OBITUARY

Sam George Distefano

December 20, 1926April 13, 2015
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CITY PASSING OF RETIRED PLAYBOY/RIVIERA EXEC Retired Playboy/Riviera talent exec, Sam Distefano, resident of Chicago, Miami, Lake Geneva, Atlantic City, & Las Vegas, passed away peacefully of old age & natural causes, in his sleep, MON (3AM 4/13), at Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas, surrounded by his Goddaughter & only son, both present by his bedside, after a long & distinguished career in the entertainment & hospitality industries. EARLY YEARS – Sam Distefano was an exceptionally gifted, brilliant-minded, Italian-American jazz-pianist & talent executive born on the south side of Chicago, IL, in Dec. of '26. He exhibited signs of genius at an early age by demonstrating a wide range of talents that included speaking 2 languages fluently, performing piano recitals of complicated classical pieces (including the 'William Tell Overture' perfectly at only 8 years old & with a high fever no less), & earning straight A’s throughout elementary school & high school. He was elected editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper at Tilden Tech & interviewed President (then General) Dwight Eisenhower at the Drake Hotel for the paper when he was only 16. As a teen & early-aged adult, Distefano worked many jazz clubs on piano in the Chicagoland area. He studied time & motion engineering at IT&T Institute & attended college briefly at the University of Illinois at Navy Pier before joining the military in the early '50’s. MILITARY PERIOD - It was during this period that his lifelong, close friendship with the famous jazz pianist, Bill Evans, ensued. During the Korean War, Distefano & Evans were stationed together at Ft. Sheridan in northern IL, bunkmates in the same platoon, & performed together in the 5th Army Band. This unique opportunity enabled Distefano to further develop his jazz piano playing. It was also during this period that Distefano’s wide range of talents once again shone through as he was accepted into the 5th Army Band on trumpet & upright-acoustic-string-bass-fiddle, called upon to perform "Taps" at many Chicagoland area Vet funerals, assigned percussion parts (including crash cymbals in the marching band), & was awarded the National Defense Service Marksmanship Medal for having demonstrated perfect firearms skills & proficiency in combat training. EDUCATION - After serving honorably in the U.S. Army from '52-'55, Distefano moved to Miami, FL & invested in a notable nightclub named the Crab Shanty that he changed to the Stut N’ Tut where he performed on piano with the legendary jazz trombonist, Carl Fontana. Performing in & operating the Stut N’ Tut enabled Distefano to return to college. Majoring in accounting, he graduated from the University of Miami in '57 with a 4-year, Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. He accomplished this degree on limited amounts of sleep from having to work nights at the Stut N’ Tut while attending his full classload during the days. EARLY MUSICAL CAREER - After graduating college, Distefano returned to his hometown of Chicago, where his versatility of talent was exhibited yet again, as he was working days as an industrial engineer for IT&T, & nights as a musician, playing both piano & upright bass. Sam performed in many of the city’s famous nightclubs, such as The Cloisters, The Trade Winds, & The Living Room, relieving such famous pianists as Joe Parnello (Frank Sinatra’s pianist), Larry Novak, & Joe Iacco on their off-nights. It was in one of these clubs, that Playboy founders, Victor Lownes & Hugh Hefner, caught Distefano performing with his trio & accompanying female jazz vocalists on piano. PLAYBOY - Lownes & Hefner liked Distefano’s playing enough to ask him to perform with his trio at the opening of the very 1st Playboy Club at 116 E. Walton St. in Chicago, in Feb. of '60. This launched what would turn into Distefano's elaborate 25-year career with Playboy Enterprises, Inc., that included his being promoted to musical director at their club in Miami from '62-'69; orchestra leader, conductor, & entertainment director at their country club & resort hotel in Lake Geneva, WI from '69-'78 (where he led his own 32-piece orchestra, accompanied on piano, & conducted for, such artists as Peggy Lee, Mel Torme, Anthony Newley, Tony Bennett, the Smothers Brothers, Liza Minnelli, & Ann Margaret, to name a few); & eventually vice-president of entertainment for their entire international chain of clubs & hotels, worldwide. He also served, along with producer/director, Peter Jackson, as executive producer of the "Playboy Fantasy" production show & revue at the Playboy Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, NJ from '81-'83. He was retained as a consultant to Playboy thru Dec '84. It was also during this period that Distefano owned, operated, & often hosted at, Doro’s Italian Restaurant & Lounge at 871 N. Rush St., a then popular, downtown Chicago nightspot, frequented by VIP’s, Hollywood stars, & every "who’s-who" of the entire Tri-State area. A Chicago VIP himself, Distefano was often featured in Irv Kupcinet’s Chicago Sun-Times "Kup’s Column," on local radio