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  • Jimmy Broccoli

85 People Had Died – 85 People Had Died In The Fire

At 7:07 am on Friday, November 21st, 1980, the MGM Grand Hotel caught on fire. It remains one of the biggest tragedies in Las Vegas history.

With my 8-year-old hand tight within my mother’s hand, I began to cry – as I (physically) felt part of my childhood leave my body – it happened suddenly – a bit of my childhood departed, it evaporated into nothingness – replaced by adult thoughts that would turn into adult memories – and I wasn’t ready for either.

85 people had died. 85 people had died in the fire.

That afternoon I stood with my parents and two sisters across the street from the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada (my birthplace and home for 30 years) - a towering 26-story building painfully reaching into the sky – a high-rise - defeated, blackened, tragic, silent – and not grand in any way.


The fire began in a hotel restaurant on the first floor of the MGM and quickly spread to the casino floor. It took six minutes for the entire casino floor to be on fire – furious and terrifying flames raging at 17 feet per second - raging at 17 feet per second. The flames ran wildly across the carpeted floors, swallowing everything in its path and in all directions. They then wickedly and quickly slithered up the walls, engulfed the wallpaper, ate the PVC pipes and liquefied the plastic mirrors. 650 people were injured. 650 people were injured in the fire.

The flames violently raged on – throwing deadly smoke and toxic fumes into the stairways and into the elevator shafts – rising, rising angrily and without hesitation onto the unsuspecting floors above.

Chairs crashed through windows – shards fell onto the asphalt, the concrete, and onto the people below. Tied bed sheets hung from the open windows – last moment attempts to survive – for many, several stories above the ground.

85 people had died. 85 people had died in the fire.


As I stood there looking up at the building – my adolescent hand not leaving my mother’s – I couldn’t help but think about the screaming and the panic and the helplessness and wondering what it would be like to be that terrified. To be that terrified. To know you might – or most certainly – will die. I wondered what it would be like to have these thoughts – to know you might or most certainly will die.

An 8-year-old’s mind is a powerful thing. It would be 3 years until my colorings and drawings didn’t include fire and didn’t include people dying in these fires. I drew, with crayons and then later with colored pencils, the smoke as grey, the flames as red and yellow, and the blacked walls as black. Fantasy had turned into reality – and I no longer colored the sun blue or green or turquoise (just for fun) – I colored the sun yellow because the sun is yellow and is no color other than yellow.

Soon after, I stopped believing in wizards and in talking and walking trees and in elves and fairies scampering through mystical and magical woods – I no longer held close any fascination with the imaginary – with the unlikely and with the impossible. Fires happen and people die in them. That is what happens – that is what really happens.

All it took was standing across the street from a burned hotel building – all it took was me seeing the broken windows and the sheets hanging down – all it took was to know what had happened only a few hours before – and to know the details. All it took was tragedy entering my life, by after-the-fact observation, for the first time.

That afternoon I let go of my mother’s hand and took my first steps into adulthood as we left the sidewalk across the street from the MGM Grand Hotel, returning to our car to take us home.

85 people had died. 85 people had died in the fire

Photo: Jimmy Broccoli with Brahms, his Broccoli Buddy from Luxembourg.

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