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Vegas entertainers take stage for ailing pal

Singer-musician Bill Fayne's recent medical and financial setbacks feel a bit more manageable after colleagues raise around $20,000 at a sold-out benefit show.

March 14, 2010|By Richard Abowitz

After accidentally going to the wrong casino, Excalibur headliner Louie Anderson rushed over to the Suncoast to offer a short burst of his humor to the sellout crowd of more than 500. Backstage, Anderson said: "Vegas gets a bad rap for being shallow and not very community-minded. All the show business people in this town, we are all connected." Nearby, Monte Carlo headliner Lance Burton was polishing a glass to use as a prop as he prepared to take the stage (before rushing off to his own show).

The occasion for this rare Saturday-matinee gathering of elite Vegas talent was a benefit to help defray the medical bills of singer and musician Bill Fayne, the longtime bandleader for Clint Holmes and a member of the popular Las Vegas Tenors. There were so many performers that the show ran an hour longer than the two hours scheduled. Among the 24 performances were slots by Susan Anton and Rick Faugno (from "Jersey Boys" at the Venetian). Of course, local celebrity host Robin Leach kicked things off with a toast to the crowd. "It's part of a long showbiz tradition of helping each other when necessary," he said. "I love this community, and I think it's the most generous we could be privileged to live in."

After offering the toast, Leach was off to another charity event. Some performers who could not make the show sent checks. The result was about $20,000 being raised for Fayne. It was more than anyone expected. Amid a recession even as showrooms are heavily discounting tickets all over town, this show sold out days in advance.

The next day Fayne seemed a bit amazed. "We could have sold out a room twice the size, but who knew?" Often a principal in organizing these benefits in past years, this time Faye was told to keep out and just be the recipient.

The great recession has taken a serious toll on entertainers throughout Vegas, many of whom live gig to gig. Wayne Newton's recent financial issues made news; Fayne's money problems were happening without a media spotlight. Even as he was going through medical testing, Fayne lost his house and went through bankruptcy. Then there was the cancer scare that resulted in having his esophagus removed followed by an infection that led to a medically induced coma for a dozen days. In all, Fayne lost 50 pounds in 40 days.

It was shortly after he got out of the hospital that friends called to tell him they were planning a benefit. A father-and-son production team, Philip and Ed Mathews, got the casino to donate the showroom and stagehands; Clint Holmes worked the phone to gather performers.

"We almost lost Bill, and the bottom line is that fortunately he is on the mend." said Holmes, who emceed the event. "But he hasn't been able to make a living for six months or more. With medical expenses and being unable to work, it seemed a good time to help him. . . . Everyone in the entertainment community here does benefits, but it is special when it is one of our own."

Holmes successfully battled cancer when he was performing with Fayne at Harrah's and therefore had good health insurance. "I was lucky, I was at Harrah's and that took care of me. Sometimes it doesn't work that way, especially in this economy. And for entertainers, most of the time we are freelancing and not with a corporation and insurance isn't easily available."

And while many of the performers have known Fayne for years, others just knew that a fellow Vegas performer needed help. Terry Fator, for example, the headliner at the Mirage and a relative newbie to Vegas, could not recall meeting Fayne. But Fator did more than perform. "Terry Fator brought over 70 DVDs of his show and put them on sale for me," marveled Fayne.

Of course, this being Vegas, not every kindness goes unexploited. A scandal erupted after a similar benefit a few years ago when one performer's medical condition turned out to be bogus. Fayne was one of the people onstage for that benefit. This time, if Fayne as an old show business pro was surprised how quickly the show sold out, he was not at all surprised at all the talent onstage to support him.

"If this had been anywhere else, I would have been shocked," he said. "But in Vegas, the entertainment community has always supported everyone else. The town has changed a lot in the years I have been here but that is the one thing that has not changed."

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