LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Danny Gans' act came at you full speed with song, dance and impressions ranging from Joe Cocker to Sammy Davis Jr. and Kermit the Frog.
Crowds who packed the theater nightly to see one of the Las Vegas Strip's top performers could never tell what was coming next — or that the energetic performer was wracked by chronic pain that would contribute to his death.
"If he was in pain, he would just suck it up and go on with the show," Chip Lightman, Gans' longtime manager and friend, said Wednesday. "Dan wasn't a complainer."
On Tuesday, the Clark County coroner provided a peek behind the curtain with a declaration that Gans' unexpected death May 1 was accidental — resulting from a reaction to the powerful prescription painkiller hydromorphone.
"He was suffering from chronic pain syndrome," Coroner Mike Murphy said, ending weeks of speculation while an autopsy and toxicological tests were conducted.
Murphy blamed Gans' death on "acute hydromorphone toxicity," and said Gans also had hypertensive cardiovascular disease, a high blood pressure condition, and a condition called polycythemia that caused his red blood cell count to go up.
"This is not an issue of drug abuse," Murphy said, attributing Gans' death to the hydromorphone and "the combination of those issues."
Lightman, who said he spoke about the coroner's findings with Gans' widow, Julie, said he was stunned by the coroner's findings.
"I think Julie, like me and everyone else who knows Dan, is thinking, 'How could he be doing this with chronic pain?'" Lightman said. "But Danny was an athlete. He worked through it."
Lightman said he thought Gans avoided taking pain medications, fearing it would affect his vocal cords and his singing.
"I'm being haunted by the question that everyone else is," Lightman said. "Who gave him this prescription?"
Murphy and the medical examiner who conducted Gans' autopsy, Dr. Gary Telgenhoff, cited patient and family confidentiality in refusing to identify Gans' physicians or say how long the entertainer suffered from pain. He also would not say much hydromorphone was in Gans' system, or whether he took other medications.
Lightman said Julie Gans didn't know her husband had hydromorphone, which is commonly marketed under the trade name Dilaudid.
"Do I think he was taking it and doing the show?" Lightman added. "No, I don't know how he could've.
"All I can figure is he tweaked his shoulder or his back and he decided to take something," Lightman said. "It makes sense that he took something on a Thursday, a day off, knowing he didn't have to do a show until Friday night."
Gans' death at age 52 stopped a rising star a little more than 12 weeks into a headline gig at the Encore Theater at Wynn Las Vegas hotel-casino.
He didn't perform the night before his wife summoned paramedics to their sprawling, gate-guarded Henderson home with a report that Gans had trouble breathing and wouldn't wake up.
Dr. Mel Pohl, medical director of a Las Vegas drug abuse treatment center and author of two books on chronic pain recovery, called it "worrisome in retrospect" that Gans took a strong narcotic that could make him breathe more slowly if he had an existing heart condition and a low level of oxygen in his blood due to his polycythemia.
Alan Barbour, a forensic toxicology consultant in Fresno, Calif., said Gans' existing medical conditions could have made him less tolerant of the painkiller.
"A debilitated patient can be pushed over the edge by drug levels that wouldn't necessarily be harmful for someone in good health," he said.
Associated Press Writer Kathleen Hennessey in Las Vegas contributed to this report.
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