REMEMBERING A LARGER-THAN-LIFE FRIEND: ROBIN LEACH
Robin Leach’s best days were his birthdays: Champage flowed among a long table of friends dining on pasta dishes topped with truffles and always served with a side dish of hilarity.
Usually a group between 15-20, it was always a co-celebration, held at one of Las Vegas’ hottest celebrity-chef restaurants.
“We had the best birthdays ever,” said Leach’s close friend and hairstylist of the stars, Michael Boychuck. “We held it between his (August 29th) and mine (September 5).
Leach died last Friday, five days before his 77th birthday. Leach and Boychuck first celebrated their birthdays together Sept. 10, 2001 – the night before the 9-11 terror attacks.
The friendship started shortly after Leach arrived in Las Vegas in the spring of 1999.
Boychuck and his wife-to-be, Karen Rader, helped Leach find a house in Spanish Trails. Rader was a member of the legendary Crazy Girls revue at the Riviera and Leach was dating her friend, Shelly Rene.
“We were invited over for brunch,” said Boychuck, “and the first thing Robin said was, “How would you like a glass of Cristal.”
“I said, ‘yawwww-uh,” recalled Boychuck.
But the real introduction to the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” came a couple weeks later.
One day Rader came home with exciting news. Leach had invited them to his home in Jumby Bay in the West Indies.
Boychuck, taken aback, hesitated. This doesn’t happen to a kid who grew up in a small town in the coal country of Pennsylvania, “I told Karen, ‘I don’t think he wants another guy there.”
Leach did. And off they went to the 300-acre private island located two miles off the coast of Antigua. Known for its luxury suites and villas, the resort is a celebrity hideaway. Leach owned a place there for years.
The double birthday party had shrunk over the years. The last one, a year ago, at STK Steakhouse at The Cosmopolitan, “was just four of us,” said Boychuck.
He was jolted awake at 5:30 a.m. Friday by a call from a New York number. A call at that hour triggered alarm.
It was awful news: Leach had died from a second stroke, nine months after the first one in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
“A total shock,” said Boychuck. “We had visited him quite a few times (at a Las Vegas rehab center). Just a couple weeks ago he was getting ready to go home."
Leach “was looking way better,” said Boychuck, but still unable to talk. “But you could still communicate with him. It’s funny, the last time we saw him, Karen asked him if he would like a massage and he nodded. His expressions were priceless: a wink, a nod, a smile.”
The Boychucks had dinner with Leach at Nobu at Caesars Palace shortly before Thanksgiving. “He said he was going to Cabo. I called him and said if something came up and he didn’t go, he was welcome to join us.
“This was three or four days before his stroke. When I didn’t hear back, I thought he was just having a great time.
“He was like a brother,” said Boychuck. “We did about 17 birthdays together and 17 New Year’s Eves. Some of our best ones were at Alize at the Palms, with that great view. But the best thing was, I don’t care where you were, it became an exciting place because you were with Robin.”
Leach went out of his way to help Boychuck market his salons, either verbally or through his celebrity column at AOL.com, the Las Vegas Sun or the Las Vegas Review-Journal, where he moved to in 2016.
“He always said, ‘You’ve got to do this, or that.’ One night we were having dinner at N9NE Steakhouse. He said, ‘What’s the most expensive thing you offer?” While Boychuck thought about it, Leach said, “How much is a pedicure? You should have a $2,000 pedicure-–the most expensive pedicure in the world.
“You have to serve Cristal,” Leach insisted. “You have to have something to eat. Come up with a special menu from N9NE. The technicians should do the pedicure in lingerie. I have a friend in the Chippendales and he will be your butler.”
The concept went global, said Boychuck. “We got so many calls from all over. Robin didn’t see things in a small way.” He said, “You have to see things in the biggest way. Everything was how can you make it bigger or better. When went took it to George Maloof, he said ‘sure, let’s do it.’”
Going out on the town with Leach was a five-star experience.
“No matter what restaurants we went to, chefs tried to outdo his last dinner. I had so many amazing dining experience because of Robin. Everything was the grandest experience. Best experience of my life, knowing him.”
I mentioned to Boychuck that Leach had told me over lunch, more than a decade ago, that he had just made arrangements to have three celebrations-of-life in three separate cities when he died.
If memory serves, they were to be held in his homeland of England, New York and Las Vegas.
“That sounds like something he would do,” said Boychuck, now 58.
“He was friends with everyone. Rock stars, financiers, beauty queens and casino owners,” he said.
A Las Vegas celebration of life is tentatively planned for September 27 at The Venetian, Boychuck said.
I arrived in Las Vegas in the fall of 1999 and didn’t get off to a good start with the long-time host of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”
One of the earliest sightings emailed to me was of Leach and one of his blondes du jour having chicken wings and champagne at a Hooter’s-like establishment on the Strip. I couldn’t resist adding a snarky “Bon Appetit!” comment. We got past it, though, and had lunch or dined together at media previews of a new restaurant on many occasions.
I was invited to most of his birthday parties before the relationship waned in the heat of competition.
No party stands out more the first one in 2001, a day party at his cabana at the Mandalay Bay wave pool. Several top-tier casino executives were leaving as I arrived.
When I walked up to the cabana, there was Leach, in a swim suit and a champagne flute in hand, on the telephone and pointing me the bottle of Cristal.
The only other guest suddenly emerged from the cabana. She was topless.
As other guests arrived to offer birthday wishes, I found myself engaged in a conversation with the dancer, a Russian named Ina. How does a Russian dancer end up in Las Vegas, I asked. I recall she was highly educated. She had ended up in the U.S. after fleeing to freedom on foot across a desert in the Middle East with others in a dance troupe during a tour. She and Robin were long-time “soulmates,” she said.
In a show of gratitude usually reserved for the city’s greatest entertainers, casinos along Las Vegas Boulevard toasted the bon vivant Brit last week by featuring his face on numerous marquees along the famed Strip he prowled in search of hot gossip at his favorite haunts.