Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010 | 7:56 a.m.
- Larry Ruvo
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The money flowed like chilled Dom Perignon at the Bellagio on Saturday night, and once more the Keep Memory Alive "Power of Love" gala ignored economic realities elsewhere and continued to plow ahead with a blade dipped in gold.
Twenty-seven million dollars was raised during the 6 1/2-hour lovefest on the Strip. That's the entire announced total, counting table and individual seat reservations (which ranged from $15,000 to $75,000 per table and $1,500 to $7,500 per seat), live and silent auction items and a handful of individual anonymous contributions that exceeded $1 million. The money raised goes toward the further development and operational costs for the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, brainchild of Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada head and Las Vegas native Larry Ruvo.
It was an unforgettable accomplishment, far and away a record for a fundraising endeavor that started 14 years ago with 20 people meeting for dinner at Wolfgang Puck's Spago at the Forum Shops at Caesars. Even so, the Clinic's founder left nothing to chance.
"If you remember anything tonight, remember this: Cleveland Clinic, $27 million," Ruvo said from the stage, after new Paris Las Vegas headliner Barry Manilow boogied off the stage to the familiar rhythms of "Copacabana."
Two other-worldly donations helped Keep Memory Alive, the Cleveland Clinic's philanthropic division, arrive at its goal for the evening. After it was estimated that the night would draw a total of $23.5 million, the night's honorees, former International Gaming Technology Chief Executive Officer Chuck Mathewson and his wife, Stacie, simply made up the difference with a check for $4.5 million. This was critical to the Clinic's goal of paying off, entirely, the $27 million bond issued by the city of Las Vegas to the Clinic, which is dedicated to treating and curing Alzheimer's Huntington's Parkinson's ALS and other memory disorders.
Then, with Cleveland Clinic Chief Executive Officer Dr. Toby Cosgrove standing next to him, Ruvo announced that the evening's top donor was Anchor Gaming CEO Stan Fulton, who donated $8 million to the center. Cutting a multimillion-dollar check to charity is not foreign terrain for Fulton, who donated $6 million to the William S. Boyd School of Law at UNLV. He is a frequent contributor to Republican political candidates, and was not actually in the room when his gift was announced, departing just before Ruvo told the crowd of about 600 of the donation.
Mathewson did stay until the end. If you donate $4.5 million, you may as well enjoy some Barry.
"I pay it forward, yes, sir," he said. "I very much believe in that. Good things happen when you pay it forward."
Before the late announcement of the night's largest gifts, the live auction provided the head-spinning bids that have become a "Power of Love" tradition. Private dinners prepared by celeb chefs Puck and Thomas Keller combined for $230,000. Two nights at Meadowood in Napa Valley, Calif., where the winner is invited to drive exotic cars with a group of Robb Report editors, went for $260,000. An hourlong tennis lesson from Andre Agassi and Stephanie Graf, followed by what we can expect is a really nice lunch, went for $130,000. The auction lots came in all shapes and sized, to be sure: Danny DeVito announced lunch with him and his wife, Rhea Perlman, at their "trailer in L.A.," which went for $60,000. Brad Garrett announced a star-studded poker game featuring his friend Ray Romano, went for $100,000. As Garrett said, referring to Romano, "You've not lived until you seen a person with more money than God complain about losing $4 on a poker hand."
The night concluded with a Manilow medley, as some of the more sprightly guests near the stage responding to his invitation to dance out the night with Lola, Tony and Rico at the Copa. The Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health is already seeing patients at its site in Symphony Park, just east of World Market Center, and its grand opening is April 1. But as anyone who has seen Ruvo and his friends operate, this group is nobody's fool.
More from the gala
Siegfried & Roy, centerpiece of last year's gala, were on hand but did not take the stage. ... Interesting sighting: Mayor Oscar Goodman chatting up Sands Chief Executive Officer Sheldon Adelson as the two entered the room side-by-side. Goodman has long refused to attend events at Adelson's Venetian because of its status as a non-union property. ... County Commissioner and gubernatorial candidate Rory Reid meeting up with Agassi and Graf near the red carpet. I don't believe Reid ever felt Goodman would run for governor. ... On a night when cuts to the state's higher education budget were being finalized in Carson City, UNLV President Dr. Neal Smatresk was in attendance. Scores of potential donors to the university were in attendance. ... Fleeting sighting: Sen. John Ensign, leaving the men's room. ... Former Govs. Richard Bryan and Bob Miller and Holly Madison, all sighted separately. ... Garrett again dropped into his great impression of Romano, mocking his friend's wealth with: "I dropped my wallet on a chair and broke it." ... Determination: One of the city's best-connected people who is not necessarily a famous person is Ruvo's right-hand man at Southern Wine & Spirits, Michael Severino. ... A Bellagio valet attendant, who drives any variety of exotic car, said the finest car she has ever driven is a 2010 Ferrari F450.
Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.