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July 25, 2014

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Guided by angels: ‘Honky Tonk’ star Sachs fighting through cancer

Corrie Sachs, co-star of "Honky Tonk Angels," is 98 pounds of grit.

The 44-year-old Reba McEntire tribute artist is back onstage at the Gold Coast Showroom after a brief battle with cancer last spring that left her with a new appreciation for life.

"It changes your attitude and outlook," Sachs said.

Doctors diagnosed her uterine cancer in March.

"First there is the denial," she said. "'Do you have the right Corrie?' Then, you've gotta face it head on. I'm the kind of person, if something's wrong, I'm not going to run. I want to take care of it now. I wanted the surgery that day, when the doctor told me. But it took about two more weeks before I could have the surgery."

Even in the face of her cancer scare, the veteran entertainer was grateful for the two-week delay.

"It worked out well because I was able to train a girl to take my place, Michelle Justice," said Sachs, whose husband is Bob Sachs, bassist for Wayne Newton. "She was fabulous."

To Sachs, "The show must go on" is more than an empty axiom bandied about by entertainers.

"You never want to desert your show," she said. "It's like your child. You don't want to just leave. You always want to make sure it's covered, and that it's covered well. It's a matter of self-preservation. You have to keep the show good."

Thinking positive

Sharon Haynes, producer and creator of "Angels," describes Sachs as, "A very positive, determined, warm and caring person. She's wonderful. I heard about her reputation before I met her, and everybody loved Corrie. She is just an inspiration, good inside and out."

Haynes is the production's Patsy Cline. Lori Legacy is Dolly Parton.

"Corrie is a teeny little thing," Haynes said. "Dripping wet, she doesn't weigh 100 pounds, but she has always been such a strong person."

She said cancer never got Sachs down.

"She worked hard 'til she was told she had to have surgery," Haynes said. "That would have devastated some and they would have had to be home. But Corrie wanted to work. 'This is what I do,' she said. Even though doctors told her it was one of the most aggressive types of cancer if left undetected, she said she was going to be fine."

Sachs missed 10 weeks of work, returning to the stage in June.

"I had been complaining for eight months that I wasn't feeling right," she said. "There were constant female problems. I was constantly bleeding, but doctors said it was just pre-menopausal.

"I was not ill, just not feeling right. I knew something was wrong. I took all sorts of tests, but they all came back negative. You can't diagnose uterine cancer through pap smears. You have to get tissue samples, so they have to knock you out."

She went into the hospital for an endometrial ablasion, in which the walls of the uterus are scraped.

"I thought they would scrape the walls and I would be fine and that would be that," Sachs said. "But they called me in the next day and the doctor said he was in shock. He said, 'You're not going to believe this, but we found cancer.' Normally, uterine cancer is found in older, heavier women. That's why he said he just didn't think I had it. It's the same thing (actress) Fran Drescher just had."

Two weeks later she had a hysterectomy and surgeons, at the same time, removed 22 lymph nodes.

"Tests on the lymph nodes came back negative, so everything was great," Sachs said. "They were glad we caught it early, because the cancer I had was very aggressive."

She felt well enough to perform after six weeks of recovery, but she waited another month before returning to the stage.

"Psychologically, I wasn't ready," she said. "Plus, just laying on the couch for six weeks doing nothing, just waiting to heal, I was gaining weight. That was driving me nuts."

She took the extra time to exercise and get herself mentally and physically fit.

"I went through a period of depression," Sachs said. "But I'm a pretty positive person."

Small-town girl

The native of Omaha, Neb., has always had an attitude of self-assurance.

"I was like 3 years old when I saw Ann-Margret in 'Bye Bye Birdie' and I knew then what I wanted to do with my life," Sachs said.

Her father, who worked for Mutual of Omaha, was transferred to Miami when she was 11. There she took private singing lessons at the University of Miami.

"I was always focused on singing," she said. "My parents didn't insist that I go to college because I was doing what I wanted to do."

By age 15 she was part of Lemon Twist, a group of six female singers who initially performed in Miami, then toured the U.S. and eventually the world.

"We were with the USO tours," she said. "That's how I got to see a lot of the world by the time I was 18."

She left the band at age 19 and formed her own group, beginning a lounge career that lasted more than 20 years.

"I performed as many as six sets a night, six nights a week for years," Sachs said. "And (even) if you don't smoke, which I don't, it's pretty detrimental. I even had a doctor tell me I should quit smoking because there was tar in my lungs, and I had never smoked a day in my life. That's what the lounges will do to you."

She met her future husband Bob in Atlantic City in the late '80s. He was part of Sam Butera's Las Vegas band.

"We both were booked at Resorts International," Sachs recalled. "When he left the stage, that's when my act went on. That's how we met, swapping stages."

They carried on a two-year romance that was catch as catch can. Their respective groups played all over the country, and so they met whenever they could.

"It was crazy, but it worked," Sachs said.

The couple married at a Methodist church in Las Vegas and held their reception at the Tropicana.

"Bob had to play that night with Sam at the Tropicana lounge, so we took the whole wedding party into the lounge," she said.

Sachs thought at first her husband would join her band.

"But that was ridiculous," she said. "If I was out of work, we were both dead. It didn't make sense. So he did his thing, and I did mine."

Sachs eventually disbanded her group and focused on working in Las Vegas lounges. She performed at all of the major casinos around town for about eight years, and then she discovered her Reba McEntire alter ego.

Donny Moore, producer of the tribute show "American Superstars," convinced her to put on a red wig, develop a twang and do a tribute to Reba. She worked for Moore at the Flamingo for a while, then the show moved to the Luxor for a year and then she joined "Legends in Concert" at the Imperial Palace.

Sachs eventually became Reba in Dick Feeney's "Viva Las Vegas," when it was at the Sands. She was with the show for five years, performing there in the afternoon and in lounges at night.

"It was crazy," she said. "I wouldn't do it now. I'm too old."

Sachs was performing the role of Annie Oakley in Buena Park, Calif., when she got a call almost three years from Haney, asking if she wanted to join the new production.

"For two years I drove to California and worked five days and drove back home for two days," she said. "That's when Sharon called me, thank God."

Sachs' commuting and lounge days are now history. She is content to perform six nights a week at the Gold Coast, and one afternoon per week as a regular with the "Dennis Bono Variety Hour." The program is taped at 3 p.m. Thursdays to be broadcast at 9 p.m. Sundays on UPN's KTUD Channel 25 (Cox cable channel 14) and on KJUL 104.3-FM at 7 p.m. Fridays.

"Once you're told you have cancer, it really hits you between the eyes. It makes you stand back and look at life a little differently. I do appreciate the much smaller things now," Sachs said. "It's hard to describe. Once you face mortality, you do take the time out to smell the roses, to enjoy life a little more. I go a little bit slower now. I just enjoy my life more."

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