Robin Leach (1941-2018)
A longtime champion of the food & beverage industry in Las Vegas
Photos by Tom Donoghue
London, England-born Robin Douglas Leach was widely known as host of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous (1984-1995) and for his quote, “Champagne wishes and caviar dreams,” but his life’s work reached far beyond television fame and fortune.
The longtime TV personality, journalist, entrepreneur and actor helped found the original the Food Network; was one of CNN’s first entertainment reporters; wrote People’s first 11 cover stories; and worked as one of the first entertainment journalists on Entertainment Tonight.
But what many don’t know about Leach is his longtime food & beverage and philanthropic work in Las Vegas. Leach is credited with bringing star chef Wolfgang Puck to Las Vegas with Spago 25 years ago, which is recognized as igniting the celebrity chef invasion in this desert city.
Complementing his extensive coverage of food & beverage for the Las Vegas Sun and Las Vegas Review-Journal, Leach most recently starred alongside Kim Alexis on the Food Network’s Food Quest, which was renewed for Season 2 shortly before Leach’s debilitating first stroke last Thanksgiving while on vacation in Cabo San Lucas in Mexico.
And, as will be discussed later in this story, Leach gave back to Las Vegas via his extensive work with the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health and its Keep Memory Alive foundation, Opportunity Village, the Boys & Girls Club of Southern Nevada, Nevada Ballet Theatre and much more.
Leach passed away in Las Vegas, where he had lived since 1999, on Aug. 24 after suffering another stroke. He was 76 and died five days before his 77th birthday. His family and close friends organized a “Celebration of Life” in his honor at The Palazzo Theatre in The Palazzo Las Vegas on Sept. 28.
“Despite the past 10 months, what a beautiful life he had,” his sons Steven, Rick and Gregg Leach said in a statement. “Everyone’s support and love over the past almost one year has been incredible, and we are so grateful.”
Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits of Southern Nevada Event Marketing General Manager Michael Severino, a longtime friend of Leach’s who has resided in Las Vegas since 1977, recently sat down to talk about Leach’s generosity with SGWS and the Lou Ruvo Center and its Keep Memory Alive foundation (SGWS Vice President and General Manager Larry Ruvo founded The Lou Ruvo Center, which is named after his late father):
Michael, do you remember the first time that you met Mr. Robin Leach?
Yes, it was at one of our Alzheimer’s events, Keep Memory Alive, at Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio in The Venetian. He saved the day — or, rather, I should say the night. We had faulty microphones during our live auction, and Robin, with his tremendous voice, came up and started auctioning off people.
It was hilarious because he auctioned off Dr. Ruth Westheimer that night. He had her stand on a chair and auctioned off dinner with her. He endeared himself that night to the guests and our organization. It was the start of a beautiful friendship.
Tell me more about Robin’s involvement with the Keep Memory Alive Center, from reporting about Keep Memory Alive as a journalist to his volunteerism with the annual “Power of Love” galas and other Keep Memory Alive events.
Robin’s heart was as big as his voice. He was a tremendous supporter of Keep Memory Alive through his writing and his financial contributions. Whatever was needed, he was there for us and the organization.
He really believed in the Frank Gehry-designed building. We were very blessed to have a man of his quality and knowledge to lead us through a lot of things that were related to public relations, journalism, the shows and entertainment.
He emceed and coordinated a lot of the “Power of Love” fundraising galas for Keep Memory Alive. One that really stands out … well, he had a great sense of humor. He had a very loud sweater that he was wearing at a gala, and spontaneously Steve Schirripa, who was helping him with the auction, turned around and auctioned off his sweater. I believe that it raised $8,000 to $10,000. He was game — he was in it.
His 70th birthday celebration took place at the Keep Memory Alive Center and included Wolfgang Puck’s Las Vegas chefs. The City of Las Vegas proclaimed that day — Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011 — Robin Leach Day in Las Vegas.
Yes. Many people don’t know that he started the Food Network. I’ve seen old films of him interviewing Wolfgang Puck back in the day in L.A., Nobu Matsuhisa, all the up-and-comers back 25 to 30 years ago. He was the go-to guy when it came to the chefs. He was well-respected.
A bench was dedicated in Robin’s honor at the Keep Memory Alive Center on Dec. 6, 2015, for all of his contributions.
There was an intimate ceremony to dedicate the well-deserved honor to Robin. I’m happy to say that it is a lasting memory to Robin in our Lou Ruvo Center memory garden. Robin is credited with helping raise tens of millions of dollars for the Keep Memory Alive Center.
Do you have a favorite memory of Robin?
The best memories I have with Robin are the times that we shared lunches and dinners together and he told me about how he came to America, how he started. It was interesting, the things he did as a young man, he was a young editor and journalist growing up in England.
What do you miss most about Robin?
Hmmm (long pause) … his voice and his laugh. He had an expression that I think about all the time. I always referred to him as Sir Robin, and it became a running joke where some people thought that he had actually been knighted. He used to say, and it was funny, “My great sainted aunt used to say …”
What is Mr. Robin Leach’s lasting legacy in Las Vegas?
His generosity. Not just with Keep Memory Alive, but with many, many charities. We were the primary charity, and he endeared himself to us and vice versa. There were many charities: Girl Scouts, Opportunity Village, the Boys & Girls Club. He gave back in a low-key and humble way.
Robin was a great friend of Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits and Keep Memory Alive. He was always willing to help any way he could.
Leach was honored with a 21-Cork Salute at the 44th Annual UNLVino at the Keep Memory Alive Center on April 14. In a tribute to Leach at KeepMemoryAlive.org, there is a quote from the man himself: “Philanthropy, as with anything you do well in life, has to be done with passion.”
Well said, Mr. Leach. Now rest in peace after a long life well-lived.
Las Vegas-based editor and writer Don Chareunsy was Robin Leach’s editor at the Las Vegas Sun from 2008-2016 and Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2016-2017.