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Gonzaga grad Don Chareunsy a mover and shaker in Vegas

UPDATED: Fri., March 8, 2019

There’s nothing quite like the opening night of a new show in Las Vegas. The Who’s Who of Sin City are all there, and they’re dressed to impress.

That was definitely the case on Thursday when the Strip’s newest over-the-top spectacular – and worldwide phenomenon – “Fuerza Bruta” opened. It’s not just about being seen, but being seen with the right people.

Both before and after the show, people would make their way to a smartly dressed man, simply wearing an untucked button-down shirt and a bow tie. Some would ask to take selfies with him, others wanted to catch up on the latest Vegas gossip, and nearly all of them wanted to know what he thought about the new show.

Welcome to a typical night in the life of Don Chareunsy – a 1996 Gonzaga University grad who has become one of the world’s quintessential journalists and authorities on the Las Vegas entertainment and food scene.

Wait.

How did this even happen?

Well, pull up a chair because the story of how a kid from Helena, Montana, ended up working at some of the biggest newspapers in the nation and ultimately became Robin Leach’s longtime editor – yes, the “champagne wishes and caviar dreams” Robin Leach – is a story every Zag is going to want to hear.

Chareunsy was born in Vientiane, Laos, in 1974. His family escaped Laos into Thailand across the Mekong River after the Vietnam War.

From the age of about 2 until he graduated from Helena High School in 1992, he spent most of his early life in Montana’s capital city. Like most kids in that area, he grew up hunting and fishing.

But he also loved journalism. He was both the yearbook and newspaper editor at his high school. That love continued once he enrolled at Gonzaga.

He worked on the Gonzaga Bulletin, first as a staff writer, then features editor, news editor and, eventually, the editor. Along with balancing his classwork, the nights before deadline were always long and brutal, some lasting deep until the early hours of the morning. He remembers staying some mornings until 5, when the lacrosse team would be boarding a shuttle bus for practice.

But that hard work, dedication and camaraderie alongside other Zags with journalism dreams are memories he wouldn’t trade for the world. They are, even to this day, some of his favorite moments as a student at Gonzaga.

The thing is, Chareunsy was good. Really good.

He eventually became Gonzaga’s first-ever Dow Jones copy-editing intern. He also was an intern at The Spokesman-Review, so you know he was the real deal.

After graduating cum laude from Gonzaga University in 1996 with degrees in journalism and political science, he was a Dow Jones copy-editing intern at the San Jose Mercury News in the summer of 1996 on the metro and national/foreign desks. Shortly after that, he landed his first full-time job as a copy editor at the Long Beach Press-Telegram.

From there, his career took him to the the Orange County Register, Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, including 13 years as an arts and entertainment editor and writer in Southern California.

After his mother died in 2007, he decided he needed a change. He moved to Las Vegas.

That’s when I met him. I worked in the newsroom at the Las Vegas Sun, focused mostly on the newspaper’s digital operation. At that time, we had a prolific entertainment blogger who outscooped and outhustled most reporters half his age … OK a third of his age: Robin Leach.

Don became his editor.

Whereas other celebrity writers in Las Vegas might say there was a rumor that a big A-list Hollywood couple was in town for a weekend retreat, Robin would have breakfast with said couple. And then he’d tell you how they ordered their eggs.

Robin Leach was the only journalist who could cover a red-carpet event and then turnaround and walk that red carpet.

And Don was in the middle of it all.

He continued to be Leach’s editor until the “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” entertainment journalist died in 2018. He was 76.

It was then that Chareunsy started focusing more on his writing again. He writes about celebrities, food, nightlife, music, arts and entertainment in Las Vegas. If you stay in one of those huge hotels on the Strip, chances are the magazines in your room will have stories in it by him.

So, what’s a typical weekend like for him? Well, let’s look at last weekend.

It started by taking in the new afternoon tea service at Aria; then he attended the first-anniversary dinner celebration of Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen at Caesars Palace attended by Chef Ramsay; then there was brunch at new Italian hipster restaurant Esther’s Kitchen in downtown Las Vegas; then he attended the mixed martial arts fights at UFC 235 at T-Mobile Arena; and he ended the weekend with a trip to Spring Mountain Ranch State Park to attend “Whiskey in the Wilderness,” featuring Las Vegas’ top chefs cooking outdoors over campfires.

For most of us, that would be the greatest year of our lives. That was roughly 48 hours in the life of Don.

The irony is that a Zag with incredible access to almost everything Las Vegas has to offer has never actually seen Gonzaga play at the WCC basketball tournament at The Orleans. As you can guess, there is a reason for that.

“Watching GU play gives me too much anxiety,” he said with laugh. “I attended the WCC Championships in 2003 in San Diego and Gonzaga lost in the finals. It scarred me for life. I’m a die-hard GU fan, but I don’t handle the stress well at all.”

Despite the stress, his love for the Zags is never-ending. When he’s not working, he’s wearing the colors of a true Zag.

For Don, that means his favorite Gonzaga T-shirt and a comfortable pair of GU basketball shorts. Now if he could only wear that to one of those fancy parties for the opening of a Las Vegas show.

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