Shellee Renee once told me one of the great only-in-Vegas stories, about the day she nearly slammed into her own image on the back of a cab.
Renee is an original member of the adult revue “Crazy Girls,” still playing after 25 years at Riviera. She posed for the famous “No If Ands Or …” sign that for years has been featured on billboards and taxicabs in town and also is the much-photographed relief at the side of the hotel facing the Strip.
One afternoon a few years ago, Renee was driving on the Strip behind a cab with a Riviera “Crazy Girls” sign hanging from the back.
The cab screeched to a halt, and …
“I nearly rear ended my rear end,” she said.
Renee is characteristically well-humored and a swift operator in conversation — her rear end/rear end reference being a chief example. Renee performed in “Crazy Girls” from 1988-1996 and in the years since has worked at various PR jobs, including R&R Partners, MGM Resorts and Charlie Palmer Steak Las Vegas.
Cancer in Renee’s family forged a move for her from Las Vegas to the Portland area last year. Renee’s mother died from brain cancer three years ago, and Renee herself survived a brief cancer scare at around that time. Renee finally decided to move to the northwest to reconnect with her family, and just after she moved she received the news that her most recent mammogram showed a small, cancerous lump in her right breast.
Renee underwent surgery, then more than six months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments that finally ended April 11.
What next? A return to Las Vegas, for starters. Renee has always held a fondness for the city, particularly shows produced by her longtime friend and former “Crazy Girls” cast mate Angela Stabile, among them the Flamingo topless revue “X Burlesque.” These worlds converged anew last week when Renee visited Angela and her husband, Matt, at the 11th anniversary of “X Burlesque” at the Flamingo.
Renee looked different, her familiar blond hair reduced to fur from her chemotherapy treatments. But she was not at all dispirited, boosted by the support of her friends in the Las Vegas entertainment community who have organized an effort to help Renee defray her medical costs.
“The main problem I’ve had is I couldn’t work as much. I’ve been really tired through the chemo and radiation treatments,” Renee said last week. “I have had many angels helping me through this.”
The Stabiles and Karen Rader, another former “Crazy Girl” in that famous photo and the wife of Color — A Salon at Caesars Palace owner Michael Boychuck, are among those angels. They sent Renee checks to cover her rent, car payment and other expenses when her $9.50-an-hour, three-day-a-week paycheck fell short. Her friend Nicole Navarro, a former cast member in “Splash” at the Riv, helped organize a champagne party in November at Charlie Palmer Steak that raised $3,000 in donations for Renee.
At the “X” event, Las Vegas artist Terry Ritter, who specializes in the art of showgirls, auctioned a painting to help Renee’s cause. And on the “X Burlesque" website, there is still a live PayPal account where anyone (or at least anyone who can click on a web link) can make a donation. Find that link, along with Renee’s own account of her medical odyssey and a list of the folks who have helped her along the way, right here.
Renee is moving back to Las Vegas this week, and this month she will return to her former employer as catering sales manager for Charlie Palmer. It’s great to know she is returning. I have to say, I’ve spent some peculiar but entertaining nights around VegasVille with Renee over the years. One night, we saw a performance of “The Facts of Life: The Lost Episodes,” at Onyx Theater, then spent some time over at Badlands Saloon, a place I’d not visited prior but where we needed to be so we could have our photos taken under the mirrored disco cowboy boot hanging over the dance floor.
That’s a fairly typical night on the town with Renee, who maintains her lively attitude even in the face of a jarring health plight.
“I’ve had quite a little journey, but it’s nothing compared to what a lot of people go through,” she says. “Many people are so much worse off. I really feel blessed. I don’t feel like, ‘Woe is me.’ I just never feel that way.”