Robin Leach, the London-born host of long-running TV show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, died Thursday night at the age of 76 in Las Vegas.
Leach was also a veteran journalist. His death was first reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, where he worked as a celebrity columnist. (He moved to Las Vegas in 1999 and spent the better part of the last 20 years covering entertainment events there.)
He had been hospitalized since November of last year, following a stroke he suffered while in Cabo San Lucas. Reporter John Katsilometes, who was also a friend of Leach’s, said he had another stroke on Monday in hospice care.
“Despite the past 10 months, what a beautiful life he had,” read a statement from Leach’s sons Steven, Gregg and Rick. “Our Dad, Grandpa, Brother, Uncle and friend Robin Leach passed away peacefully last night at 1:50 a.m. Everyone’s support and love over the past, almost one year, has been incredible and we are so grateful. Memorial arrangements to follow.”
Born in London on Aug. 29, 1941, Leach’s path seemed pre-destined. He became one of the youngest reporters in the city before moving to New York City in 1963. He spent the early days of his career as a tabloid and celebrity journalist, and began to appear in guest spots on TV entertainment shows like Entertainment Tonight. He joined officially in 1981, but left shortly after because he felt like there wasn’t enough focus on the actors’ lives and instead too much on their latest projects.
“I became frustrated,” Leach said to the Chicago Tribune in his distinct catty tone. “We’d go into these houses and we’d talk to these blond-headed bimbos who’d talk about how they wanted to stretch by doing Shakespeare-in-the-park. They were nothing more than jiggle queens and I’d say to myself, ‘I don’t want to see anything more than you taking your clothes off and stepping into the bubble bath.’ From that gem of facetiousness came a TV show.”
And thus, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous was born.
The show, a 60-minute (and later reduced to 30 minutes) romp through the playground of celebrity, featured insider looks at stars’ homes, cars and other luxurious baubles. Known for his famous phrase “champagne wishes and caviar dreams,” Leach would tour with the celebrity, adding an additional layer to the show’s appeal. He was biting, funny and off-the-cuff. He always said, however, that his TV persona was simply a put-on for the cameras.
“The cartoon character, that’s not who Robin Leach is,” he told the New York Times in 1990. “And when I wake up in the morning, I wink at myself because I like me — I know who I am. And when it’s time to send the cartoon character off, I just send him on his way.”
LOTRAF ran for 11 years, until 1995. After it ended, he settled in Las Vegas, popping up across town at events, hotels, auctions and nightclubs. He expertly parlayed his strengths into his work, becoming a prolific blogger and contributor.
He claimed his defining legacy was the proliferation of numerous reality shows that dominate TV, including Keeping Up With the Kardashians and Cribs.
Leach leaves behind three sons from his marriage, which ended in divorce.