interviews, & on T.V. journal shows like WFLD’s "PM Magazine Chicago." LAS VEGAS - Immediately following his successful 25-year career with Playboy, Distefano was hired by corporate conglomerate tycoon, Meshulam Riklis, in ’84, to head the entertainment department as vice-president of entertainment & special events at Riklis’ legendary Riviera Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV. Distefano booked & launched many successful entertainment events at "the Riv" during his decadelong tenure there. These included numerous world-heavyweight-championship-boxing bouts, concerts, & full-scale production shows like "A New Year’s Eve with Frank Sinatra & Pia Zadora;" the "Legends of Comedy" event, which featured Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, & Danny Thomas; "Burns & Hope Together," wherein George Burns & Bob Hope performed live together for the first time; "Luciano Pavarotti with the Las Vegas Symphony Orchestra;" the "An Evening At La Cage" female impersonator show; the "An Evening at the Improv" comedy club; the "Crazy Girls" sexy revue; & the award-winning, multi-million-dollar production-extravaganza, "Splash," which ran successfully for over 20 years in the Versailles Theater, was associate-produced by Distefano, & acclaimed as "Las Vegas’ International Show of the Year" by the Las Vegas Review Journal for over 10 years in a row. Distefano was often a featured guest on the KVVU Las Vegas hit T.V. show, "AM Southern Nevada," as well as a judge on the popular '80’s & '90’s national T.V. series "Star Search," with Ed McMahon, that paved the way for today’s talent search shows like "American Idol" & "America’s Got Talent." Distefano’s career was a highlighted exhibit in the Las Vegas Museum of Entertainment History at the Tropicana Hotel & Casino, & in '97, he was honorarily inducted into the Casino Legends Hall Of Fame. To this day, Sam remains the frequent subject of numerous, popular books about the history of music & entertainment in Chicago, Las Vegas, & the iconic Playboy Clubs. FAMILY & PERSONAL INTERESTS – Distefano hailed from humble beginnings. His parents were both Roman Catholic immigrants from Sicily, with limited education. His mother was a seamstress & his father was a meatplant worker on Chicago’s south side in the famous "Back of the Yards" union stockyard district during the Great Depression. Yet they succeeded in raising 2 children - Distefano & his only sister (Mary). Distefano married in '67 in Miami (his wife, Pam, was an airline stewardess for Eastern Airlines), had 1 child in '69 (a son, Michael), divorced in '78, & never remarried. His personal interests included reading National Geographic, traveling, fishing, cooking, billiards, yachting, & poker (he was the 1st place winner of 3, large, international poker tournaments hosted at the Riviera & Desert Inn Hotels & Casinos in Las Vegas in '88 & '94, respectively). He was an avid movie & T.V. fan of Charles Bronson, Steven Seagal, Peter Sellers (the 'Pink Panther' films), & Peter Falk (particularly the '70’s detective series, 'Columbo.'). Sam participated in many large, charitable, fundraising events in both Chicago & Las Vegas for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, Alzheimer’s Association, & Injured Police Officers’ Fund. A devout Catholic, he attended Mass regularly at St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Las Vegas. Sam also enjoyed performing music with his son (who also plays jazz piano & drums). RETIREMENT & MOST RECENT YEARS - Distefano retired from the Riviera in '93 & formed his own entertainment management & consulting firm with his son, which they continued to operate successfully until the senior Distefano developed Alzheimer’s in '03. Distefano resided with his son & was with him in Las Vegas at Sunrise Hospital at the time of his peaceful ascent to Jesus due to natural causes in his sleep, MON (3AM 4/13). Sam is survived by his son, Michael; Goddaughter, Claudina Vespia; ex-wife, Pam Johnston; nephew, Gary (Sharon) Kurnat; niece, Linda (Casey) Kowalski; grand-niece, Allison (Stephen) McCuan; grand-nephew, Steven (Whitney) Kowalski; great grand-nieces, Aubrey McCuan & Daphne Kowalski; & great grand-nephew, Cooper Kowalski. FRI 4/17: Las Vegas Viewing/Wake 8AM-12PM & 2PM-4PM (Rosary at 3:30PM) at Palm Downtown Mortuary, 1325 N. Main St., Las Vegas, NV 89101 (702) 464-8300. SUN 4/19: Chicago Viewing/Wake 8:00AM-1PM & 3PM-7PM (Rosary at 6PM) at Blake Lamb Funeral Home, 4727 W. 103rd St., Oak Lawn, IL 60453 (708) 636-1193. MON 4/20: Funeral 8AM (Blake Lamb), Funeral Mass 9:30AM [St. Linus Catholic Church, 10300 S. Lawler Ave., Oak Lawn, IL 60453 (708) 422-2400], Former Homes Tour 11:00AM (departs from St. Linus; complimentary stretch limousines available), Internment 2:00PM [Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, 6001 W. 111th St., Alsip, IL 60803 (708) 422-3020], Complimentary Luncheon 3:00PM [Palermo’s 95th, 4849 W. 95th St., Oak Lawn, IL 60453 (708) 425-6262]. More info at Blake Lamb. Anyone/everyone is welcome to attend all events, all 3 days. Flowers are very much appreciated & may be sent to Palm Downtown, Las Vegas (FRI 4/17 at the latest), &/or to Blake Lamb, Oak Lawn (MON 4/20 at the latest).

