Larry Ruvo

Businessman and Philanthropist


When Lou Ruvo began showing signs of memory loss in the early ‘90s, doctors in Las Vegas couldn’t diagnose his problem. That motivated his son Larry, senior managing director of Southern Wine and Spirits of Nevada, to launch a crusade. Today, the world-class (and architecturally stunning) Cleveland Clinic/Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas treats people with neurological diseases and is activly involved in research and clinical trials, seaking an Alzheimer’s cure.

DAVID: How did you identify your father’s illness?

Ruvo: One day I was talking with a talented physician friend of mine and he said, “I bet Lou has Alzheimer’s.” He told me the leading expert was Dr. Leon Thal in San Diego. So I took my dad to San Diego, and Dr. Thal confirmed dad had Alzheimer’s.

My dad died in 1994. But the good news for me, and the bad news for the disease, is that I struck up a relationship with Dr. Thal. He has been my guiding light and directed me to where we are today. But there have been others, such as longtime friend Wolfgang Puck, whose mother also had Alzheimer’s.

DAVID: What role has Wolfgang Puck played?

Ruvo: Before Spago opened at The Forum Shops, Tom Kaplan and some of Spago’s crew would have dinner at the Venetian, a restaurant my parents owned and operated for 40 years; and they got to know my father. After Spago opened, it became one of our favorite restaurants. On the one-year anniversary of my father’s passing, some friends of mine and my father’s decided to honor him with a dinner at Spago, doing what he loved to do, enjoy great wine and wonderful food. There were about 35-40 people.

While we were telling Lou Ruvo stories, my long-time, dear friend John Paul DeJoria dropped in. He asked why we were there, and I told him it was the anniversary of my dad’s passing. He said, “Lou died from Alzheimer’s. I’d like to donate $5,000.” Although this was a tribute to my father, not a fundraiser, by the end of the evening, others had contributed, and we had approximately $35,000. I said, “Wolf, why don’t we do it again as a real fundraiser?” So in September 1996, we hosted our first Keep Memory Alive fundraiser at Spago, with Wolf and his two partners, Tom Kaplan and David Robins.

The journey from that early dinner to the enormous success that Keep Memory Alive has enjoyed has, in great part, been due to those three men. Wolfgang recently launched three wines that honor his mother, who died from Alzheimer’s in 2004. A portion of the proceeds benefits Keep Memory Alive.

Chris Andrade

Cashman Productions

DAVID: Why did you decide to go it alone rather than become involved in existing Alzheimer’s programs?

Ruvo: Many organizations had too many layers of bureaucracy for me. In business, I’ve always been a hands-on manager, had ideas I wanted implemented and wanted to do it quickly. I believed we could develop programs faster if we had our own entity. This was the inception of Keep Memory Alive.

DAVID: Why did you choose Frank Gehry to design the center?

Ruvo: I wanted to have a building that would use celebrity architecture in the same way celebrity chefs enhance restaurants. I believed a celebrity architect would bring attention to our mission. And has it ever! Frank Gehry’s genius has allowed me to partner with the Cleveland Clinic and bring to Las Vegas some of the greatest neurologists in the world.

DAVID: How did Cleveland Clinic become involved?

Ruvo: Dr. Toby Cosgrove, president and CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, was in Las Vegas looking for expansion opportunities out West. We met; and when he saw the building, and we talked about my dreams, before long we were finishing one another’s sentences. Dr. Cosgrove built the cardiology department at the Cleveland Clinic into the number one cardiology program in America, if not the world. He anticipated the coming tsunami of brain health and wanted to do for brain health what he did for cardiovascular disease. They selected their top people and now have expanded beyond Alzheimer’s to include Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, ALS and multiple sclerosis, and established one of the most innovative caregiver programs.

DAVID: What are your goals for the Ruvo Center?

Ruvo: Ultimately, of course, I want to find a cure for Alzheimer’s. However, until that time I want to make sure that my family, friends and neighbors in Nevada, even people throughout the world, never experience the ignorance about the disease that I encountered regarding my father.