Roy Horn, Tony Hsieh, Irwin Molasky among noteworthy deaths in 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic affected every Nevadan and claimed the lives of more than 3,000 residents, including one of Las Vegas’ most iconic entertainers and a longtime local emergency room nurse.

While the coronavirus contributed to the passing of some Nevadans chronicled here, others died of different causes.

Among other noteworthy deaths in 2020 were Nevada’s first Black state senator, a downtown Las Vegas business luminary, one of the state’s best-known real estate developers, and a longtime federal judge for whom a downtown Las Vegas courthouse is named.

Retired state Sen. Joe Neal, whose service in the state Senate spanned three decades, died Thursday at age 85 after a long illness.

A champion of the poor and working class, Neal was also the first Black person to become a major party nominee for governor in the state, losing to Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn in the 2002 general election.

“When I think of Joe Neal, he was both a giant of a man, both physically and also in the community for the things he did,” state Sen. Mo Denis said Friday. “He was able to accomplish a lot, but more importantly, he was very passionate about representing his community.”

Roy Horn, of longtime Strip fixture Siegfried and Roy, died from complications related to his coronavirus diagnosis on May 8. He was 75.

“From the moment we met, I knew Roy and I, together, would change the world,” said Siegfried Fischbacher in a statement. “There could be no Siegfried without Roy, and no Roy without Siegfried.”

The duo routinely sold out the Mirage from 1990 to 2003, when the show shut down after the duo’s tiger dragged Horn offstage. They began working in Las Vegas as a specialty act in the 1960s.

Another surprising death rocked the downtown Las Vegas business community in November, when Zappos founder Tony Hsieh died after being injured in a Connecticut house fire. The 46-year-old pumped millions into downtown’s revitalization, including relocating Zappos the former city hall building.

Tributes poured in from Las Vegas politicians and business leaders, as well as through the Fremont Street Experience’s video canopy.

Hsieh spent years acquiring and updating property in downtown Las Vegas and supporting philanthropic causes, including a $1 million donation to the Smith Center.

Lloyd D. George, a longtime federal jurist who handled bankruptcy cases, high-profile mob racketeering trials and everything in between, died Oct. 7 at the age of 90.

George also gave the famous 2013 order for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to seize Cliven Bundy’s cattle after the rancher allegedly failed to pay grazing fees.

He was appointed to the U.S. District Court by President Ronald Reagan. The federal courthouse in downtown Las Vegas that bears his named opened in 2000.

Longtime Las Vegas real estate developer Irwin Molasky died on July 4. The 93-year-old began a number of local trends, having developed the city’s first private hospital, enclosed shopping mall, downtown office tower and master-planned community.

Molasky also donated land that eventually became UNLV’s main campus and was the founding chairman of the school’s fundraising wing, the UNLV Foundation.

Two well-known figures in the entertainment industry died in the last week of 2020.

Dawn Wells, a “Gilligan’s Island” star was named Miss Nevada in 1959, died at a Los Angeles living facility Wednesday of causes related to COVID-19. She was 82.

“She was very special in her part and she will always be remembered and remembered fondly and thought about because she gave so much to the universe through the show,” Tina Louise, who co-starred on the show as Ginger Grant, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Also, Phyllis McGuire, who rose to popular music stardom in the 1950s as a member of The McGuire Sisters, died early Tuesday morning at her home in Las Vegas, where she had lived since 1960. She was 89.

“In a city illuminated by its famous neon, Phyllis stood out in her signature Harry Winston diamonds and haute couture,” wrote former Review-Journal man-about-town columnist Norm Clarke in 2019 on the occasion of McGuire’s 88th birthday.

COVID-19 deaths

Daniel Scully, 69, became the state’s first COVID-19 fatality on March 15.

“This thing just clobbered him,” his cousin, Robert Scully, 72, said of the virus. “It snuck up on him, and when it hit him, it hit him like a ton of bricks. He didn’t have a chance.”

Felicia Campbell, a popular English professor at UNLV for nearly 60 years, died on July 27 from COVID complications. She was 89.

Campbell helped pioneer the serious academic study of pop culture and gambling, and she was the university’s longest serving professor.