(References - Las Vegas Review Journal, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Miami Herald, Lake Geneva Regional News, Atlantic City Press, Playboy Club News, The Playboy Paper, Larry Novak, Pam Johnston, Mary Kurnat, Michael Distefano)

Services

  • Visitation Friday, April 17, 2015
  • Visitation Friday, April 17, 2015
  • Rosary Service Friday, April 17, 2015
REMEMBERING

Sam George Distefano

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Pamela Johnston

April 2, 2018

Remembering the good days in Miami and Michael's arrival into the world. Miss you. Love, Pam

November 2, 2017

Working on the book every day, Pop. Say hello to Victor, Arnie, Hef, and Vinnie, Pop! Love you and miss you always. Michael

Pamela Johnston

September 4, 2017

Thinking of you Sam. Miss you and Lauretta.
Pam

July 9, 2017

Pop, forgive me but I forgot to tell you that Dan Stone was with me at Victor's funeral in London! We were standing outside the church right after the funeral and we only had our suits on with no trenchcoat or overcoats and it was a record low temperature in London that day! Below freezing!! Dan and I were standing there talking about how even though we're from Chicago, we weren't sure if we were going to get hypothermia! LOL! But, Victor's sendoff was of the caliber an international ambassador would receive! It was extremely elegant and befitting of such a sophisticated aristocrat! He spoke so highly of you when he and Marilyn were so very kind to receive Barbara and I into their home numerous times last year! Love you Pop! Michael

July 8, 2017

Oh my goodness! I guess I really did not hear all of the eulogy at the time, Son, but here I just read it again and it is very moving and a lovely tribute to your father. I miss him too and say a prayer for him everyday. You remind me so very much of him. The apple did not fall far from the tree...you are as handsome and as charming as your Dad. Couldn't be finer and he would be (and is) so very proud of you as am I. Say Hi to Mom for me Sam. She is with you now. Pam

July 2, 2017

Miss you Pop. Miss you and love you always. Michael

mike distefano

April 15, 2017

Thursday, February 23, 2017
Hi Pop. Never shared your eulogy from your Chicago services Apr 19, 2015. So, here it is:

Rent two (2) presidential teleprompters please
Sam Distefano Eulogy, Written and Delivered by Michael Distefano at St. Linus Catholic Church, 103rd and Cicero Ave., Chicago, Il, on April 19th, 2015 at 9:15AM.
(bring handkerchiefs and bottled water)

Thank you, Father. If you will all please indulge me, I must first start out with the following disclaimer: The reason this Eulogy is 20 minutes long, is because there may be significant gaps of time wherein I simply will not be able to speak. I tried one read-through, and could not get through it, without uncontrollable bouts of weeping. So, even during those moments where I am barely able to speak, it may, because of my unavoidably high-pitched weeping voice in those moments, sound like I'm singing Soprano, because of the simultaneous crying and speaking. So please excuse me, forgive me, and I will get through it. If I buckle at certain points, please do not worry. I'm in very good health, thank God. And subsequently will be able to endure it. There just might be some long pauses. All I really need from you is an attentive ear, and profound patience. [End of Disclaimer: Beginning of Eulogy]: Most of you know me, but just in case and for those of you who may not, my name is Michael Distefano. I am Sam's only child. I was not sure if I would be able to have the emotional stability today to be able to deliver my father's eulogy because I just lost the most important and closest person to me in the history of my entire life. But, I asked the good Lord above for the strength to be able to deliver it, because I was the closest person to him, as well. I thank you all for this time to share with you my thoughts and words and ask you all to please bear with me here. Because it's quite possible, if not probable, that I will struggle with maintaining my composure here, while sharing these precious words with you. I've equipped myself though with a ready handkerchief, a bottled water,and faith.

