Robin Leach dies, host of ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,’ celebrity columnist

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Robin Leach, a celebrity columnist and television host who famously signed off each episode of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” with his signature catchphrase of “Champagne wishes and caviar dreams,” died Friday. He was 76.

“Despite the past 10 months, what a beautiful life he had. Our Dad, Grandpa, Brother, Uncle and friend Robin Leach passed away peacefully last night at 1:50 a.m. Everyone’s support and love over the past, almost one year, has been incredible and we are so grateful. Memorial arrangements to follow,” said a statement from Leach’s son Steven, which is also attributed to Robin’s sons Gregg and Rick Leach.

Leach suffered a second stroke Monday. He had been hospitalized since November, after suffering a stroke in Cabo San Lucas. After his first stroke, Leach was taken to the St. Rose Dominican Siena ICU immediately upon his return to Las Vegas. He was later transferred to a nearby rehab facility, but suffered setbacks in his recovery and was unable to fully return to speaking full sentences.

Leach was moved to the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio in December, and also was admitted to a nearby rehabilitation facility. He returned to Las Vegas in May, where he continued rehab work at a Las Vegas health-care center. Leach’s recovery was interrupted Monday with the second, serious stroke, and it quickly became apparent he would not recover.

Leach was known for his grandiose personality, his seemingly tireless coverage of the celebrity beat in Las Vegas, and similarly passionate contributions to local charities. He was especially instrumental to the development of the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. Leach helped emcee the first fundraiser for the facility, in 1995 at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago at the Forum Shops at Caesars.

“Nobody used celebrity more than Robin did,” Larry Ruvo, founder of the Cleveland Clinic in Las Vegas, said Friday. “He had the ability to set up auction items, he would call in celebrity friends to appear at the Power of Love gala. He was the emcee and did voice-overs. He was the conductor, leading the symphony.”

Leach donated his fee for commercial appearances and voice-overs to the Cleveland Clinic.

“It was a significant amount of money,” Ruvo said. “He really believed in helping people. I have lost a friend and mentor.”

Leach was close to former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman and current Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who responded to Leach’s passing with a joint statement: “We have lost a dear, dear friend and wonderful man. His kindness and decency will be missed. He was so very charitable, and he really loved Las Vegas. An eternity of Champagne and Caviar for him.”

Leach moved to Las Vegas in 1999, and spent most of the last two decades chronicling star-studded events around town, most recently for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and for the Las Vegas Sun and publications in the Greenspun Media Group.

“I wanted no other job than to work in newspapers,” he told The Sun in 2011. “I was fascinated by the process of collecting information, talking to people and having the story appear in a paper that would be delivered in your letterbox.”

Born in London on Aug. 29, 1941, Robin Douglas Leach knew he wanted to be a journalist when he was just 10 years old. As a student at Harrow County School for Boys, he began sending weekly dispatches about goings on there to the editor of the local newspaper, The Harrow Observer. The paper published the stories, and hired him after he graduated. He was 15.

Later, he left to work at the Daily Mail, where he became the publication’s youngest Page One editor at age 18.

Leach moved to New York in November 1963, just days after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. He wrote for the New York Daily News, Ladies Home Journal and People magazine, authoring its first 11 cover stories. He also launched Go, a weekly pop-music magazine and became entertainment editor of The Star.

He broke into television in 1980, joining CNN’s “People Tonight” show. He later helped start the syndicated pop culture TV show “Entertainment Tonight.”

His big break came in 1984 with the debut of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” a program he created with the legendary television producer Al Masini. The syndicated show, which ran from 1984 to 1995, focused on celebrities’ lavish homes and favorite destinations. Many cultural observers point to “Lifestyles” as a turning point that opened the door for other celebrity-centric reality shows, including “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

“I had done a lot of show business reporting in Britain and it was an area of journalism that I thoroughly enjoyed covering,” he said. “The foibles of famous people, their need for applause … that they would be willing in a sense put their life or careers on the line every time they did a show or played a concert or made a film or performed in a play. … There were always stories to be found with those people.”

