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Danny Gans dies at 52; Las Vegas entertainer

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Danny Gans, whose breadth of celebrity impressions made him a popular mainstay on the ever-changing Las Vegas Strip, died Friday morning at his home in Henderson, Nev. He was 52.

A family member called authorities at 3:44 a.m. and said Gans was struggling to breathe, Henderson police said. He was pronounced dead at the scene, and police said there were no signs of foul play.

The Clark County coroner's office has not released a cause of death.

"One of the most unique human beings and entertainers in the world has been taken from us in an unexpected moment," casino mogul Steve Wynn, who hired Gans when he owned the Mirage and brought him to the 1,500-seat Encore Theater in February, said a statement. ". . . We will all try to go on with our lives without our dear friend. At this moment it seems almost impossible."

On Friday, the Encore marquee mourned: "Our friend forever, Danny Gans. 1956 - 2009."

Over a dozen years and at several hotel-casinos, Gans gained a following for whizzing through dozens of impressions -- including Frank Sinatra, Forrest Gump and brief sensation Hootie & the Blowfish.

In 2002, The Times described his act as "impersonation not as satire but as a breathtaking achievement -- entertainers of the last 50 years put in a blender and presented as a mass-culture smoothie."

"I know, especially now in this economy, what it costs people to come see that show," Gans told CNN's Larry King in March. "And I feel obligated to give them the greatest night that they've ever seen."

Relatively unknown outside Las Vegas, Gans was mourned by gaming titans, Strip legends such as Wayne Newton and even U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

"He was a talented performer who used his celebrity to give back to our community and those in need," Reid said in a statement. "Las Vegas is a better place because of Danny Gans."

Las Vegas residents hailed Gans for his array of charity work, including a children's golf program and an annual 5K run for a cancer foundation, the Associated Press reported. Friends were shocked that the health-conscious entertainer had died so suddenly.

Daniel Davies Gans was born in October 1956 in Torrance.

His father, Sid, was a television salesman who had worked as a drummer and comedian in the Catskills. He and his wife, Alta, named their son Danny, Sid told The Times, "because you can't be mad with a person when you say 'Danny.' "

As a youngster, Gans aspired to play third base for the Dodgers. Baseball took him to Mount San Antonio College in Walnut; Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where he met his wife, Julie; and, for a short time, the minor leagues. He also had a small role as Deke in the 1988 baseball film "Bull Durham."

After a career-ending injury, he dedicated his life to Christianity and his career path to entertainment, honing impressions at corporate events. In 1995, his one-man show in New York, "Danny Gans on Broadway: The Man of Many Voices," closed after six performances.

He ended up in Las Vegas as the Stratosphere's resident headliner and steadily climbed the casino hierarchy. He jumped from the Rio to the Mirage, where he spent eight years in a showroom built specifically for him, and then to Encore, Las Vegas Boulevard's newest luxury behemoth. Though the Strip morphed repeatedly, and some critics panned his show as predictable, Gans remained a family-friendly success.

"I think his death is going to leave a real gap in entertainment here," said David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. "He really struck a nerve with people. There will eventually be someone else, but there won't be another Danny Gans."

Gans is survived by his wife and their children, Amy, Andrew and Emily. Information about services was not available.

ashley.powers@latimes.com

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