From the moment I was born, my mother used to tell me that everyone referred to Sam as Sam & Michael. And everyone referred to me as Sam's son, or also Michael & Sam. Now that may seem a little different. But for us, it was the norm. Because we were just that Sam & Michael and Michael & Sambecause indeed, we were extremely inseparable. Today, we say farewell, but not goodbye to one person who was manymy father, my co-habitant every day of my entire life, my business partner, my mentor, my advisor, my teacher, my role model, my co-trustee, my piano teacher, my beneficiary, my confidant, my hero, and most of all, my very, very, very best friend.

Ours was certainly not the typical father and son relationship. My father didn't just love me he adored me. And he made sure the whole world knew it. Whenever I was not in school, he took me everywhere with him. And I do mean, everywhere as in 6 continents, 30 countries, exotic islands, hundreds of cities, nightclubs, restaurants, amusement-parks, shopping-malls, movies, boat-tours, ship-cruises, train-rides, limousine-rides, skyscraper-observation-decks, concerts, Broadway musicals, clothing-tailors, and of course our favorite place in the entire world when I was little Baskin & Robbins downtown on Walton. Single scoop of plain old vanilla on a regular cone for me, double scoop of Rocky Road on a sugar cone for Pop.

You would think that a man of such sophistication and with a career enveloped by so much glamour, would fancy the finer things in life more often than not. But what my father fancied more than all of that, was spending time with me. It's true we were never happier than when we were with each other.

And what Sicilian can resist Chinese Food? My father lit up whenever he could take me out to eat! The pork fried rice at Hoe Kow on Lake and State! The sweet and sour pork at Don the Beachcomber on Rush! The beef with peapods at Moy's in Elkhorn, Wisconsin! The egg rolls made with peanut butter at the Pekin House on Devon! And of course, don't forget the hot dogs at Coney Island on Ashland! They will all henceforth, never taste the same again without him sitting next to me and enthusiastically teaching me about each and every dish. I use the adverb, enthusiastically, because he was so full of passion about life. Much like Sal DiGiacomo, whom Pop loved, adored, and looked up to, and who loved and adored Pop as well, Pop did everything in life with exponential power and zest. His musical achievements were nothing short of spectacular, playing the piano and conducting his own 32-piece orchestra for such stars as Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Ann Margaret, Frankie Laine, Liza Minnelli, and Peggy Lee, to name a few, and all of whom just adored him, both as a consummate professional, and as a person. I still have the countless number of personally handwritten notes to Pop from all of these entertainers over the years, pouring their hearts out to him with gratitude, admiration, and the seeking of his personal advice regarding very private matters about which most of them would have felt uncomfortable approaching any other non-blood-related person. But Pop so innocently transcended that boundary without his even knowing ithe was very much like family to everyone he touched and who came to know him and love him. His non-judging aura was so embracing, so gentle, and so loving, it accounted for his irresistible appeal to everyone who knew him.

And traveling the world over! How he loved to travel! And traveled like Royalty he certainly did, with Red-Carpet VIP treatment awaiting him at every destination. With his job as a talent executive, his work had him logging more hours at 31,000 feet than most commercial airline pilots! But he loved every minute of it!

Movies! Oh, how Pop loved a good movie! Regardless of how old or recent it was! He loved Charles Bronson & Steven Seagal! And because a genius always spots another genius from afar, he of course loved, Peter Sellers!

Pop loved to shoot pool! And could he ever do that! He'd run three to four full racks without a miss! He had cueball control like Minnesota Fats, and was ambidextrous allowing him to shoot both left and right handed when necessary for those awkwardly difficult shots that although impossible for you or I made to look easy by Pop like everything else he did in life.

Cooking? Pop was literally a master chef of an impressive array of delectable gourmet dishes requiring the subtlest touch, which he most certainly had, and enjoyed employing, immensely! Aside from tremendously joyous love, the key ingredient that made both his, and his mother's cooking, the absolutely most delicious and healthiest, on the planet, was one they both required be absent from every dish they prepared! Those of us who knew Pop well, know exactly what ingredient I'm referring to. For those of you who don't, I'll let you ponder on it a bit. [Whisper here]: No butter

He was so brilliant and so talented and could do absolutely anything as if he had been an expert at it his entire life. So gifted! For instance, when we did our add-on rooms at our house in Glenview at 835 Laramie, guess who the architect was that conceived the entire design, did all the blueprints, all the structural load calculations, and all the mechanical drawings??? My father studied time and motion engineering at IT&T Institute and used to talk about it often, and how it was a lingering passion of his for years, and more importantly how it helped him in so many ways throughout his life and career.

