CASEY & THE SUNSHINE GIRL: Las Vegas Car Stars showman Paul Casey cherishes the memory of the young daughter he just laid to rest
She is gone. And she’s right here.
“I really want you to meet her,” Paul Casey says, then leads us upstairs to his daughter, resting just outside her cheery, pink-and-yellow-festooned room.
“This is Jobyna,” he says, gesturing toward the urn containing the remains of the child who died only weeks ago, after gracing her dad’s world for 11 years, two months and five days.
“Jobyna Elizabeth Casey, born January 2, 2008, at 6-something in the morning at St. Rose Hospital — beautiful,” he says, his words freighted with a sense of love so rich and deep and immediate that you feel your heart break a bit, picturing him cradling the physically compromised infant in his arms right before you.
“She was my teacher,” says the man determined to honor her life as a celebration, rather than linger over her death as a tragedy. Yet despite his indefatigable embrace of his daughter’s spiritual gift, his words ring with regret of the kind only a parent of a child gone so soon — after a fleeting life rife with challenges and pain — can truly know.
Seizure-riddled, unable to form words and legally blind, she lived barely more than a decade when she passed on March 7, leaving her showman-papa with a lifetime’s worth of lessons. “She taught me that things are greater in life if you share,” he says. “Love is always the common denominator. Most people just want to be appreciated and loved. A child will teach you that.”
Spiritually, Jobyna’s profound impact on her dad hovers over his 10th annual Las Vegas Car Stars event May 9-11th. Created by Casey, a special events producer/performer who bills himself as “the king of Las Vegas entertainment” (and has worked with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which produces Las Vegas Newswire), the three-day blowout is a splashy pop-culture revel.
Promoted as “the world’s greatest gathering of TV and movie cars,” the free event includes a “celebrity parade” down Las Vegas Boulevard and double-barreled action on Fremont Street, which will host a celebrity-laden party and a car show.
Steeped in the zeitgeist of yesteryear, it’s a memory lane joyride past pop-culture signposts such as Knight Rider, The Dukes of Hazzard, Starsky & Hutch, Smokey and the Bandit, Batman, The Green Hornet and Ghostbusters – and particularly, their flashy, four-wheeled co-stars oozing comic-book panache.
Nostalgia aficionados will find it a nearly religious experience. Those cars? Holy artifacts. (Car Stars fever even infected his home the week before the event, when he happily idled in his garage inside the fire-red, 1957 Plymouth Fury from the horror flick Christine.)
Proceeds from sponsorship involvement in Las Vegas Car Stars will benefit the Miracle League of Las Vegas to assist kids with special needs — kids like Jobyna. “I was inspired to do all the events in Las Vegas through my little girl,” says Casey, who is also the dad of a 4-year-old son.
An infectiously likable extrovert with performing ham in his DNA — his home is part-residence, part-memorabilia museum detailing his show-bizzy life, and his personality is pitched midway between gregarious and ebullient – Casey grows reflective when discussing Jobyna, eyes moistening even as a smile lifts his face.
Born, Casey says, with “an undiagnosed neurological disease that was linked to daily seizure activity,” Jobyna (pronounced “Joe-BEAN-a”) was never out of a wheelchair. “Three months into her life, she stopped breathing at the park and I had to perform CPR on her,” he recalls.
“This is a baby. At the emergency room, doctors and nurses freak out if it’s a child like that. We discovered that she would stop breathing more than one time. Her larynx was small and when she would seizure it would close off. I would go into the hospital to see Jobyna and they would be struggling to keep her alive. You get stabbed in the heart watching someone who is only nine months old stop breathing. But they told me she would not live to be 3. She lived to be 11.”
Despite her vision deficiencies, his daughter could distinguish shapes and figures — “she always knew it was me,” Casey says — and was very verbal when excited, even without words. Her nickname: Chewy, after Star Wars’ Chewbacca.
“I have perfect moments with her,” he says, then proves it by rummaging through countless videos until he comes across the one that crystallizes their bond, in which he serenades her with the Elvis holiday rocker, “Blue Christmas.”
He is singing, Presley-style. She is gurgling, Chewy-style. The moment is magic.
Watching her chortle and squeal and jiggle to Papa’s performance — then accept the kiss he plants on her mouth after he strums that last guitar chord — you can’t help but turn toward the urn. And smile.
Rewinding his memories, Casey remembers how he and she would write songs together — “fun, children’s, sing-song-y stuff” — as two silly souls happy to be silly together. “Jobyna showed me love the way we would interact. It was like telepathy.”
Recalling how Jobyna’s mom (Casey’s ex-wife, Milena) would take her outside for jaunts, he illustrates the little lady’s indefinable magic. “These girls, 6 or 7 years old, saw Jobyna and they go, ‘Is she sick?’” he says.
“And Milena says, ‘No she has a condition.’ And they go, ‘Is she contagious.’ And Milena says, ‘No, she was born this way.’ And the little girls say, ‘Can we hug her?’ She could bring out the best in everybody. So don’t judge somebody by the paint job. There is so much more underneath.”
Just as charming, in her own way, as her dad, Jobyna would sometimes join him onstage at his events. Though she had zero awareness of their celebrity imprimatur — with the exception, perhaps, of her godfather, Dukes of Hazzard co-star John Schneider (Bo Duke) — the famed folks knew Jobyna.
“She met 473 of them in 10 years,” Casey claims. “The entire casts of Back to the Future, Star Trek, Star Wars. David Hasselhoff. George Lazenby. Nichelle Nichols. They were actually more excited to take pictures with her.”
Now that’s charisma.
“People who have had great success, they gravitate to people who have that energy,” he says. “And when she passed, many of them flew here to be with her.”
That was after three infections ganged up on her frail body, finally felling her after a short life that touched many. “She was a warrior, but her body was just tired, she couldn’t fight it,” says Casey, who described her death this way in an online announcement: “Our beautiful daughter earned her Angel wings today.”
Bristling at the notion of holding a funeral for his child, Casey opted instead for what — in a comingling of paternal devotion and showman’s flair — he labeled “A Celebration of Love” at Palm Southwest Mortuary on Warm Springs Road, emphasizing life-affirming gratitude over relentless melancholy.
“It’s amazing,” Casey says, “how that little girl could reach into anyone’s heart.”
Weeks later, the memory of his angel flutters above his latest Vegas-style extravaganza as it parades up the Strip and down Fremont Street, with a special patron saint at the helm.
Paraphrasing a certain biblical passage, one could say that a little child — no longer in body, but in eternally alive spirit — shall lead them.
To offer feedback on this story or suggestions for future stories on Las Vegas Newswire, contact Managing Editor Steve Bornfeld at SBornfeld@lvcva.com.