Sad news emerged from the entertainment world over the weekend when it was learned that Gloria Dea, the very first magician to ply her trade on what would eventually become the Las Vegas Strip, passed away at the age of 100, as the Las Vegas Review-Journal reports.
Dea's death on Saturday morning was confirmed by her longtime caregiver, Beth Bowes and was said to have occurred after the legendary magician entered hospice care at her home.
As the Review-Journal noted, Dea was all of 19 years old when she performed her magic at in the Roundup Room of El Rancho Vegas in May of 1941.
That show has since been referenced as the first known appearance of a magician in the history of Las Vegas and one that gave her the legendary status that will endure even now that she has passed.
Recounting her performance during an interview last summer, Dea said, “There was no Strip, really, in those days. We had the Last Frontier and the El Rancho Vegas. They had just std building the Flamingo.”
A Review-Journal review written just after the young magician's historic show declared, “Miss Dea completely mystified the audience with her legerdemain. Her concluding trick, when a card jumps from a handkerchief to a quartered orange, was the hit of the show.”
Dea had an impressive reputation among magicians in Las Vegas and beyond, even counting David Copperfield among her admirers, as was evident last year when she celebrated her 100th birthday at the Westgate Resort and Casino, as local Fox affiliate KVVU reported at the time.
Copperfield noted that Dea was especially skilled at a particular style of illusions that can be a challenge for many performers, saying, “Everything in her magic world was very, very difficult. I love that she has such a passion for this art form, which is not easy. To do sleight of hand, in a show in Vegas as a young, beautiful woman is very, very inspiring.”
“I look back into the past and see all the giants on whose shoulders I stand upon. If it wasn't for the people who went out there and really made magic important, I wouldn't be here,” Copperfield added. “And I think that Gloria did was, when she did her act in the show, and got the best review, the door was open for magicians to keep performing here. So maybe I owe my career to her.”
Upon learning of Dea's death, Copperfield said, according to the Review-Journal, “Gloria was amazing. She was charming, funny, and engaging. And in Vegas, as a young magician, she started it all. It was an honor to know her.”
Reactions to the news of Dea's death poured in over the weekend, with Bowes – who spent a great deal of time with the performer in her last years – recalling, “Gloria was an amazing woman who accomplished an amazing amount of stuff. She deserved all the accolades she got. Her personality was the catalyst to achieve it.”
Nancy Uscher, dean of the UNLV College of Fine Arts, echoed those sentiments, saying, “I am very sad to learn of the passing of Gloria Dea. She was a true pioneer in her discipline and has inspired many great illusionists working in the field today, who will honor her memory with great admiration and respect.”
Notably, Dea was scheduled to be inducted into the UNLV College of Fine Arts Hall of Fame on Tuesday, and according to Uscher, those plans will go forward as planned, with Copperfield presiding over the presentation.
Though Dea was an only child and left no surviving immediate family, it is clear that her legacy will live on in the countless magicians and Las Vegas performers her groundbreaking career served to inspire.