Down on luck diva faces surgery, mounting bills

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LAS VEGAS (AP) - Jeneane Marie Cranert boasts of touring Europe with the Funk Brothers and Tito Jackson and warming up the stage over the years for such stars as Frank Sinatra, Liberace and Wayne Newton.

It sounds glamorous, only Cranert is telling the story from beneath the covers of her bed, where a bone disease has confined her for weeks because she doesn’t have health insurance and can’t afford hip replacement surgery.

The 53-year-old singer’s face is bloated, her speech punctuated by tearful fits, shrieks and long gasps.

“It hurts,” she yells.

The Las Vegas Strip is ripe with entertainers hungry for fame and fortune. They sing, dance, tell jokes and play their instruments. Most gauge their success by the times they share the stage with headliners like Tony Bennett, Charo, Elvis Presley and Dean Martin.

But stage life comes without the promise of steady paychecks and employer-sponsored health insurance.

“Entertainers are second-class citizens until they make it and then they are royalty,” said Tony Sacca, who has been singing in Las Vegas for 30 years. “We help each other out.”

Sacca heads the Showbiz Society, a charity group that raises money for Las Vegas performers in need. He and more than a dozen other performers will charge $22 a head at a benefit concert Sunday to raise money to pay for Cranert’s medical bills. Jim Marsh, owner of the Skyline casino, said he will match up to $6,000 of the donations for a bill that could exceed $100,000. Cranert has applied for Medicare but is not sure she can wait for her paperwork to be processed.

Cranert said she was diagnosed with avascular necrosis in August, three months after returning from Spain with Tito Jackson’s tour.

Blood no longer reaches her hip, which could lead to the bone’s eventual collapse. A blood clot could reach her heart, and she could die.

It began as a dull ache and matured into a piercing pain. Now the tiniest hip swivel feels like someone ripping her flesh with a hot poker.

She can’t stand up, let alone dance.

“For me to lay here like this,” she said from her bed, her French manicure clutching a blanket around her chin, “it is the most depressing thing I’ve ever gone through.”

The recession has been hard on Las Vegas. Unemployment is at record levels and jobless people don’t go to shows often.

As singing gigs dried up, Cranert accepted her first office job ever. She was paid $9 an hour to help rent out apartments. The part-time job didn’t come with health insurance.

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