“The more eye-popping and outrageous, the better,” Leach told, describing the “Lifestyles” approach. “We wanted to make your mouth drop. That was the main effect. One picture was worth a thousand words, so if you had more pictures, the less you would have to say.”

“Lifestyles” made Leach a multimillionaire himself, and he was able to indulge his tastes for crisp linen pants and fine British motorcars. He was featured in publications including the New York Times, was impersonated in a skit on Saturday Night Live and name-checked in the Notorious B.I.G.’s song “Juicy” and “Glamourous,” by Fergie and Ludacris. And he appeared in several movies, including “She-Devil” (1989), “Spring Broke” (2016) and “Maxed Out” (2006). He also gave generously to nonprofits including Opportunity Village and Keep Memory Alive, which raises money to support programs at the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health.

Despite his reputation, Leach insisted he was a normal, down-to-earth sort and described his TV persona as a “cartoon character.”

“The cartoon character, that’s not who Robin Leach is,” he told the New York Times in 1990. “And when I wake up in the morning, I wink at myself because I like me — I know who I am. And when it’s time to send the cartoon character off, I just send him on his way.”

Leach befriended headliners up and down the Strip.

“I have known Robin for almost 40 years and mourn the loss of a friend and first-class journalist,” Wayne Newton said Friday. “I always enjoyed working with him My wife, Kathleen, and I send our condolences to his entire family.”

The success of “Lifestyles” helped Leach build connections with celebrity chefs, which he used to help start the Food Network. Leach told KNPR that casino owner Sheldon Adelson reached out to him through the network with an invitation to set up a studio at what would become The Venetian. The idea was that Leach could attract celebrity chefs who might consider opening restaurants at the hotel.

It worked. Leach often wrote about the dining scene in Las Vegas and loved discovering the latest over-the-top offerings.

Chef Rick Moonen, whose restaurants include RM Seafood and RX Boiler Room at Mandalay Bay, met Leach in 1993, when Leach had just launched the Food Network.

“I was fortunate enough to be on of the first guests on his show, and he was a generous soul, a brilliant man and a mentor to me,” Moonen said Friday. “He always enthusiastically supported anything Las Vegas. Sin City will never be quite the same … Today is a very sad day.”

Wolfgang Puck said it was a “privilege” to call leach a close friend for more than 35 years.

“We met at the original Spago in West Hollywood in early 1982 where, as legend has it, he created the now infamous smoked salmon and caviar ‘Jewish Pizza,’ and it remains one of our most popular menu items to this day,” Puck said Friday. “Besides being an ardent and passionate supporter of restaurants and chefs, famous or not, Robin was one of the most philanthropic individuals I’ve ever met especially in his home community of Las Vegas.

“He never said no to a charity’s request for his services. And each time he lent a hand, he helped a charity exceed their fund raising. A simple thank you made him smile.”

In 2017, Leach launched “Food Quest” on The Food Network with co-host Kim Alexis. Mario Lopez has since signed on as co-host for the show’s second season.

Planet Hollywood International Inc. Chairman Robert Earl was among Leach’s closest friends who ran businesses in Las Vegas. Earl remains chief of the Planet Hollywood restaurant chain, and is also the original owner of Planet Hollywood Resort.

“I wouldn’t make a visit to Vegas without making a trip to see Robin and get a lowdown on the whole city,” Earl said Friday. “He loved Las Vegas. He had no interest in living in L.A. or New York anymore. He was so happy there. He loved that city, he was an enormous supporter of businesses there, and he loved helping people.”

“I will never hang up the sign that says ‘Gone Fishing,’” he told KNPR. “My work is my joy, my work is my hobby,” he said.

One of Leach's last published works was in November 2017 as the feature story in The Best Of Las Vegas magazine published by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Las Vegas Sands operates The Venetian and Palazzo.

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