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."