Las Vegas loses another legend

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Las Vegas has few remaining links
with its Golden Era. It lost another last week.

Dean Shandel, a former casino
executive and legendary man-about-town, died on Wednesday night. He was 79.

Shandel traced his roots to
Caesars Palace’s salad days, when he and other casino bosses such Jerry Z,
Elliot “Jumbo” Price and Danny “Noisy” Stein ruled the roost
from the casino’s Galleria lounge.

Unlike his shiny-suited,
blow-dried casino colleagues, Shandel exuded the persona of a
hell-bent-for-leather cowboy. In fact, his license plate carried his nickname,
“Cowboy,” partly because of his rugged, Marlboro Man good looks, but
mostly because he loved the rodeo.

“He was a modern-day,
steer-wrestling, calf-roping cowboy,” recalls casino executive Gene Kilroy,
who first met Shandel when Kilroy was Muhammad Ali’s business manager.
“For some reason, Dean liked to leap off of horses and wrestle those
cows.”

Kilroy first encountered Shandel
at the Dunes in the 1970s. “When I came to town, I wanted to find out who
the top guy was. Not the richest, not the smartest ”¦ but the guy who got all
the girls,” Kilroy told GamingToday. “I asked everyone,
including Harry Goodheart at the Sands, who the ”˜man’ in town was. Harry
said it was Dean.”

Kilroy hooked up with Shandel
while waiting at the Dune’s cashier’s cage. “I was like a little kid
who had just met Santa Claus,” Kilroy says. “Dean turned out to be
everything people said he was. He was handsome and charming, to be sure. Be he
was also a ”˜bang-around’ guy. He was ”˜George.’ We got to be great
friends.”

Becoming a “great
friend” is the common thread that linked Shandel with many of Las Vegas’
legendary characters.

“Dean was a lifelong friend
of 40 years,” Kirk Kerkorian, MGM’s president and chairman, told GamingToday.
“We just spent New Year’s Eve together, and I’m certainly going to miss
him.”

Another casino luminary that
Shandel counted among his closest friends was Steve Wynn. “Steve Wynn took
pool halls with chandeliers and made them into great casinos,” Shandel once
told a friend. “Steve is more valuable to Las Vegas than Bugsy
Siegel.”

But Shandel’s friendships
extended beyond Las Vegas’ boardrooms. He was close to Hollywood’s brightest
stars, many of whom date to the Rat Pack days.

“I would stay at Dean’s
ranch when I worked in Las Vegas,” Tony Curtis told GamingToday.
“Then we would hang out together with Frank (Sinatra) and Dean (Martin). We
used to go out together with all the most beautiful girls — it was such a
fabulous era.”

Curtis says Shandel eventually
convinced him to move to Las Vegas.

“After I was married, it
behooved me and my sweet bride to take Dean’s advice and move here,”
Curtis said. “I will miss Dean.

“He was the finest of men
who had all the ingredients — he was kind, intelligent, sympathetic — that
made him a pleasure to be around.”

Another Las Vegas notable,
Phyllis McGuire, said Dean Shandel was part of Las Vegas’ colorful past that
is slowly fading away.

“He was such a class act, he
was the Old Las Vegas,” McGuire told GamingToday.
“He was such a dear friend, he was a man of his word.”

McGuire said she had spent New
Year’s with Shandel, and they shared the same birthday, February 14 (Valentine’s
Day).

“It’s a sad day,”
McGuire said. “It’s such a terrible loss.”

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