ANGELS SOAR IN TEXAS
Neal McCoy and some big-time friends give wings to a good cause
Story by Larry Holden -- Photos by Morrison/Wulffraat
Neal McCoy brought the glitz of Las Vegas and the glamour of the movies to his adopted Texas hometown of Longview when Wayne Newton, actress Bo Derek, comic actor Burton Gilliam, TV animal expert Jack Hanna and Neal's mentor, country legend Charley Pride, came to town.
These entertainment heavyweights helped Neal with his eighth annual benefit in late September for the East Texas Angel Network, the nonprofit charity he and his wife Melinda started in 1995 to assist families of children living with terminal or life-threatening diseases.
"What a great time we had!" declares Neal. "For the guys who love beautiful women, we had Bo. For folks who love animals, Jungle Jack brought super animals. And we had the best entertainer there is ..." He pauses. "Me!" Neal laughs. "And Wayne Newton came, too!"
"OK, to be honest, Wayne's the best entertainer on the planet," admits Neal. "And for him to bring his Vegas act - with the orchestra and back-up singers decked out in tuxes and gowns - to the Longview High School basketball arena shows exactly what kind of classy guy he is.
"And Charley sang his heart out, as always. And Burton, co-star of the classic comedy film Blazing Saddles, brought lots of yuks. It was a magical time that helped so many wonderful kids - our East Texas angels."
Wayne, Bo and Neal became friends when they traveled to Afghanistan and other countries on a USO tour last year. "Neal just blew me away with the depth and variety of the music he can sing," confides Wayne. "He's one of the finest talents, and finest Americans, I've ever known. And I told him on the tour I'd help him with his charity concert. When he called, I said, 'I'm there.' He said, 'But you're booked at the Stardust in Vegas that night.' I told him I'd cancel the show."
And that's what Wayne did. He performed in Iowa on Thursday, Detroit on Friday, Neal's event in Texas on Saturday, and then back to Las Vegas for his Sunday show.
"The troops just love Neal," adds still-stunning Bo, who made movie history with her starring role in the 1979 movie 10. "He gives so much. And it's so inspiring to see how his charity makes the lives of so many children better." Bo knows about having heart - she spends a lot of time aiding veterans and others with disabilities.
The weekend's concert, golf tournament and auctions raised a whopping $340,000, the event's highest total ever. Jack, host of the popular TV series Jack Hanna's Animal Adventures, brought a penguin and python for auctiongoers to see - and then shelled out $3,500 for Bo's bathtub! The network has collected an amazing $2 million in eight years.
Although Neal's team didn't win the golf tournament, he was happy. "I played golf like I always do - some great shots, some not-so-great shots," he notes. "I'm no Arnold Palmer or Tiger Woods, but I do have fun." (And so did Burton, whose team did win. And he kept smiling all weekend as he was asked a gazillion times to recreate the famous "New York City?" line he delivers in Pace Picante commercials.)
At the sold-out concert, Wayne hit the stage with a rousing rendition of
"T-R-O-U-B-L-E." He got a standing ovation for a touching "Lord Help Me, Jesus," before skillfully playing piano, guitar, banjo and fiddle on songs ranging from pop to country to blues. He closed out with his first hit, "Danke Schoen."
Charley, who's been friends with Neal since he opened for Charley in the early '80s, told the SRO crowd that, back then, Neal "watched from the wings and stole all my moves." And Jack had everyone laughing as he coached a stubborn Harris Hawk down from where he shouldn't have flown - the top of the arena's towering ceiling!
A truly special moment came when Neal coaxed his dad onstage to perform "Elvira." Tux-clad Wayne and his gorgeous wife, Kathleen, were to the side of the stage dancing and singing along with the '80s Oak Ridge Boys hit - and just behind them, also singing, were Charley, Bo, Jack and Burton.
Now there's a scene you couldn't write into a Hollywood movie!