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July 24, 2014

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Eydie Gorme thrilled fans, whether at Fellini’s or the last night of the Stardust

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Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health

Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme at the Honor Wall at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health on Wednesday, March 13, 2013.

Eydie Gorme

Performers Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme share an intimate moment at their Las Vegas wedding, 1957. The duo were famous for their 10-year run as headliners at Caesars Palace, as well as performances at the Sands and Desert Inn. Launch slideshow »
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This 1956 file photo shows Eydie Gorme. Her publicist, Howard Bragman, says she died at a Las Vegas hospital Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013, after an undisclosed illness.

It was one of those late nights in the late ’90s at the Tap House, and the tavern’s co-owner Jimmy Girard walked in the side door and whispered, “Steve and Eydie are next door.”

I thought for a moment and said, “No, they’re not.”

It seemed Jimmy was setting up a punch line, maybe to finish with, “And so are Simon & Garfunkel.” I’d lived in Vegas for just about two years, and the idea of meeting Steve & Eydie in such a random fashion was totally fanciful, akin to bumping into Elvis or Sinatra. All I could think was Jimmy was talking of the Steve & Eydie I had watched on “The Tonight Show” as a kid, how cool and classic and funny they were with Johnny Carson. They didn’t seem like an actual married couple you might bump into during a night on the town. They were somewhat mythic figures you knew from TV or album covers — and always together.

But Jimmy was serious. Steve and Eydie were nearby, and he said that we should hustle over to the restaurant his partner, Bob Harry, and he had just opened next to the Tapper. The new haunt was called Fellini’s, a fine Italian restaurant that had been opened where a Shakey’s pizza parlor once stood. Bob and Jimmy had rolled a grand piano into the restaurant and told us Steve & Eydie were in there singing one of their famous songs.

We waddled across the parking lot to Fellini’s, and, as we entered, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme were on their way out. The dinner guests were still standing and clapping.

Jimmy made a swift introduction, and I mumbled a sentence wrapped around the word “honored.” Steve said I should see them perform sometime since I was minutes late to see their impromptu performance at the restaurant. I just remember Eydie smiling very beautifully.

I recalled that moment Saturday when it was announced that Eydie Gorme had died at age 84 of at Sunrise Hospital of an undisclosed illness. Her memorial service is set for Wednesday at Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary in Los Angeles, the final resting place of countless entertainment legends.

Friends say Eydie had not been well for a while, despite being in great voice, and had effectively retired from performing. Steve had recently performed solo dates (including one in Vegas at the Orleans). In May, Jerry Lewis told me that he was interested in performing with his longtime friend Steve at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts this year, saying the two had just finished a phone conversation about that option before Lewis started our interview.

The opportunities to see Steve & Eydie together in Las Vegas proved scant. The one time I was able to catch their performance was in October 2006, as they were the final act at the Stardust.

This was Old Vegas at its finest. I walked into the theater behind Shecky Greene and Frankie Avalon. Seated in the booth to the right: Steve and Elaine Wynn. On the left: Dennis Bono and Lorraine Hunt Bono. Vinnie Falcone, famous for his years as Sinatra’s pianist and bandleader, was the orchestra’s music director.

Before the performance, a clip of Steve & Eydie’s career highlights played for the crowd. This went on for 15 minutes, as the couple were shown singing with Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Bob Hope, Perry Como, Johnny Carson, Steve Allen and Judy Garland, among many other legends in the history of entertainment.

They joked with such ease that it seemed every word was spontaneous. Steve remarked about the couple’s famed role as “show closers” at Vegas resorts. They had closed Circus Maximus at Caesars and were the final voices heard from the stage at the Sands and Desert Inn.

Steve said the couple had “closed as many hotels as Steve Wynn has built,” and, nodding toward Stardust owner Bill Boyd, seated near the stage, “We’re going to rush through the show because Mr. Boyd has a wrecking ball out in the parking lot."

But the real pearls were the sharp, clearly affectionate asides the couple made to each other. Eydie told the crowd she’d been learning how to use a computer because "it's great to come home to a hard drive."

As I wrote at the time, Steve & Eydie were of a different and classic era, when entertainers knew how to talk to a crowd, wear fancy clothes, sing on key and finish big. At the end of the show that ended the Stardust, the two linked arms and strolled the walkway at the front of the stage that looped through the audience.

The spotlight bathed the two legends in bright light as they chatted about the many rooms they’d closed, so many that they might run out of showrooms in which to perform. Then they finished with their signature song: “One For My Baby (And One More For the Road).” It was the last time they sang together in Las Vegas.

“One For My Baby” is what they sang that night at Fellini’s, too, a song captured years later. We can just smile at the memory of Eydie Gorme, raise a glass and remember her warmly singing of that long, long road.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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