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July 29, 2014

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Strip celebrities share their fondest memories of the late Danny Gans

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Sam Morris

Steve Wynn speaks at a memorial for Danny Gans on Thursday, May 21, 2009. Wynn was instrumental in furthering Gans’ career and made him the headliner in the theater of his latest project, Encore, shortly before Gans died.

*Check out this story with accompanying photos at VegasDeLuxe.com.*

In the rush of the four-day Memorial Day holiday weekend, there was limited time to go through all my notes from the stars I talked with at the Danny Gans tribute service last week. You can click HERE for our video coverage, but I wanted to share some of the fondest thoughts here on Vegas DeLuxe:

Gerry McCambridge: “My fondest memory of Danny is when I saw him perform many years ago. I was here and looking for a balance between my showbiz life of nonstop touring and my personal life with my wife and kids. I went to see Danny, and he told the story of how he was on tour for eight years, just as I was, and how he came out to Vegas so he could be with his wife and kids during the day and then perform at night. That rung so close to home with me, and I said that is what I have to do. He became the man that I modeled my career after, and he became my mentor. His manager Chip Lightman is my partner in our Internet show tickets site. It took about a day and a half to realize he was gone because it was one of those things you think you are going to wake up from, a bad nightmare.”

George Wallace: “It was a pleasure and a blessing to have known Danny. That is how I live … I try to have fun every day. Your birth certificate comes with an open-ended date, but not a closing date. That is why you have to enjoy every day and appreciate life. Chip Lightman and Danny were on my contract when I came into the Flamingo; they were my producers. We worked together for six months and then went different directions. I knew Danny; I would visit him sometimes at the theater. I wasn’t a hangout friend, but I knew him as a great entertainer. His loss will have a major impact. I hope some of the people from his show will come to mine or go see Cher. That is our job, to pick up where he left off. He is up there still entertaining as he did best. George Burns is saying, ‘Come on in, kid.’ Everyone he impersonated is saying you did a good job. Now come on in and have a seat.”

Mayor Oscar Goodman: “Not only was he the quintessential entertainer, but also he was a community partner. You would ask him to come help with a children’s charity or ask him to make a contribution; he never said no. We will never be able to replace him. All the people he impersonated -- George Burns and Sammy Davis Jr. -- would tell him, ‘You did it better than I did it.’ I am giving his wife Julie and the three children a key to the city.”

Gordie Brown: “He was absolutely the role model for me, an extremely important one. He was the first one to come here and have great success. Everyone in this room is feeling the loss and will continue to feel the loss for a long time. I think George Burns or Sammy Davis Jr. would say to him on arrival in heaven, ‘Why so soon? What are you doing here so soon? We are really glad you are here. We are really tired of entertaining each other, and with you coming to the party, it is going to be one heck of a show from here on out.’ ”

Marie Osmond: “Danny was one of the greatest entertainers. I loved him for his charitable work. He did a lot for Children’s Miracle Network, which is my charity. He was a great father and a great husband. One of his greatest gifts, you know how when you grow up and aspire to be your favorite celebrity or whatever? He was anybody he wanted to be. I think he is here today producing this, saying, ‘Come on, you need to sit there, you have to do this.’ We are here because of him. He and Chip Lightman brought Donny & Marie back to Vegas. He said you two are what Vegas used to be. He wanted to see that kind of entertainment brought back, so that is truly why we are at the Flamingo.”

