On a sunny but chilly afternoon in December 2005, Margaret Nixon and Francis Murphy of Defiance, Ohio, were married at the Tunnel of Love at The Little White Wedding Chapel. It was a drive-thru service presided over by wedding icon Charlotte Richards, remarkable because the elderly couple exchanged vows while seated on motorized scooters. That was something Richards, who has presided over about 300,000 services in her years at the chapel, had never seen.
The man playing the sweet, spirited background music was Sasha Semenoff.
In May 2007, during a performance of the popular Celtic/classic rock band Killian’s Angels at Brendan’s Irish Pub at the Orleans, the band’s leader, Beth Mullaney, shouted, “We have an emergency: Does anyone in the audience have an E string for a violin?” A violinist for the quintet, Adrienne Lefebvre, had snapped that string. The possibility that anyone in the audience would be packing spare violin strings was remote, but a slickly suited, silver-maned gentlemen rose, left for a couple of minutes, and returned with that string.
He was Sasha Semenoff.
On New Year’s Day 2010, after an evening of exhausting frivolity across the city, the Angels again performed at Brendan’s. It was an audience heavy with entertainers, performers from “Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding” and “Menopause The Musical” among them. This man with the oversized specs walked into the club, and violinist Lisa Viscuglia halted the music with, “Hey folks, I want to introduce you to someone very special.”
He was Sasha Semenoff.
Those are the moments I remember about Semenoff, who died quietly Saturday at age 88 (read my colleague Ed Koch’s terrific obituary story about Semenoff).
What a sweet guy Semenoff was, a Holocaust survivor who mastered the violin so he could keep his spirits up. The instrument became his life’s passion, and his way of life. Semenoff performed in Las Vegas for more than 50 years, for such superstars as Elvis, Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand. Semenoff's four-piece band was a popular draw at the Dunes in the 1960s. He had a bit part in the film “Casino” as the orchestra leader on the fictional “Aces High” TV show. He also portrayed a waiter, a quick-shot appearance, in “Honeymoon in Vegas.”
He loved live music, and usually I caught him at those Angels shows. He loved that band and was at their final appearance at Brendan’s in July, seated alone, smiling and sipping a beer out of the bottle. Every so often a well-wisher would say hello, and he clearly enjoyed that. He beamed especially at the females who approached, as he was known to draw attention that way, all the time.
Earlier that night, I had dinner at Lombardi’s at Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood. I first heard that Semenoff was in the room by the violin. After I was seated, I leaned toward him with, “Pssst! Sasha!” He smiled and tilted his head back and strode to the table.
He asked what song he could play. I said, “Volare,” not able to think of any other title at that moment. So he played the song, the room mute except for his performance.
At the end, we clapped, and I handed him a $5 bill.
“You could do this for a living,” I said.
He grinned and said, “I think I’ll do that.”