Dick Jensen dead at 64
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Wayne Harada
Dick Jensen, a well-known figure in the Waikiki and Las Vegas nightlife of the 1960s through the 1980s, died early yesterday morning. He was 64.
Nicknamed "The Giant," Jensen was a prime mover of nightclub shows and a favorite of audiences because of his belting voice and imposing physical perormances on stage. He was noted for his glide — a proto-Moonwalk — well before Michael Jackson made it fashionable.
His nickname was linked to his 6-foot-plus height but also reflected his outsize talent as a singer-dancer in shows from New York to Las Vegas.
"He was a great entertainer, a great friend, a great father and a great pastor," said daughter Renee Jensen-Oliveira, describing her father. He touched a lot of people's lives."
Jensen graduated from Farrington High School in 1960 and became a performer. At first, he used the stage name Lance Curtis. He appeared in shows at the now-defunct Civic Auditorium on King Street, fronting dance bands during a lively period in the Honolulu entertainment scene.
He starred in shows at the Outrigger Waikiki's Main Showroom and other Waikiki show places such as the Reef Towers' Polynesian Palace and the Hula Hut, clubs now gone. He also launched a popular show on the only floating nightclub venue in Hawai'i, the Oceania Floating Restaurant, which was docked off Ala Moana near Aloha Tower.
Last November, Jensen received a star on the Las Vegas Walk of Stars, commemorating his appeal in the gambling capital's showrooms. Longtime friend Engelbert Humperdinck was there to congratulate him.
He appeared at several hotels and casinos in Las Vegas over the course of his career, including the Landmark. During his tenure in Vegas, he befriended a panoply of stars, including Sammy Davis Jr., Don Rickles, the Smothers Brothes, Dionne Warick, Jerry Lewis, Tony Bennett, Lena Horne and Joey Bishop.
"Growing up with him was always a rollercoaster," said Jensen-Oliveira, chuckling. "There was a lot of traveling, and a lot of entertainers and famous people. Normal people in our living roomwere Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley. ... That would pretty much be an average day. It was an intertesting life."
Jensen was inducted into the Hawai'i Academy of Recording Arts' Lifetime Achievement circle in May.
His riveting, furious performance style was part Tom Jones, part Humperdinck, with dance accenting his booming vocals. One of his signatures was the rock classic, "Vehicle." Jensen also was known for a clever monologue involving Lone Ranger and sidekick Tonto, complete with sound effects.
His last Waikiki series of appearances, in the early 1990s, was shortlived.
Besides his club work, Jensen made frequent television appearances in shot-in-Hawai'i projects, such as "Magnum, P.I." and "Island Son."
In recent years, Jensen had heart bypass surgery. He was stricken with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, which forced him into a wheelchair. He had been hospitalized at Kaiser Medical Center since May 10.
Dozens of friends and family members visited his room daily, raising his spirits, said Jensen-Oliveira. A life celebration for Jensen was organized by family in the hospital garden last Thursday. More than 175 friends showed up. "He got to hear of all the wonderful things he'd done to touch people's lives," his daughter said.
His old friend and fellow Hawai'i performer, Marlene Sai, said, "He was an exceptional talent. He did so much. ... I mean, he did the Ed Sullivan show (in the '60s); it was phenomenal. ... The guy was an athlete, and he loved showbiz."
In addition to Renee Jensen-Oliveira of Honolulu, Jensen is survived by his wife Toni, daughters Summer Jensen and Nikki Jensen of Los Angeles, daughter Jennifer Garcia of Las Vegas, and son Brandon Jensen of Honolulu. He also has three grandchildren.
Advertiser entertainment writer Derek Paiva contributed to this story.
Reach Wayne Harada at email@example.com.