Donny Osmond: “Danny had such an impact not only on entertainment, but also on humanity here. He has made his mark. It took a man like Danny Gans, and Chip told me how it happened. Danny came to him and said I have an idea, Donny and Marie in Vegas again, and Chip said I think that could work. It was Danny’s initial idea that sparked the whole thing. He had the whole show mapped out in his head. What we do right now is the concept he presented to me in the first meeting. He said you both come out, Marie does her segment, you do your segment, then you come together, that is the broad stroke of it, that is what the show should be, then we will start adding the colors. That is what he did as our producer. Danny cared about everything and everyone. He watched rehearsals. He came backstage and handed me three pages of notes. Almost every single one of those notes was implemented into the show, and they all worked. We had a fun relationship. We used to text each other back and forth. We would text jokes and try to one up each other. We had the greatest time texting. If I can get through it, I will read his last text: Donny, I have a great idea. On the next record, you and I do a record, Donny and Danny. I appreciated the top billing, by the way. I think people would eat it up big horns, Robert Palmer, ZZ Top guitars, the kind of songs they play at sporting events. We put it out as a single anonymously. We will call it D&D, that way we both get top billing. Then he said, there is no rush, it is a fun idea for the future. We are going to make that record. If George Burns welcomed him to heaven, he would say, ‘Hey, hey, Danny, you do me better than me. I think he has Moses and Abraham down pat now; he is doing it all. The last impression he did, I was standing next to him and he did me and sang ‘Puppy Love’ better than me. I am very honored to be asked to keep his legacy alive. He started the Danny Gans Memorial Run for Life, and I will host that in October and from now on.”

Clint Holmes: “He was arguably one of the best single entertainers here. He had done it in that ‘prove it night after night way,’ which is old school. We are going to miss that, someone that was made here, born here, became a star here. There are not too many of them. Up in heaven, I think most of them will say thank you, there are a few that would say come here, we need to talk, but whatever they say, Danny will have an answer for them. He is working on their impressions now that he is hanging out with them. I think even Moses and Abraham, but not the beard!”

Elaine Wynn: “He was a showbiz entertainer guy, and you got a real glimpse of what his values were to have that family that is so genetically gifted, to have the poise to show the passion about their feelings. It was everything that kind of ceremony should be.”

Criss Angel: “It makes you reflect on how precious life is and how your family and friends and that life you have as a bond is so important. This showed you can’t know a person by reading his life in the papers; you have to know him one on one. I think Danny Gans was a perfect example of somebody whose career was important to him, but also the things that you can’t buy: love, health and happiness. Those things are what matter in life. I don’t think there will ever be another Danny Gans in our lifetime. He was the epitome of an impressionist because for me, he wasn’t doing impressions, he became those people. He created the ultimate illusion with his voice, mannerisms and with his look. I was at Madame Tussauds today, and I said there is not a figure of Danny Gans. There should be one immediately.”

Steve Wynn: “He is a man who could do both parts of ‘Unforgettable.’ Nat King Cole and Natalie Cole, who told me that when she heard Danny Gans do her, she couldn’t tell that it wasn’t her. Most people say that the most important thing about living is to have a happy life. The Dalai Lama says that the only true way to live a happy life is to make happiness for other people. I believe that to be true. Our friend Danny Gans had a most successful life.”

Amy Gans: “I’ll miss our talks and how he would try out his jokes on me. I’ll miss his shopping sprees at Walgreens. Mom would send him out to get three things, and he would wind up having forgotten those but return with bags and bags of other things. I pictured him at heaven’s gate, and God asked him to do Al Pacino for him, then Elvis. I dreamed he was there singing with Elvis and Sinatra, and Nat King Cole asked him to sing as Natalie with him. I woke up from the dream, and it let me know that everything was OK with Dad. He is OK with no pain, no worries, and he is happy performing nightly on the biggest stage of them all.”

And Danny’s 19-year-old son Andrew Gans summed up: “God had a good sense of humor to make my dad the way he did. He was an exceptional man with a gift to entertain. The man of many voices lives with us all. He was my hero and my father. In my 19 years with him, he taught me some of life’s most precious lessons. I was taught to never give up. … Occasionally, he gave me tips on where to take a girl on a date. I will deeply miss not being able to look up from the outfield and see my dad. He is my angel in the outfield. I am the man I am today because of him. He never gave up on his dreams, and neither will I. His biggest dream was to have a happy family waiting for him at home when he returned from work. I feel lucky to have been old enough to truly appreciate my dad’s talent. He was the best in the world at what he did, and there will never be another like him.”

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground. Read more of Robin's stories at VegasDeLuxe.com.