We both loved Las Vegas, more than anything. That is why I got along so famously with Jack Wishna.
He loved it here. I love it here. And when we had lunch together at Capital Grille at Fashion Show mall (where he always ordered the Wishna Salad), we would talk about why we loved Las Vegas. We would gaze out toward the Strip, at the gold Trump International and Wynn/Encore Las Vegas, and Jack would talk of the latest grand plan in the resort or entertainment industries.
He would often preface his tales with, “I hate to drop names, but Tony Orlando and I …” and we would laugh at all the name-dropping that was a hallmark of these lunch visits.
Wisha, 54, a friend of so many Las Vegas execs, officials and entertainers, was found dead Tuesday morning at his home in Anthem.
Henderson Police said a 911 dispatcher took an emergency call at 6:20 a.m. Tuesday from someone in the neighborhood of the Plum Hollow Drive home owned by Wishna and his wife, Donna. Officers forced entry into the garage and found Wishna unconscious. Wishna himself did not make the call.
Paramedics rushed him to St. Rose Dominican Hospital, Siena Campus. The Clark County Coroner’s Office confirmed today that Wishna died of carbon monoxide intoxication, the result of a suicide.
Wishna was the founder of the entertainment and resort consulting firm CPAmerica, which had offices in New York, Florida and Las Vegas. Over the years, Wishna was friendly, and conducted business, with many famous figures in Las Vegas and beyond, including Michael Jackson, Donald Trump, Wayne Newton and Orlando. His most recent project was the social music network RockCityClub.com, designed as a platform for emerging artists to showcase their latest releases and for music fans to find the latest hot new acts.
Wishna’s original partner in the platform was the late Don Kirshner, and he also worked with longtime producers Ron Dante and Phil Ramone on the project to form a Producers Circle within the organization. As the project took form, Wishna assembled a deal with the Palms to present rising artists featured on RockCityClub onstage at the Pearl Concert Theater, with the shows streaming live on the website.
This morning, Dante said, “I am in shock. This came out of nowhere. It is a terrible tragedy.” Dante added, “I knew when he didn’t respond to my e-mails over the past two or three days, something was wrong. When he didn’t show up at the office on Monday, I knew something was wrong.”
No memorial services have been announced for Wishna, a native of New York City who split time between Las Vegas and Boca Raton, Fla., in recent years.
Wishna launched RockCityClub.com a year ago and was still seeking investors in the project as recently as this week. He missed a Tuesday lunch meeting at BLT Burger with Mirage President Felix Rappaport and Rappaport associates, during which Wishna was expected to propose an investment opportunity for Rappaport in Wishna’s Rockrena Inc., the parent company of RockCityClub.
Rappaport said he knew Wishna to always be on time, even early, for such appointments, but didn’t think anything tragic had unfolded until reading overnight reports that Wishna had died.
“He was a great friend and a great conceptual thinker,” Rappaport said in an e-mail today. “He thought of great partnerships and then assembled them.”
Wishna was a regular visitor, nearly every night, to chef Carla Pellegrino’s restaurant Bratalian on South Eastern Avenue, where Pellegrino often observed him writing his memoirs into a notepad and iPad unfolded in front of him as he ate. When Wishna did not show up for dinner Monday night, she became concerned. Word about his death surfaced Tuesday night, as freelance entertainment reporter Alicia Jacobs, a close friend of the Wishnas, was first to tweet that she heard Jack had died, and Pellegrino soon followed with a heartfelt tribute to her friend on her Facebook page.
Word circulated quickly, and news of Wishna’s passing was posted on updates to his Facebook page and Wikipedia entries even before his death was confirmed by the Clark County Coroner’s Office.
Wishna arrived in Las Vegas in 1999, and his first significant venture was to help forge the contract between Newton and Boyd Gaming officials, which led to Newton performing at the Stardust in the Wayne Newton Theater from 2000-2005. In a statement today, Newton said, "It comes as a tremendous surprise. Jack and Donna have been longtime friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with Donna during this time of great loss. Jack will be missed.”
Wishna was a conduit between Trump and Phil Ruffin in the deal that led to the construction of the Trump on the Strip parcel owned by Ruffin just north of Fashion Show. Trump thanked Wishna for his friendship at the ribbon-cutting ceremony in the summer of 2006, and Wishna often acted as a go-between for Trump and media seeking contact from the real-estate mogul.
Wishna also talked of his involvement in convincing Michael Jackson out of retirement after a 1 ½-year hiatus and putting the superstar recording artists in contact with representatives of Cirque du Soleil, a process that ultimately helped led to the Cirque show based on Jackson’s life and career (a theater version of which is moving into Mandalay Bay Theater in the spring of 2013). Over the years, the celebrities and moguls he listed as clients, or as those with whom he consulted, included Britney Spears, Madonna, Michael Flatley, Richard Branson and Mohamad al-Fayed.
Orlando was a close friend and in an e-mail today said, “Our heartfelt prayers, sympathies and deepest condolences go out to the Wishna family and Donna on the loss of her husband, Jack.”
Wishna was at most show and resort openings and major events in Las Vegas. Several weeks ago, we hung out at the premiere viewing party of the CBS series based on the life of Ralph Lamb, “Las Vegas,” at Green Valley Ranch. One favorite moment was the night in December 2009 that Donna, he and I overtook the chocolate display at the opening of Aria.
We always had a “next lunch” on the books, but the last time I saw Jack was at the wedding of R-J columnist Norm Clarke and Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce PR rep Cara Roberts. We were on the dance floor, and Jack was wearing sunglasses and smiling as we tried to perform something akin to the Hustle. We had some laughs, for sure, and I’ll always remember that smile, and the love that Jack Wishna had for this city.