Notorious mobster turned mafia movie consultant and Las Vegas tour guide, Frank Cullotta, passed away on Aug. 20 from COVID-19 and other health issues. He was 81.

Cullotta ran the “Hole in the Wall Gang” as one of Tony Spilotro’s top lieutenants before testifying against the mob in a landmark federal case. He later served as a consultant for the 1995 film “Casino.”

“He was a killer who turned out to be a law-abiding citizen,” said retired Las Vegas police officer David Groover. “He was a witty, highly intelligent person with a lot of charisma.”

The coronavirus also claimed the life of longtime Las Vegas nurse Greg Peistrup, a 53-year-old former U.S. Army medic who worked at one point or another at most of the clinics and hospitals in the valley.

“Everybody wanted to be like Greg. He treated everybody like their own brother and sister out there,” Brett Olbur, now the EMS liaison for Dignity Health, said shortly after Peistrup’s death in September. “He’d tell you about his great trip or his stupid jokes everybody laughed at.”

Erik Lloyd, a nearly 30-year Metropolitan Police Department officer, detective and lieutenant, died from COVID complications in July. He was 53.

Lloyd spent nearly 16 of those years helping the family members of officers injured or killed in the line of duty.

Fred C. Adams, founder of the popular Utah Shakespeare Festival just up I-15 in Cedar City, passed away at the age of 89. The festival draws scores of Las Vegas residents each year.

Political fixtures

Former Las Vegas Mayor Ron Lurie died Dec. 23 after contracting COVID-19. He also had blood cancer and other health issues.

Lurie spent 14 years on the Las Vegas City Council before he was elected mayor in 1987. He also worked extensively in the gaming industry — first in slot machine sales, then as an executive.

“Ron was a dear friend and an exceptional public leader who devoted two decades of his life to public service,” Gov. Steve Sisolak tweeted after Lurie’s passing.

Louis La Porta, a founding Henderson City Council member who convened the city’s first local governance meeting at his home in 1953, died in March at age 96. La Porta was also a founding member of the Henderson Historical Society and former Clark County commissioner.

Sean Higgins, a longtime lobbyist for the casino and tavern industries, died Sept. 23 at age 56. He most recently served as vice president for government affairs at Golden Entertainment.

Mary Kozlowski Pichot, an environmentalist and activist who lobbied to save Red Rock Canyon from development in the 1960s, died Oct. 24 at age 81.

She continued her service to environmental causes for most of her life, also serving on the Colorado River Commission and on various pollution control boards.

Business and media

Richard Haskins, president of Red Rock Resorts Inc. and Station Casinos, died in a watercraft accident on July 4. He was 56.

Haskins joined Station in 1995 and became president in 2015.

“Words cannot express what Rich has meant to the Company and to me in the 25 years he has been with Station Casinos. He was a trusted advisor, a brilliant strategist, a steady hand in good times and in bad and most important – a friend to all,” CEO and Chairman Frank Fertitta III said of Haskins.

Steve Schorr, a 40-year TV news anchor turned Cox Communications pro, died Nov. 12. He was 74.

Schorr also served on some 20 local nonprofits and championed a variety of causes in his lifetime, including as an advocate for missing children. An elementary school in Las Vegas bears his name.

Terry Goodkind, a bestselling fantasy author, died Sept. 17 at the age of 72.

He had sold more than 26 million copies since publishing his first novel, “Wizard’s First Rule,” in 1994. The book began his career-defining “Sword of Truth” series.

Other luminaries

Sgt. Benjamin Michael Jenkins, a 47-year-old Nevada Highway Patrol trooper, was shot and killed near Ely on March 27 after he stopped to help a motorist while on duty.

He was the first Highway Patrol officer killed on duty in more than a decade.

“He was hardworking and dedicated to the troopers he led and set an outstanding example for others to follow,” Highway Patrol Col. Dan Solow said shortly after Jenkins’ death. “His loss is devastating to us all.”

Longtime exotic pet dealer Ken Foose died Aug. 31 after suffering a heart attack. He was 61.

Foose was a well-known expert on reptiles, frogs, spiders and more. He opened Exotic Pets on Decatur Boulevard in 1991.

Contact Rory Appleton at [email protected] or 702-383-0276. Follow @RoryDoesPhonics on Twitter.

Latest posts