Meet the Unlikely Figure Who Made Las Vegas a Center for Brain Research

We’ve said it before, and I’m sure we’ll say it again: Personal tragedy can precipitate some really selfless giving. We’ve seen it from the Sontag Foundation, the Ivy Foundation, and now, from Larry Ruvo: Las Vegan, liquor distribution mogul, son of Lou Ruvo, who died of Alzheimer’s in 1994. It might be presumptuous to say, but, well, we’ll just say it: Larry Ruvo was not the type to get into philanthropy before his father died. He sold liquor. He sold liquor in Vegas. Still does, but now, he has a gentler edge. Now there’s altruism mixed in with the indulgence.

Ruvo’s father passed away February 18, 1994, and Larry didn’t waste much time putting together a gala to celebrate his life—because that’s what you do in Vegas. It wasn’t intended to be a fundraiser, but get that many Vegas A-listers together in Caesar’s Palace with free wine, and these things happen. John Paul DeJoria, a founder of Paul Mitchell hair products, blurted out his intent to donate $5,000 to Alzheimer’s research, and it went from there. By the end of the night, Ruvo had $35,000 and no idea what to do with it. A bigger event the following year netted $375,000.

Now, the gala—called Power of Love—is an annual event, and Ruvo’s foundation, Keep Memory Alive, has partnered with the Cleveland Clinic to establish the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. It’s an ostentatious silver blob of a building—modeled after Moroccan cliff dwellings, we hear—that draws much ire from fellow Vegas folk, who think it’s an eyesore. But underneath the showy façade, the Center is undertaking 32 simultaneous clinical trials—one of the most ambitious endeavors going on anywhere. Ruvo might be a hardcore party boy, but he’s also working hard to do something substantial for brain health and put Vegas on the map for more than just hedonism.

The center is taking on Alzheimer’s, sure, but it’s also tackling Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, frontotemporal dementia, and even multiple sclerosis. Recently, the center announced its participation in nothing less than the largest Alzheimer’s disease prevention study in the world. It’s seeking 10,000 Southern Nevadans to volunteer for genetic testing that will winnow the field down to 120 participants who have a specific, theoretical genetic profile that may increase susceptibility to the disorder.

Though the Keep Memory Alive Foundation serves only to support the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, Ruvo’s commitment to establishing Southern Nevada as a destination for health may make him receptive to future proposals as the Center gets off the ground.