Las Vegas Sun

April 17, 2014

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ROBERT GOULET: 1933 - 2007

Camelot’ baritone, Vegas headliner was arts advocate

On June 21, 2006, Robert Goulet was sitting in the audience at Lance Burton's 10th anniversary show at the Monte Carlo when the magician called him on stage.

Goulet, who had no clue what Burton had planned for him, donned a magician's cape and put his hands behind his back as Burton stood directly behind him and slipped his arms under Goulet's.

With Burton's hands performing magic tricks and Goulet ad-libbing with apropos facial expressions , the audience was amazed as the duo, pretending to be one magician, tore up and repaired a newspaper and produced lighted candles and live doves seemingly from thin air.

To close the show, Burton levitated Goulet and pushed his suspended body off stage, to a standing ovation.

Goulet that night uttered not a note of his famous rich baritone singing voice but, ever the showman, he won over yet another Las Vegas audience with his ever-present charm, stage presence and charisma.

Robert Gerard Goulet, who was born to Canadian parents but became a legend of the American theater in productions such as "Camelot" and was for decades a venerable Las Vegas showroom headliner, died Tuesday. He was 73.

Goulet died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where he was sent Oct. 13 from Las Vegas for an emergency lung transplant after being diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis. Goulet had been hospitalized in Las Vegas for 10 days before the move.

"Robert Goulet's good looks and deep, wonderful voice never diminished," said Las Vegas entertainment historian Wayne Bernath, a former Sun reporter.

Bernath, who also is Burton's publicist, said the reason Burton picked Goulet from hundreds of people that night was because Goulet loved to be on stage and he knew how to react to any situation to make both performers look good.

"Robert Goulet also was perfect because he's been around for so long people immediately recognize him," he said. "You would have to have lived under a rock for 40 years to not know who Robert Goulet was."

Goulet's work indeed spanned generations.

In his heyday, the 1960s to the 1980s, he headlined at several major Las Vegas resorts, including the Dunes, Desert Inn and Frontier. In 1993 he appeared as himself on the hit animated TV show "The Simpsons " as the headliner in Bart Simpson's treehouse casino. There, the cartoon Goulet delivered his moving rendition of "Jingle Bells, Batman Smells."

In the days before corporations ran Las Vegas, resort bosses paid big-name stars such as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Goulet six figures for a week's engagement, knowing the kind of crowds that gravitated to such entertainers would gamble eight to 12 hours a day in a casino.

But as casinos stopped tapping profits to pay for marquee entertainers and found it more economical to rent their showrooms to headliners, performers such as Goulet found themselves producing their shows with their own money. The industry calls it "four-walling."

"It's really a strange phenomenon that a lot of Las Vegas stars of the past have experienced," Bernath said. "It was not that Goulet's talent had diminished so that he was forced to four-wall. It's more about how Las Vegas has changed and become so corporate that every department now must make a profit."

When Goulet returned to the stage in Las Vegas in summer 1991 after a six-year absence, he paid all the production costs - including renting the Aladdin (now Planet Hollywood) Theatre for the Performing Arts. He drew crowds of fewer than 500 to the 3,000-seat theater the first week and, even though turnouts improved in the final weeks, he ended up losing money.

The early 1990s were also a tough time for Goulet healthwise. In September 1991 he underwent surgery at Desert Springs Hospital for an intestinal obstruction .

"A few more hours and I would have lost my stomach," Goulet said at the time, describing how serious that illness was.

Two years later Goulet was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He became a spokesman for the American Cancer Society and gave lectures on cancer awareness and early detection.

Although he kept his base of operations in Las Vegas, Goulet took his act on the road in recent years.

He performed in Syracuse , N.Y., on Sept. 20 and became ill on the flight home. Because of the severe lung ailment , Goulet canceled a mid-October show in Denver.

Goulet long championed the construction of a Las Vegas Performing Arts Center to bring plays, ballet, opera and musical theater to local audiences. And although in recent years some Broadway shows have failed on the Strip, Goulet praised entertainment directors for trying.

Goulet was involved in many Southern Nevada charitable causes over the years and won several awards and recognitions for his generosity. He is a past recipient of the Nevada Symphony Guild's Crescendo Award for outstanding contributions to the musical enrichment of Las Vegas.

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