The hat says it all: "I'm Not Dead Yet."
Lest there remain any ambiguity about that sentiment, the man in the hat repeats: "I'm not dead yet."
The line from Monty Python and the Holy Grail is mixed with a simple, "Thank you" from one of the city's finest musical talents and also one of its best-liked entertainment figures. Bill Fayne, the longtime sidekick and music director for Clint Holmes and a third of the Las Vegas Tenors, was "outta commish" there for a while. He might or might not have had cancer in his esophagus, but it is certain he no longer actually has an esophagus. That has been removed, and it can be said that Fayne is now the city's finest vocalist who lacks an esophagus.
What it all leads to is Fayne has accrued what is likely more than $200,000 in medical bills after undergoing surgery on Nov. 23 to eradicate "suspicious" cells in his esophagus and reconstruct his stomach so it would perform the functions of the organ that had been removed. To help pay his medical costs, which included a lengthy hospital stay in Irvine, Calif., and a two-week, drug-induced coma, many Vegas entertainers are turning out for a 2 p.m. Saturday benefit performance at Suncoast Showroom.
Those expected to pitch in read like ... well, read like a long list of Vegas entertainers who really dig Bill Fayne and would be honored to help him in any way. The lineup includes Holmes and his wife, Kelly Clinton; Terry Fator; Frankie Scinta; Lance Burton; Domenick Allen; Leigh Zimmerman; Cayleigh Capaldi; Rick Faugno; Lena Prima; 5Th Avenue; Voci Vegas; Las Vegas Tenors; Tony Sacca; Jerry Lopez; Jeff Neiman; Vincent Falcone; Tina Walsh; Susan Anton, cast member from Menopause The Musical and Louie Anderson. I'm hearing that even the legendary Pete Barbutti will be in-house, and His Ubiquitousness, Robin Leach, will salute Fayne. So expect a toast of sorts.
It is a lineup loaded with aces for a show that is purportedly to run just two hours and sold out Wednesday afternoon with no marketing push behind it. All word-of-mouth, or word-of-text and Facebook updates.
"My only request is that it doesn't get too maudlin or sappy," Fayne said during an interview this week at a conveniently located Starbucks. Even while expressing that desire, Fayne is likely wishing for the impossible, given his popularity among Vegas show-biz types.
"The support from my friends in the entertainment industry has been amazing," he says, shaking his head. Addressing his financial concerns, he says simply, "I've already been through one bankruptcy. You can't draw blood from a stone." All proceeds will be funneled directly to Frayne's medical expenses, and Fayne stresses that the show would not be possible if not for the generosity of Suncoast Entertainment Director Terry Jenkins.
"They have been remarkably charitable in this, I can't emphasize that enough," Fayne says. "It's humbling, to say the least."
Fayne first noticed something was abnormal with his health back in the summer of 2008, when he experienced problems swallowing. He underwent a series of biopsies, which indicated there was what he termed a "huge chance" cancerous cells were spreading in his esophagus. Cancer of the esophagus advances incredibly fast, the fastest-spreading form of all cancers, and Fayne had to decide quickly how to attack the problem. After being given a series of options, he decided to have an esophagectomy, or surgical removal of the esophagus through a series of incisions in his abdomen.
During the procedure, the organ was essentially rebuilt, and his stomach was reduced to about a third of what it was before he was operated on. That would explain, in part how Fayne dropped from 250 pounds to his current 200 in 40 days.
Quite a diet plan.
"I don't recommend it," the 63-year-old Fayne says, "but this might be the weight I will live with."
After his surgery, he developed an infection in his lungs and was place in an induced coma Dec. 2 as doctors fed him antibiotics intravenously. He was lifted out of unconsciousness Dec. 17, which happened to be his birthday, and he received a call from Clint and Kelly Holmes, singing "Happy Birthday to You."
"I think they planned on just leaving a message," Fayne says. "They were surprised I answered. It was so great."
Fayne is not quite fit enough to sing a full 90-minute performance, which is about the length of a Las Vegas Tenors show (the lineup is Fayne, Bobby Black and Teddy Davey). "I can sing a song, but not a full show. My lung capacity just isn't there yet," he says. But he has taken the mic at Kelly Holmes' Monday night showcases at Bootlegger Bistro for "You Raise Me Up," and is expected to sing Saturday, provided the audiences properly goads.
After the Suncoast show, Fayne will prep for his next extended gig, performing in and helping produce Clint Holmes' long-awaited autobiographical musical at Flat Rock Playhouse, the State Theatre of North Carolina, from March 31 though April 25.
The two have known each other since meeting in 1964, when both were freshmen in college.
"We have seen in all," says Fayne, who was at Holmes' side five years ago when Holmes battled prostate cancer. "What a life we've had. I could tell you some stories ..."
Oh, and he did. But they are not stories for today. Those tales of years onstage and off-stage can wait until after Saturday's love story plays out.
Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats.