Robin Leach, whose voice crystallized the opulent 1980s on TV’s “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” died Friday. He was 76
Leach’s family said through a public relations firm that he died in Las Vegas, where he made his home.
Leach had a stroke in November while on vacation in Mexico that led to a months-long recovery, much of which he spent at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio before returning to Las Vegas in June.
The Las Vegas Review-Journal, which ran Leach’s columns before he became ill, said he suffered another stroke Monday.
“Champagne wishes and caviar dreams” was Leach’s sign-off at the end of every episode of his syndicated show’s decade-long run that began in 1984.
The catchphrase captured excesses and sometimes gaudy style of the 1980s, a time before oil billionaires, titans of industry and Wall Street traders gave way to sneaker-wearing tech execs as the world’s richest people.
Leach appeared occasionally on the show, but he and his unmistakable English-accent narrated throughout, taking wishful viewers on tours of mansions with diamond-crusted chandeliers, yachts with Jacuzzis, and champagne that ran to four figures. It was much like rap videos would do in future decades.
Leach and producer Al Masini coined the catchphrase and conceived of the show.
“He asked me if I could get magnates T. Boone Pickens or Sam Walton to do the show,” Leach told The Huffington Post in 2016. “In my naivete, I said, ‘Of course.’ And thus, ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.’”
Leach said in later years that someone still shouted “champagne wishes and caviar dreams” at him almost daily. He was constantly parodied, and like other distinctive voices of the age like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Howard Cosell, everyone had a Leach impression.
“Saturday Night Live” consistently satirized him through the years, with Harry Shearer as a subdued Leach hosting “Lifestyles of the Relatives of the Rich and Famous” in the 1980s, and Dana Carvey as a brash, shouting Leach on “Weekend Update” in the 1990s.
Even decades later, in 2011, Snoop Dogg spotted Leach at a news conference in Las Vegas and was thrilled, rushing to grab the mic and breaking out his impression, touting his career earnings in an over-the-top English accent.
“Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” was the core of Leach’s career that spanned six decades and included stints with CNN, People magazine, Entertainment Tonight and the Daily Mail, where he began as a writer in Britain at 18.
In the mid-1970s, he tried out TV as a regular contributor to “AM Los Angeles” with hosts Regis Philbin and Sarah Purcell, and found his calling. He became a regular on television’s morning news and entertainment shows, practicing a sort of tabloid journalism that was more celebratory and light-hearted than tawdry. He often became friends with the celebrities he covered.
Then, in 1984, he landed “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” and gained his own fame. The gaudy show became wildly popular, but never with critics.
“They wrote that television had reached an all-time-low,” Leach told The Huffington Post. “But I looked at the ratings every Monday morning, and I was rubbing my hands with glee.”
He was also an executive producer and occasional writer on the show, and hosted a brief spinoff, “Runaway with the Rich and Famous.”
For the show’s final year, with producers looking to liven up the aging property, he had a younger co-host, actress Shari Belafonte. The show was retitled “Lifestyles with Robin Leach and Shari Belafonte” but the new look didn’t save it.
In 1999, Leach went to Las Vegas to work with celebrity chefs at the Venetian casino-resort, and made the move permanent, becoming a fixture in the city as he covered the destination’s entertainment and lifestyles for America Online and his own website. He also wrote for the Las Vegas Sun and, most recently, for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
He made frequent appearances on the celebrity reality TV circuit, hosting VH-1’s “The Surreal Life: Fame Games” and appearing on the celebrity editions of “Wife Swap” and “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.”
He was among the founders of the Food Network, selling his equity for a big payday when the channel took off.
Married once and divorced, Leach spent much of his later years in the company of his three sons, Steven, Rick and Greg, and several grandchildren.
“There is this image of a guy in a hot tub, drinking champagne with two buxom blondes,” Leach told the Las Vegas Sun in 2011. “But that is not the real me. I am a father, and I am a grandfather, too.”