Pop was an honorable U.S. veteran and a true patriot who very much appreciated and adored his country. And inasmuch as he loved his ancestral Sicily, he used to say in reaction to those who at times were outspoken about some of America's dilemmas If you're not gonna' offer or do anything to help improve America, than either stop complaining or move somewhere else. Because despite its challenges, the United States is still the best country in the entire world. And we're all lucky to be here. And this was coming from a man who certainly was not looking through blinders or any lack of his share of firsthand global experience, having traveled and spent significant time throughout the entire world over, on numerous occasions.

But the characteristic that really made him a legend in his own time, was his uncanny sense of humor that we now, and forever will, term, as a Distefano'ism. He would come up with the sharpest, most clever, spur of the moment witticisms, with the timing of a professional comic, that would floor the entire room. When I just now a moment ago described how his sense of humor made him a legend in his own time, I could honestly hear him clear as day just now, replying yeah, you mean a legend in his own mind. LOL And anyone over 99 years of age receiving compliments on your looks as appearing younger than ever??? Look out!! The Distefano'ism response to that one is Yeah, they sure do look younger than ever! (make the perfect sign' gesture here, with your fingers) They'll make a great looking corpse!! LOL

Just before the Alzheimer's set in back in 2003, he did something else with exponential power and zest he accepted Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Saviour, verbally, out loud, and on his knees, which moved me to tears at the time, and for which I remain extremely thankful, relieved, and assured of his salvation and eternal environment.

And speaking of Alzheimer's, when Pop was first diagnosed, we all thought it was the beginning of a strange journey. Possibly even a curse. And there were indeed times of challenging tribulation as a result. But in many ways, it was a blessing in disguise. Allow me to explain: They call the Big A the Long Goodbye. Pop first started exhibiting symptoms all the way back in 2003 when the disease first took hold. I cannot imagine losing Pop to something sudden and abruptlike a car wreckor a plane crash. I honestly think that manner of his exiting the world had it God-forbid, been that way, would have cut me in half at the waist to a point where I might have literally passed away, myself. Too traumatic for me I strongly suspect. But being able to care for him, cook for him, take him everywhere with me, do for him, provide for him, with our roles entirely reversed, for so many years, enabled me to very happily continue to spend every minute with him and say the Long Goodbye without regrets or missing out on talking about anything and everything with my father. What was initially misconstrued as a potentially tragic diagnosis, turned out to be an opportunity to bond even closer and in a more magical, innocent way, all over again as we had when I was the child. Words can't describe it. But it was the hand of God shining down once again on our lives.

And none of it would have been possible without the unparalleled assistance of my Godsister, Claudina, whom for almost 30 years, my father looked upon as the daughter he never had. Her unconditional love was instrumental in prolonging my father's life and comfort all the years he contended with the disease. I'll always owe her my life for helping me to sustain the one who meant the most to me. Thank you, Claudina.

It's been said that it's unhealthy to harbor feelings of mourning and grieving, by not releasing them and letting them out. So the tears are definitely going to flow today. But that's okay. Because a life-force like Sam Distefano's simply cannot, and will not, ever die. We bury only the corporal vessel today the anatomical, musculoskeletal mass that once housed a spirit born from two very powerful life-forces, themselves the two that my father so constantly ever revered, his father Carmello Distefano and his mother Vincenzina Distefano, both of whom were from Ragusa, Sicily. And the third constantly revered person in my father's life, his sister, Maria Theresa Distefano Kurnat. He would neverendingly refer to all three of these people, as his heroes. And they have always been heroes to me, as well, along with my Godsister, Claudina, my godfather, Carlo Cicirello, and my mother, Pamela. But from now on, I will always have seven heroes to refer to.

So, despite the strong flow of tears today, and the just & proper three-day period of rightful mourning and grieving, I know I speak for at least myself when sharing with you that whenever I feel a sense of profound longing for my father's presence in the days ahead, I will glance downward for a ponderous moment (i.e., do so), sniffle a couple quick times (i.e., do so), and then gently smile (i.e., do so) in reflection of my number one hero, in exactly the same way he did when thinking of his dad. And as a result in that moment, I will feel fortified and renewed with the gratitude, knowledge, experience, and life-lessons that were so generously bestowed upon me, by my favorite person ever,my number one hero, my father Sam Distefano. [Look to casket] Farewell, Pop but not Goodbye. [LOOK AT CLOCK]


That was the eulogy I delivered for you Pop. Miss you and love you always! Things are going extremely well, Pop (with the exception of course of your physical absence). Reconnected with Paige! She's doing very well, thankfully! Felt relieved since hearing her voice. Unfortunately, Victor passed away last month. He was just shy of his 89th birthday (like you). Marilyn provided the most beautiful send off. Val and Linda were there too at St. Luke's in Chelsea, London. Val and I played Backgammon on Victor's set from Stocks!! He beat me, Pop! Val, Linda, and Andy are coming to Vegas next week! I'm treating them to dinner at the Top Of The World! Vinnie is hangin' in there. He moved to CA last month near his son, Jeff and daughter in law, Sophie. They've taken tremendous care of Vinnie, Pop. Danny and Jeff are doing an amazing job of ensuring Vinnie receives the absolute best in care and TONS of love. I just visited Vinnie over the weekend. He reminds me so much of you, Pop. Miss you, Pop. Love you! Regards and hugs to everyone up there! Michael.

