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Former Senator Chic Hecht, a Missouri native, dies

Chic Hecht
Chic Hecht


Carson City, Nev. – Chic Hecht, a Missouri-born conservative Republican who upset a powerful incumbent Democrat for U.S. Senate from Nevada, has died at the age of 77.

Hecht was diagnosed a year ago with prostate cancer and died Monday at a Las Vegas hospital.

He was born Mayer Jacob Hecht in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, but was known since childhood as 'Chic.' His uncle gave him that nickname.

Hecht graduated in 1949 from Washington University in St. Louis. He served in Europe as an Army counter-intelligence agent in Berlin in 1952 and 1953, then moved to Nevada and rose to prominence as a wealthy businessman.

As a Republican candidate for Senate, Hecht beat incumbent Democrat Howard Cannon by 6,000 votes in 1982.

In the Senate, Hecht became known for his verbal slips, once referring to the proposed nuclear waste repository that the federal government wants to open at Nevada's Yucca Mountain as a "nuclear suppository."

He lost his re-election bid six years later, but served five years as U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas before returning to private business.

The conservative Hecht was praised by former U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.) as "one of the gutsiest politicians I've ever encountered." Laxalt recalled thinking that Hecht was "half-crazy" when the one-time Las Vegas clothing store owner ran for a state Senate seat in a heavily Democratic district in 1966.

Hecht won that race, and when he decided to challenge U.S. Sen. Howard Cannon, a powerful Democrat, in 1982, Laxalt recalled thinking, "Chic, you're really on a kamikaze mission this time."

"Yet he proved all the doubters wrong once again and shocked the political world by winning by some 6,000 votes," Laxalt said. Hecht was helped to the narrow victory after Cannon was caught up in a Teamsters union scandal.

Hecht also once nearly choked to death in a much-publicized incident in which he was saved by Sen. John Kerry, later a candidate for President. Kerry at the time was working to defeat Hecht in the 1988 elections, but stepped out of a Capitol elevator and found Hecht in distress.

A piece of apple was stuck in Hecht's throat, and Kerry did the Heimlich maneuver to dislodge it. "He saved my life," Hecht said.

Hecht is survived by his wife, Gail, and two daughters, Lori and Leslie. Memorial arrangements were pending.