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Friends remember Dr. Ghanem

Aug 28, 2001 6:08 AM

The death of Dr. Elias Ghanem has saddened the lives of many people.

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 substantial fine.

Yet, when Tyson sought reinstatement, Ghanem again led the commission in approving the move but also adding the stern warning about future problems.

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, who 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 courage.”

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. Ghanem.”

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 that.”

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 miss him.”

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 shallow breaths.

“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 friends.”

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 in peace.”

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. 89102.