Penny Simpson

March 17, 2017

Dear Sam. I remember the night of the hurricane and how you guided my mum and I up to the penthouse marv duberman we all played chess and different card games etc until the hurricane blew out all the walls around us, they were all glass. We hid in a clothes closet, 12 of us till it ended. I dated Sam during the time I was at the Miami playboy club, we would go fishing together on his boat. Sam was a fine fine man and will always be remember that way. God blessed him I want to say he will always be remembered fondly

December 5, 2016

Dreamed about you last night Pop. Dream about you every night. I miss you to the point of tears every single day, Pop. It is excruciatingly painful not having you by my side every day. I have never known, nor will ever know a human being as beautiful in every way as you, Pop. You're the best that ever lived. Not easy at all not being able to hug you every day, Pop. Very painful. But, the sweet memories make the days beautiful at the same time. Weird dichotomy. That's for sure. At any rate, Barb and I are now in turbo gear. We interviewed Diahann Carroll! She was an angel! And spoke highly of you, of course! And we interviewed Sally Struthers! Another absolute angel of a person! She spoke so highly of all her Playboy memories! Christie's coming to town next month as my guest, Pop (OUR guest! She always speaks so highly of you as does everyone!). We're having dinner with Dan Stone and Michael and Jenna Morton! Haven't seen her dad in while. Hef's 91 in four months. But all reports are positive that he's still in very good health, thank God. Just got back from Hollywood and hanging out with Barbara Eden, Tipi Hedren, Donny Most, and Allison Arngrim! Barbara Van Orden was kind enough to receive me at Tipi Hedren's book launch! Attended the NBC Alumni Reunion dinner with Allison Arngrim too! She played Nellie Olson on LHOTP w Michael Landon! It was really awesome, Pop! Allison is the absolutely nicest person! Barb and Elton have been like second parents! Speaking of which, Steven K just had his third child! Everyone is great! Ma and Jim are well. Claudina cries every time she hears me sit down at your piano and play your tunes. Nothing against them. LOL. Just kidding. It's my playing that does it. Nah, just kidding again. I'm actually playing better than ever. Vinnie's been coaching me. There's a track on YouTube of him with Frank (just the two of them; piano and voice) at Radio City on THESE FOOLISH THINGS that is STUNNING! Claudina misses the hell out of you too. She always talks about how she wishes she could have done more for you. That's because she's a saint as you know. The most selfless person ever. Grandma and Louie just sold their house and retired to a nursing home. Grandma is 96 years old! I've been hangin' w Vinnie every day and eating the homecooked food at his retirement home. So, I've gained some weight. Danny and Jeff and Vinnie invited me to their sister in law's for Turkey Day! It was awesome! Up in Anthem Country Club Estates! It was really somethin'! 30 people! Been photo editing and writing on the book ten to twelve hours per day behind the computer. So, I've been putting the weightlifting on the back burner. Once it's published, I'll go back to the gym full time again. Carlo and Doralynn are great. She was just out here for a visit. Took her to see Vinnie. Say hello and give a hug to everyone, Pop. I'll do the same down here. Love you indescribably. I love you and I miss you always. - Michael

