn out ... But he had just finished his book (“The Voices in my Head”), and we had plans on Friday to go over photos and acknowledgments.

How did you learn of his death?

I get a call at 3:15 in the morning, and it’s Julie, his wife, and she goes, “Dan is gone.” I’m like, “What!?” At that moment, it was like I was dreaming. I didn’t think I was awake and on the phone, and then I go, “What do you mean?” And she said, “Danny died, Chip.” I’m saying, “No.” She said, “Call whoever you have to call and let them know, and I’ll talk to you later.”

I asked, “When did it happen?” She said, “A couple of hours ago.” I’m like, “Whoa!” I hang up, and I immediately go into the bathroom and look in the mirror. I’m thinking, “I’m awake!” I go back and check my cell phone, and see that the number was dialed, and the time — I know it sounds absurd, but this was so surreal — and thought, “This really happened.” All Julie said was, Dan had stopped breathing. “Dan’s gone, he’s stopped breathing,” is what she said.

Your first call out was to Channel 3 entertainment reporter Alicia Jacobs. Why was she the first person you called?

I had collected my thoughts, and I thought, “OK, how do I get the word out? Do I get Steve Wynn up at about 4 in the morning and tell him? Or do I call (Wynn Las Vegas spokeswoman) Jennifer Dunne? ... I finally just called Alicia. She was the first person I thought of to get the word out, get it on the air, and I knew her number. When something like that happens, you’re in shock. Danny had just done an interview with her, and she was fresh on my mind when I thought “media.” I thought, “I’ll just call Alicia.” They were friends, too.

What were you focused on in the days following his death?

The next week was just a blur. Just horrific, people saying he was a drug addict, and I’m saying, “If he was, I am the stupidest person ever, because I didn’t see it.” But I knew I had a job to do, Dan wanted to get this book out, get it out now, get it done. I met with the family the next day, I know this is a horrible time, but Dan would have wanted to get this book out. I need to go out and get pictures together and get this book out.

At the end of his life, Danny looked really bulky, a lot bulkier than he did a decade earlier at the end of his run at the Rio. Was he a steroid user?

People said to me, when the coroner’s (report) hadn’t come out yet, “We know he’s doing tons of steroids, and he had bulked up like the Hulk,” and all this stuff. And you know, if Dan did that, he didn’t do it around me. If Dan took any steroids, it was for his voice, to lessen the inflammation on his vocal chords ... He worked out five days a week, and he had a 2,000-square-foot gym at his house.

We learned after his death that Danny had a lot of health problems during the latter part of his life. Were you aware of these?

Dan had a lot of issues, physically. A lot. He had high blood pressure, which was hereditary. His father had two heart attacks. He had a condition called polycythemia. It’s a thickening of the blood, opposite of anemia. What he would have to do is go to a doctor every four weeks, and a lot of times take a pint out to make it less thick. It has a lot of other effects on the body. It is not a good thing to have.

He had baseball injuries, a shoulder injury that bothered him. He got in an accident — very few people knew about it — a garbage truck rear-ended him, during his Mirage run, about eight years ago. It really tweaked his back. He had a motorcycle accident, and then he had two car accidents separate from that, and he was saying, “I’ve got a bull’s-eye on my back!” He felt like a battering ram.

Between all this stuff, he started having tremendous pain and he couldn’t take pain medicine because it dried his vocals out. So he’s in a Catch-22, he’s in terrible pain, he’s stretching and doing everything he can do to keep his body in shape, but there’s still this terrible pain. On vacation was the only time he would ever take any pain medication.

The coroner’s report stated that Danny had a “toxic reaction” to this very potent painkiller.

But that’s what’s so weird about Dan’s death to me. I understood that he had a toxic reaction to it. I didn’t know what the heck he was doing taking it. To this day, I don’t know what he was doing taking it.

The question has been, was it that he took too much, or that he took it at all?

No one answered that question for me, either.