Photos: Iacocca, Garrett, Romano and Dion surprise at Keep Memory Alive

Andrea Hissom and Steve Wynn on the 2011 Keep Memory Alive Power of Love Gala red carpet at the Bellagio on Feb. 26, 2011.
Photo: Tom Donoghue/DonoghuePhotography.com

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2011 Keep Memory Alive Gala

The 2011 Keep Memory Alive Power of Love Gala red carpet at the Bellagio on Feb. 26, 2011.

The 2011 Keep Memory Alive Power of Love Gala red carpet at the Bellagio on Feb. 26, 2011.

The 2011 Keep Memory Alive Power of Love Gala red carpet at the Bellagio on Feb. 26, 2011.

The 2011 Keep Memory Alive Power of Love Gala red carpet at the Bellagio on Feb. 26, 2011.

The 2011 Keep Memory Alive Power of Love Gala red carpet at the Bellagio on Feb. 26, 2011.

The 2011 Keep Memory Alive Power of Love Gala red carpet at the Bellagio on Feb. 26, 2011.

Teri Hatcher and Holly Madison/Richard Corey - from YouTube.com

Brad Garrett and Laura Croft/Richard Corey - from YouTube.com

The surprises never stopped popping up at last night’s glittering Keep Memory Alive Power of Love gala, and the star chefs dinner and auction raised more than $5 million without even counting additional donations. The 15th annual benefit for the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, held at the Bellagio, was a star-studded affair that prompted star Chef Jose Andres to marvel and tweet: “This event is as amazing as the Oscars -- and so full of stars!

Desperate Housewives star Teri Hatcher brought her Oscar swag bag given to celebrities at the Academy Awards, dragged it onstage, unzipped it and started showing off the diamond jewelry and watches and trips, which we promptly auctioned off for $50,000. Teri also promised the winning bidder to take them to next year’s Oscar gifting suite for a whole other selection of high-ticket gifts!

The first big surprise of the night as when Celine Dion popped up on the video screens to announce her support for Keep Memory Alive. She was unable to attend because of rehearsals for singing “Smile” on today’s Oscar telecast in Hollywood. Instead, she told KMA donors, clinic doctors, caregivers and volunteers that she was inviting all of them to her new Caesars Palace show for a special final dress rehearsal March 12, just three days before her grand opening premiere. A copy of her CD Power of Love also was given to each attendee.

The second big surprise was legendary auto mogul Lee Iacocca. He drove onstage in his new 45th anniversary special-edition Mustang suitably embossed with his name. It was No. 19 of just 45 cars that have been made, and he joined me onstage while I was handling emcee and auction duties to sell it for $140,000. Then he turned to me and said he was so happy to get that price for the charity -- and so unhappy somebody had just lost out on the bidding -- that he donated another one, No. 31, and that brought the total to $280,000.

Another car that went under the hammer was a 2012 Mercedes roadster that brought in $325,000. After Ray Romano’s comedy routine and Brad Garrett’s zingers fired at yours truly, they sold off a “night with the Hollywood boys” playing poker, and with fast and furious bidding, three bidders won at $40,000 apiece. I even got caught up in the frenzied action and had the winning $6,500 bid for dinner with actor Chaz Palmintieri at Rao’s in Manhattan.

Celebrity chefs Michael Mina and Jose Andres sold their combined at-home dining adventures in Washington, D.C., and on the West Coast, which prompted Sen. Harry Reid to throw in a lunch at the Capitol. That was another $100,000 for charity! It also was a night of fine wines, vintage champagnes and magnificent meals prepared by an army of hundreds of chefs led by Jose, Michael and Wolfgang Puck’s crew captained by David Robins and Eric Klein. Cleveland Clinic President Dr. Toby Cosgrove and the doctor in charge here in Las Vegas, Dr. Jeffrey Cummings, made brief speeches.

There was a special presentation by founder Larry Ruvo and hotel mogul Steve Wynn to banker E. Parry Thomas. His fiancee, Andrea Hissom, accompanied Steve, and the happy, loving couple who talked with me on the red carpet will marry this spring, as they’d previously told VegasDeLuxe.com.

Stars on the red carpet included Steve Schirripa, Chazz, David Brenner, Gilbert Gottfried, Brad, Holly Madison, Laura Croft and Lisa VanderPump from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Mayor Oscar Goodman and his wife, mayoral candidate Carolyn Goodman, and our beloved illusionists Siegfried & Roy also were in attendance.

Siegfried told me that Roy and he would seriously consider doing another performance for the gala in the future to top the one they came out of retirement to perform three years ago. Former Sopranos star Steve told me that his new cable TV series Nothing Personal gets underway in March, and we’ll have our chat with him about it later this week.

The evening ended in a “dessert island” chocolate fantasy nightclub created by chocolate czar Francois Payard from Caesars Palace. Even the living statues were covered head to toe in chocolate creations! Former Bellagio housekeeper, 19-year-old Erik Gomez, made his singing debut before jetting off to Sony/BMG’s recording studios for his first sessions, and then Imperial Palace headliners Human Nature closed the amazing night with a super performance. It also was so successful that the dancing partygoers wouldn’t let them leave the stage when their performance was over, and the Down Under quartet improvised with additional songs.

Everybody left agreeing that it was the best gala to date, and with guests dancing well past midnight, it looked as if the 6 hours of festivities had been the most successful and enjoyable yet. All proceeds raised go to the amazing work of the Frank Gehry-designed Lou Ruvo Brain Center built downtown entirely from private charitable donations.

Thanks to contributing photographers Tom Donoghue, Scott Harrison and Curtis Dahl for their VegasDeLuxe.com photo gallery and to videographer Richard Corey for his work posted on YouTube.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

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