The death of Dr. Elias Ghanem has saddened the lives of
He died quietly at home shortly after 2 a.m. on Monday with
his loved ones at his side. He was 62.
Often referred to as the “Doctor to the Stars,” Ghanem
numbered people from all walks of life ”” from presidents to struggling young
prize fighters ”” among his friends.
Probably the best known, and certainly the most visible
physician in Las Vegas, Ghanem loved medicine, loved boxing, loved horse racing
but more than anything he loved people.
Born March 12, 1939, in Haifa, Israel, the son of a
Lebanese business executive, he emigrated to the U.S. in 1963 and, penniless
because of restrictive laws regarding international money transfers, worked his
way through college and medical school before taking on an internship at UCLA.
His specialty, when he moved to Las Vegas in 1971 and began
practicing at Sunrise Hospital, was emergency medicine. He later established a
24-hour clinic that was so successful that he was able to repeat the process in
several other locations. Because his clinic was near the Hilton Hotel/Casino, he
developed a relationship with the operators of the property and frequently was
called upon to treat guests.
That began a personal as well as a professional
relationship with Elvis Presley. He treated a host of other performers who
appeared at the Hilton and other Las Vegas properties.
Active in Democratic causes, Dr. Ghanem quickly came to the
attention of former President Bill Clinton and a warm, personal friendship soon
ensued. Just last week, when Clinton was in Las Vegas to speak at a convention,
he took the time to go to MountainView Hospital to visit his ailing friend.
In recent years, Ghanem spent a great deal of time helping
to develop the sport of boxing into one of the biggest draws that Las Vegas has
seen. When punishment was necessary, he meted it out with firmness, accompanied
by compassion. Presiding at the hearing given former world heavyweight champion
Mike Tyson after he had bitten the ear of then-champion Evander Holyfield, Ghanem, as chairman of the Nevada State Athletic Commission,
guided the board in revoking Tyson’s license and establishing a
Yet, when Tyson sought reinstatement, Ghanem again led the
commission in approving the move but also adding the stern warning about future
In better times, Dr. Ghanem would be in southern California
enjoying the races at Del Mar. He loved it. Recently, he bought a horse, Tiger
West, for his son Elias.
When the “Good Doctor” was diagnosed with cancer in
1998, friends came from everywhere to stand by Elias and his family in their
time of need. Ironically, two of the men who wanted to aid him and his family
preceded him in death. One was Arthur Goldberg. The other was Kenny Sullivan.
Both were very close to the ailing doctor.
In a statement, Gov. Kenny Guinn described Ghanem as a true
friend and a man of integrity.
Another dear friend was the political giant, Sig Rogich,
said, “Elias was one of a kind. He was as compassionate and caring as anyone
I’ve ever been around in my life. I’m proud to have had him as a friend all
these years. He will be missed. He was there for everyone, from the homeless to
governors who needed a helping hand. He was a person everyone gravitated to and
admired. He was a brave warrior. This doctor fought this thing. They gave him a
few months to live and he spread it into a few years. He’s a great example of
U.S. Sen. John Ensign said he knew Dr. Ghanem for more than
20 years, first as his physician and then as a friend. “Even though we were
friends, I had so much respect for him that I almost always called him Dr.
Ensign said that after Dr. Ghanem was first diagnosed with
cancer, he and his family prayed for him almost every night. He said he, Elias
and his wife, Jody, had many talks on their relationship with God.
“Through Him my faith was strengthened.”
Sen. Ensign continued, “I take comfort in knowing my
friend is in God’s presence. He touched so many people in such positive ways.
He was one of the most generous, giving people I have ever known. One goal of
life should be to leave this world a little better place, Dr. Ghanem did
Nearly everyone ”” certainly those who could be reached on
deadline ”” had something kind to say about this very special man.
His brother, Nasser Ghanem: “He was my hero. He left me
with love, he showed me what caring is and his memory will live forever.”
Kirk Kerkorian: “He was a dear friend and we will all
Steve Wynn said he was at Dr. Ghanem’s bedside until
nearly midnight before his passing. “His whole family was gathered around him.
They wanted so much for him to be at peace as the end approached. Jody and the
others led in the singing of one of his favorite songs, ”˜Wind Beneath My
Wings.’ An attending doctor said
he believes Dr. Ghanem could hear the song. His eyes were closed and he took
“He has been my buddy for half my life. I knew him since
day one. He was a very special person.”
Frank Schreck: “He was a man of tremendous courage. He
had pain from his ankles to his neck. No one has any idea how much he suffered.
He will be missed by all the lives he touched.”
Irwin Molasky: “He brought humanism into the vocabulary.
Besides being a wonderful human being, he also cared greatly about his
friends.” Molasky said he was in the process of writing his eulogy.
“He wanted me to leave a message to everyone he left
behind. He wanted me to tell them to listen for the symptoms of their bodies,
get blood work regularly and visit your doctor. Don’t take life for granted.
Early detection means a lot.”
Molasky then went on to explain the irony of the good
doctor. “Of the thousands he was able to detect with cancer, he was unable to
find it in himself.”
Larry Ruvo: “I went to say good-bye to Elias last week. I
was with my son-in-law, Dan Goosen. He squeezed my hand and even smiled a bit
when Dan talked boxing. I will miss him dearly.”
Terry Lanni: “Elias was a wonderful friend to Debbie and
me. He fought a tenacious battle against cancer. And, in so doing, taught us all
about courage in the face of adversity. We have lost a very special person in
our community. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Jody, their family and
Jim Nave: “He was a very special person. I was fortunate
to have served 12 years with him on the Nevada Athletic Commission. It didn’t
matter if you were a sparring partner or the champ; Dr. Ghanem listened to you.
I will miss him dearly.”
Dean Harrold: “He was a friend of many, and I’m glad I
was included in the group. He fought the good fight, taught us about courage and
will be dearly missed.”
Brian Greenspun: “There have only been a few people in my
life who have had an overwhelming influence on me and my family. Elias Ghanem
was one of them.”
Chuck Di Rocco: “In a city where four-of-a-kind or at
least a full house counts, Dr. Ghanem was one-of-a-kind and he truly counted. He
was a true immigrant who came to us from Lebanon and showed us how to make a
lumberyard out of a toothpick. He and his family are in my prayers. May he rest
Dr. Ghanem is survived by his wife, Jody; two sons, Elias
Ghanem II and Farid Ghanem; a daughter, Crystal Ann Ghanem; a brother, Nasser
Ghanem; and six nieces, all of Las Vegas.
The funeral will be held Thursday with a 9:30 a.m. Mass at
St. Joseph, Husband of Mary Catholic Church, 7260 West Sahara Avenue. Internment
will follow at the Palm Mortuary facility on Eastern Avenue. Among friends and
relatives scheduled to pay tribute are: Sen. Ensign, Steve Wynn, Irwin Molasky,
Tony Alamo, Brian Greenspun, his son, Elias, and daughter, Crystal Ann.
The family has requested that in lieu of flowers donations
be made to the Elias F. Ghanem Medical Scholarship Fund, care of James Bradham,
at the Nevada Commerce Bank, 3200 South Valley View Blvd., Las Vegas, Nev.