1951-2006: Entertainer Gary Bautista, 54
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
By Wayne Harada
Singer Gary Bautista, a master impressionist with the Society of Seven group who once was hailed as "the man with a thousand voices," died yesterday in Los Angeles, following a heart attack and stroke Saturday while doing a private show. He was 54.
"He went down surrounded by the people who love him and doing what he loved — performing," said Tony Ruivivar, leader and founder of the SOS group.
The death stunned Hawai'i's entertainment community.
"What a shock," said Don Ho, who is recovering from heart-related problems himself. "The guy was so talented. The man is the group, are you serious? Just awesome. Irreplaceable — that's the word. I tried to steal him a long time ago, in my mind; of course I wouldn't do it. But he could sing."
"Of all the entertainers I've met, he was one of the gentlest, sweetest and most talented," singer Jimmy Borges said. "Of all the lead singers in the group, I thought Gary was the best because he was so eclectic. He could do everything and had a magnificent quality. I will miss him very much. To me he was the gentle soul of the SOS."
Bautista joined the original Society of Seven in 1984. Over the years, he developed a collection of impersonations that became his trademark when the group performed at the Outrigger Waikiki's Main Showroom. His impressions included Willie Nelson and Luciano Pavarotti, Johnny Mathis and Louis Armstrong, Carol Channing and Julie Andrews — even such offbeat characters as Popeye and the Cookie Monster. He often donned wigs and costumes to enact outrageous personalities such as Carmen Miranda and Cher, and was noted for the SOS' "Twelve Days of Christmas" seasonal parody, during which he enacted a "voice" for each of the verses.
One of his iconic impersonations, of Elvis Presley, wound up on CBS' "Magnum P.I." in 1985.
Bautista had a history of heart-related problems, according to Frances Kirk, director of Outrigger Entertainment, and had been taking heart medication.
Bautista lapsed into a coma and was taken off life support yesterday. Upon his death, his organs were harvested and his liver donated to a 24-year-old recipient.
His former wife, Julia, and their children, Jewel and Santino, flew from Honolulu to Los Angeles to join the vigil with the SOS members.
In a press release, Ruivivar said Bautista was a trouper till the end.
"He collapsed at the end of our show, and was still singing on the ground; we had to take the microphone away from him," Ruivivar said.
After his collapse, Bautista was taken to St. Jude Medical Center, where he lapsed into a coma.
Bautista was born in the Philippines and earned his American citizenship while living in Honolulu. He is survived by his wife, Reeza, of Las Vegas; a daughter, Erica, and a son, Garyl, in the Philippines; a daughter, Jewel Bautista, and a stepson, Santino, of Honolulu.
Services are pending in Las Vegas, where the SOS relocated.
The Society of Seven group will be in Honolulu for a golf tournament April 3 to raise funds for Jewel Bautista, 9. Entry forms may be requested by faxing 922-6955. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be sent to Friends of Jewel Bautista, c/o Outrigger Entertainment, 150 Ka'iulani Ave., Honolulu, HI 96815.
Reach Wayne Harada at email@example.com.