The showgirl is one of Vegas’ enduring icons and few did more to polish her image than Fluff LeCoque. From her days as “Miss Thunderbird” to her years as company manager of the Jubilee show at Bally’s, she left her glittering, glamorous imprint on our city.
LeCoque passed away Friday at the age of 92. Whether as a principal dancer, ballet mistress, choreographer or company manager, LeCoque worked with Jubilee producer Donn Arden for more than 40 years and left a lasting impact on the production as well as “the history of show business in Las Vegas,” according to a statement from Bally’s.
“Many people are not aware that she was a striking beauty and lead dancer, long before Jubilee was born,” says Grant Philippo, creator and curator of the Las Vegas Showgirl Museum, noting, “She already had an incredible career before she ever was company manager of any of Donn’s shows.”
Born Ffolliot LeCoque in Montana, “Fluff” first tried her luck in Hollywood, where she was one of the finalists for Jane in the Tarzan movies. The gorgeous redhead’s first appearance in Las Vegas was in 1947, as part of Liberace’s show at the Last Frontier. She was also a lead dancer at the Desert Inn and the Thunderbird—as “Miss Thunderbird,” she became the first woman in Las Vegas to pose poolside in a bikini. Later in life, she had a cameo in Martin Scorsese’s Casino as the victim of a mob hit.
LeCoque retired from dancing in at the age of 43, but was soon asked by Arden to manage his show, Hallelujah Hollywood. She then went on to become company manager of Jubilee from its inception in 1981 through 2013.
“She especially knew how to make people want to please her. She was a very tough person, but you have to be when you have to keep 140 performers in line,” says Philippo, adding, “She was the best parent you could ever have.”
Documentary filmmaker Jessica Roe says she was one among many who admired LeCoque “for her unstinting energy, tough work ethic, dry sense of humor, and for keeping it classy and staying true to her values without being stuck in the past.” Roe interviewed and film the showgirl multiple times while working on a two-season reality show called Casino Diaries that aired on the Discovery Channel in the early 2000s.
Roe says it was clear that LeCoque, “took a keen personal interest in the welfare of her dancers, while also running an extremely tight ship. Fluff didn’t suffer fools gladly and could be brutally frank.”
Kady Heard, a former Jubilee dancer recalls, “She was pretty intimidating, but extremely fair and always the epitome of class.” Heard still keeps a cast letter Fluff hung backstage, an example of the tough love she felt for her dancers and the excellence she demanded in her show: “When people come to see a show, particularly this kind of show where beauty reigns, they expect to see perfection … They want to emulate you. But, they can be cruel in their judgment and will see the flaws.”
“To say she worked hard and knew what she was doing is an understatement, but she loved what she did and leaves an incredibly large family in mourning,” says Philippo.
Unfortunately, the biggest part of Fluff’s legacy will not survive her by long. Two days after her death, Bally’s announced that it would be ending Jubilee’s 34-year run in February of 2016. Consider it your last chance to see Las Vegas’ classic showgirls—and pay homage to one of the first.