Pamela Johnston

October 19, 2016

Lovely , Michael. I know Dad misses you too up in Heaven. Love, Mom

Biography

CITY PASSING OF RETIRED PLAYBOY/RIVIERA EXEC Retired Playboy/Riviera talent exec, Sam Distefano, resident of Chicago, Miami, Lake Geneva, Atlantic City, & Las Vegas, passed away peacefully of old age & natural causes, in his sleep, MON (3AM 4/13), at Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas, surrounded by his Goddaughter & only son, both present by his bedside, after a long & distinguished career in the entertainment & hospitality industries.
EARLY YEARS – Sam Distefano was an exceptionally gifted, brilliant-minded, Italian-American jazz-pianist & talent executive born on the south side of Chicago, IL, in Dec. of '26. He exhibited signs of genius at an early age by demonstrating a wide range of talents that included speaking 2 languages fluently, performing piano recitals of complicated classical pieces (including the 'William Tell Overture' perfectly at only 8 years old & with a high fever no less), & earning straight A’s throughout elementary school & high school. He was elected editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper at Tilden Tech & interviewed President (then General) Dwight Eisenhower at the Drake Hotel for the paper when he was only 16. As a teen & early-aged adult, Distefano worked many jazz clubs on piano in the Chicagoland area. He studied time & motion engineering at IT&T Institute & attended college briefly at the University of Illinois at Navy Pier before joining the military in the early '50’s.
MILITARY PERIOD - It was during this period that his lifelong, close friendship with the famous jazz pianist, Bill Evans, ensued. During the Korean War, Distefano & Evans were stationed together at Ft. Sheridan in northern IL, bunkmates in the same platoon, & performed together in the 5th Army Band. This unique opportunity enabled Distefano to further develop his jazz piano playing. It was also during this period that Distefano’s wide range of talents once again shone through as he was accepted into the 5th Army Band on trumpet & upright-acoustic-string-bass-fiddle, called upon to perform "Taps" at many Chicagoland area Vet funerals, assigned percussion parts (including crash cymbals in the marching band), & was awarded the National Defense Service Marksmanship Medal for having demonstrated perfect firearms skills & proficiency in combat training.
EDUCATION - After serving honorably in the U.S. Army from '52-'55, Distefano moved to Miami, FL & invested in a notable nightclub named the Crab Shanty that he changed to the Stut N’ Tut where he performed on piano with the legendary jazz trombonist, Carl Fontana. Performing in & operating the Stut N’ Tut enabled Distefano to return to college. Majoring in accounting, he graduated from the University of Miami in '57 with a 4-year, Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration. He accomplished this degree on limited amounts of sleep from having to work nights at the Stut N’ Tut while attending his full classload during the days.
EARLY MUSICAL CAREER - After graduating college, Distefano returned to his hometown of Chicago, where his versatility of talent was exhibited yet again, as he was working days as an industrial engineer for IT&T, & nights as a musician, playing both piano & upright bass. Sam performed in many of the city’s famous nightclubs, such as The Cloisters, The Trade Winds, & The Living Room, relieving such famous pianists as Joe Parnello (Frank Sinatra’s pianist), Larry Novak, & Joe Iacco on their off-nights. It was in one of these clubs, that Playboy founders, Victor Lownes & Hugh Hefner, caught Distefano performing with his trio & accompanying female jazz vocalists on piano.
PLAYBOY - Lownes & Hefner liked Distefano’s playing enough to ask him to perform with his trio at the opening of the very 1st Playboy Club at 116 E. Walton St. in Chicago, in Feb. of '60. This launched what would turn into Distefano's elaborate 25-year career with Playboy Enterprises, Inc., that included his being promoted to musical director at their club in Miami from '62-'69; orchestra leader, conductor, & entertainment director at their country club & resort hotel in Lake Geneva, WI from '69-'78 (where he led his own 32-piece orchestra, accompanied on piano, & conducted for, such artists as Peggy Lee, Mel Torme, Anthony Newley, Tony Bennett, the Smothers Brothers, Liza Minnelli, & Ann Margaret, to name a few); & eventually vice-president of entertainment for their entire international chain of clubs & hotels, worldwide. He also served, along with producer/director, Peter Jackson, as executive producer of the "Playboy Fantasy" production show & revue at the Playboy Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, NJ from '81-'83. He was retained as a consultant to Playboy thru Dec '84. It was also during this period that Distefano owned, operated, & often hosted at, Doro’s Italian Restaurant & Lounge at 871 N. Rush St., a then popular, downtown Chicago nightspot, frequented by VIP’s, Hollywood stars, & every "who’s-who" of the entire Tri-State area. A Chicago VIP himself, Distefano was often featured in Irv Kupcinet’s Chicago Sun-Times "Kup’s Column," on local radio interviews, & on T.V. journal shows like WFLD’s "PM Magazine Chicago."
