Singer-actor-impressionist Danny Gans, who spent more than a decade as one of the most popular entertainers in Las Vegas, died Friday. He was 52.
Gans was pronounced dead in his bed shortly after police and paramedics were summoned to a report of a man not breathing at Gans’ home about 3:45 a.m., said police spokesman Todd Rasmussen.
Foul play was not suspected, Rasmussen said. A Clark County coroner’s spokeswoman said an autopsy was pending, and Rasmussen said police were investigating “according to standard procedure.”
Gans’ manager and longtime friend, Chip Lightman, said Gans was in good health but slept poorly after Wednesday’s show and took a nap late Thursday afternoon, a day off. He stayed in bed into the evening, and his wife, Julie, summoned police when she couldn’t rouse him after 3 a.m.
“This makes no sense,” said Lightman, who said Gans didn’t use illegal drugs, didn’t smoke and had no apparent medical issues. “I managed him 18 years and health was never an issue.”
Lightman described Gans, who had a bit part as third baseman Deke in the 1988 baseball film “Bull Durham,” as an energetic health nut who watched his diet, loved to perform, and relished his involvement in Las Vegas area fundraisers and philanthropic causes.
Gans was mourned by two Las Vegas entertainment legends, Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Horn.
Like Gans and Wayne Newton, the careers of the German duo became synonymous with Las Vegas after they brought their acts to the Strip.
“We were blessed to be touched by his generous spirit, kind heart and insurmountable talent,” Siegfried & Roy said in a statement.
Developed routine while riding minor-league buses
Daniel Davies Gans grew up in Torrance, Calif., met his wife in college in San Luis Obispo, and parlayed a comedy and impression routine he developed on bus rides as a minor league baseball player into a fledgling entertainment career, Lightman said.
“Danny at that time was just a fun guy on the bus,” he said.
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After Gans hurt his leg playing baseball, he made a first comedy club appearance on a dare. It worked, and he began honing his routine as a variety show performer in Palm Desert, Calif., before touring the country as a banquet performer for business groups.
In 1995, Gans began a one-man show, “Danny Gans on Broadway: The Man of Many Voices,” at the Neil Simon Theater in New York.
“A hardworking, eager-to-please entertainer who does rapid-fire imitations of show-biz personalities ranging from Tony Bennett to Al Pacino to Sarah Vaughan,” AP Drama Critic Michael Kuchwara said of Gans in a review.
“He’s fun — if you like your impressions in 60-second doses.”
Gans’ dexterity switching through the voices of John Travolta, Clint Eastwood, Rodney Dangerfield, Wayne Newton, Woody Allen, Robin Leach, Bill Cosby and others in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” impressed Kuchwara, who characterized Gans’ humor as “the cozy comedy of ... nudge-nudge, wink-wink reaction.”
The reviewer said a duet between Kermit the Frog and Jimmy Stewart made “a great twosome.”
True family man
Officials at Wynn Resorts, where Gans had performed four nights a week at the 1,500-seat Encore Theater since Feb. 10, and at The Mirage, where he performed from April 2000 to November 2008, said they were stunned by Gans’ sudden death.
“The loss of Danny to his wife Julie, his children Amy, Andrew and Emily is at this moment impossible to comprehend,” said Steve Wynn, who installed Gans as a headliner when he owned The Mirage and hired him again to perform at Encore, a sister property to the Wynn Las Vegas.
The large electronic marquee in front of the Encore posted Gans’ photograph and the message: “Our friend forever, Danny Gans. 1956-2009.”
Gans worked his way up in Las Vegas, after deciding to leave Broadway in 1997 to be closer to his family in Flintridge, Calif., Lightman said.
He become a headliner at the Stratosphere hotel-casino, and the next year went to the Rio hotel-casino before Wynn brought him to The Mirage on the Strip.
“This town allowed Danny to go home and be with his family every night and not be on the road,” Lightman said. “That meant the world to him, it really did. And Las Vegas embraced him and made him a household name.”
Gans held a pro-am golf tournament to raise money for the Danny Gans Junior Golf Academy, which finances golf programs for children, and helped raise some $250,000 to build the Lili Claire Family Resource Center to promote awareness of Williams Syndrome and other neurogenetic disorders and birth defects. Gans also hosted an annual 5K run and children’s walk in Henderson to benefit the Nevada Childhood Cancer Foundation.
Lightman said Gans was excited in recent weeks about plans to shoot a music video to accompany a compact disc he was recording, using several voices to sing the song “What a Wonderful World,” made famous by Louis Armstrong.
“It’s got Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, George Burns as the voice of ‘God,’ Kermit the Frog, and closes with Louie Armstrong,” Lightman said.
Lightman said it was among Gans’ favorite songs.
“It was something he was so proud of,” he said.
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