Justin M. Bowen
Published Tuesday, June 9, 2009 | 2:58 p.m.
Updated Wednesday, June 10, 2009 | 10:19 a.m.
The last act starred a head-shaven coroner and a physician who greatly resembles longtime Vegas stand-up Pete Barbutti. The room was small, but filled. It would have been a fitting setting for a lounge show if not for the gravity of the subject: The official cause of death of Danny Gans, who was discovered having trouble breathing by his wife, Julie, about 3:44 a.m. May 1. He was pronounced dead soon after.
Clark County Coroner Mike Murphy, flanked on his left by medical examiner Dr. Gary Telgenhoff, who performed the autopsy on Gans, addressed the media from a conference room at the coroner’s office. Those in attendance were many of the media members I’ve seen at Gans’ performances throughout the years. The expected medical jargon spilled out at once: The official cause of Gans’ death was listed on sheets of paper and distributed to everyone on hand. To boil this down to English, Gans died as a result of suffering a toxic reaction to the painkiller Dilaudid, an opiate similar to morphine. Murphy said Gans was taking the pain medication to treat chronic pain syndrome, a contributing cause of his death. Murphy refused to use the term “overdose,” as it’s not a medically applied term used in the cause of death.
Gans, a sturdily built age 52 at the time of his death, also suffered from hypertensive cardiovascular disease and a condition known as polycythemia, described by Murphy as a red blood cell disorder that has the opposite effect as anemia -- the person suffers an abundance of red blood cells, in effect.
Officially, the explanation has been made public. But the discussion of Gans’ death likely won’t cease for some time, as observers remember his reputation for missing shows for somewhat unexplained reasons. One of the questions tossed out today was if any steroids were found in Gans’ system. Murphy responded that the only drugs identified were those who contributed to his death -- the painkillers. The questions will continue, the rumors probably won’t abate.
But at this moment, I remember a master showman and a family man who, tragically, wasn’t nearly as healthy as his image onstage.