LAS VEGAS - Immediately following his successful 25-year career with Playboy, Distefano was hired by corporate conglomerate tycoon, Meshulam Riklis, in ’84, to head the entertainment department as vice-president of entertainment & special events at Riklis’ legendary Riviera Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, NV. Distefano booked & launched many successful entertainment events at "the Riv" during his decadelong tenure there. These included numerous world-heavyweight-championship-boxing bouts, concerts, & full-scale production shows like "A New Year’s Eve with Frank Sinatra & Pia Zadora;" the "Legends of Comedy" event, which featured Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, & Danny Thomas; "Burns & Hope Together," wherein George Burns & Bob Hope performed live together for the first time; "Luciano Pavarotti with the Las Vegas Symphony Orchestra;" the "An Evening At La Cage" female impersonator show; the "An Evening at the Improv" comedy club; the "Crazy Girls" sexy revue; & the award-winning, multi-million-dollar production-extravaganza, "Splash," which ran successfully for over 20 years in the Versailles Theater, was associate-produced by Distefano, & acclaimed as "Las Vegas’ International Show of the Year" by the Las Vegas Review Journal for over 10 years in a row. Distefano was often a featured guest on the KVVU Las Vegas hit T.V. show, "AM Southern Nevada," as well as a judge on the popular '80’s & '90’s national T.V. series "Star Search," with Ed McMahon, that paved the way for today’s talent search shows like "American Idol" & "America’s Got Talent." Distefano’s career was a highlighted exhibit in the Las Vegas Museum of Entertainment History at the Tropicana Hotel & Casino, & in '97, he was honorarily inducted into the Casino Legends Hall Of Fame. To this day, Sam remains the frequent subject of numerous, popular books about the history of music & entertainment in Chicago, Las Vegas, & the iconic Playboy Clubs.
FAMILY & PERSONAL INTERESTS – Distefano hailed from humble beginnings. His parents were both Roman Catholic immigrants from Sicily, with limited education. His mother was a seamstress & his father was a meatplant worker on Chicago’s south side in the famous "Back of the Yards" union stockyard district during the Great Depression. Yet they succeeded in raising 2 children - Distefano & his only sister (Mary). Distefano married in '67 in Miami (his wife, Pam, was an airline stewardess for Eastern Airlines), had 1 child in '69 (a son, Michael), divorced in '78, & never remarried. His personal interests included reading National Geographic, traveling, fishing, cooking, billiards, yachting, & poker (he was the 1st place winner of 3, large, international poker tournaments hosted at the Riviera & Desert Inn Hotels & Casinos in Las Vegas in '88 & '94, respectively). He was an avid movie & T.V. fan of Charles Bronson, Steven Seagal, Peter Sellers (the 'Pink Panther' films), & Peter Falk (particularly the '70’s detective series, 'Columbo.'). Sam participated in many large, charitable, fundraising events in both Chicago & Las Vegas for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, Alzheimer’s Association, & Injured Police Officers’ Fund. A devout Catholic, he attended Mass regularly at St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Las Vegas. Sam also enjoyed performing music with his son (who also plays jazz piano & drums).
RETIREMENT & MOST RECENT YEARS - Distefano retired from the Riviera in '93 & formed his own entertainment management & consulting firm with his son, which they continued to operate successfully until the senior Distefano developed Alzheimer’s in '03. Distefano resided with his son & was with him in Las Vegas at Sunrise Hospital at the time of his peaceful ascent to Jesus due to natural causes in his sleep, MON (3AM 4/13). Sam is survived by his son, Michael; Goddaughter, Claudina Vespia; ex-wife, Pam Johnston; nephew, Gary (Sharon) Kurnat; niece, Linda (Casey) Kowalski; grand-niece, Allison (Stephen) McCuan; grand-nephew, Steven (Whitney) Kowalski; great grand-nieces, Aubrey McCuan & Daphne Kowalski; & great grand-nephew, Cooper Kowalski. FRI 4/17: Las Vegas Viewing/Wake 8AM-12PM & 2PM-4PM (Rosary at 3:30PM) at Palm Downtown Mortuary, 1325 N. Main St., Las Vegas, NV 89101 (702) 464-8300. SUN 4/19: Chicago Viewing/Wake 8:00AM-1PM & 3PM-7PM (Rosary at 6PM) at Blake Lamb Funeral Home, 4727 W. 103rd St., Oak Lawn, IL 60453 (708) 636-1193. MON 4/20: Funeral 8AM (Blake Lamb), Funeral Mass 9:30AM [St. Linus Catholic Church, 10300 S. Lawler Ave., Oak Lawn, IL 60453 (708) 422-2400], Former Homes Tour 11:00AM (departs from St. Linus; complimentary stretch limousines available), Internment 2:00PM [Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, 6001 W. 111th St., Alsip, IL 60803 (708) 422-3020], Complimentary Luncheon 3:00PM [Palermo’s 95th, 4849 W. 95th St., Oak Lawn, IL 60453 (708) 425-6262]. More info at Blake Lamb. Anyone/everyone is welcome to attend all events, all 3 days. Flowers are very much appreciated & may be sent to Palm Downtown, Las Vegas (FRI 4/17 at the latest), &/or to Blake Lamb, Oak Lawn (MON 4/20 at the latest).

(References - Las Vegas Review Journal, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Miami Herald, Lake Geneva Regional News, Atlantic City Press, Playboy Club News, The Playboy Paper, Larry Novak, Pam Johnston, Mary Kurnat, Michael Distefano)