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Former sheriff who helped shape modern Las Vegas dies at 88

FILE - In this Sept. 18, 2012 file photo, Michael Chiklis, from left, Dennis Quaid and Sheriff Ralph Lamb attend the CBS 2012 Fall Premiere Party at Greystone Manor in West Hollywood, Calif. Longtime Clark County Sheriff Lamb has died. The 88-year-old former lawman died at a Las Vegas hospital on Friday, July 3, 2015, according to a hospital spokeswoman. (Photo by Todd Williamson/Invision/AP, File)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Longtime Clark County Sheriff Ralph Lamb, a prominent figure credited with shaping Las Vegas’ modern history, has died.

Lamb, who was the basis for one of the lead characters of the short-lived CBS television show “Vegas,” died Friday afternoon at age 88 in a Las Vegas hospital, said his son, Clint Lamb. He was taken off life support after suffering complications from surgery, his son said.

Kevin Buckley, a longtime family friend who also served as the sheriff’s spokesman, said Lamb had had on-going health problems and was devastated by the recent death of another Las Vegas legend, billionaire Kirk Kerkorian.

“That was a real strain on the sheriff. Kirk was a dear friend of his,” Buckley said. “All these people who see these legends dying and leaving — Kirk built the three largest hotels in the world in Las Vegas, all while Sheriff Lamb was sheriff.”

The longtime lawman was appointed sheriff in 1961 and spent nearly 18 years as Las Vegas’s top police officer during a time of massive growth and mob influence.

Lamb’s police legacy included the work card law, which required all casino workers to go through a background check. Under Lamb’s leadership, the state’s first modern crime lab and SWAT team were formed. He also led efforts in 1973 to combine county and city police offices into the current Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department.

“They knew he was the long arm of the law,” his son said. “He got his way when he had to get tough.”

For a time, the Lamb family was one of the most important political dynasties in the state. Brother Floyd Lamb, who died in 2002, spent decades as a powerful state senator in the Nevada Legislature until being taken down by a FBI sting in the early 1980s. Darwin Lamb, another brother, who survives him, served two terms on the Clark County Commission.

Clint Lamb said his family was close-knit when he was growing up and enjoyed the many perks of a patriarch running the town’s law enforcement.

“You can’t imagine what kind of childhood we had. It was a dream. We never even knew. I was only 1 year old when he became sheriff,” his son said. “I must have seen Wayne Newton 440 times.”

Ralph Lamb’s political career took a tumble after a 1977 indictment for income tax evasion. Though Lamb was acquitted, voters rejected his bid for re-election the following year, and he lost another election for sheriff in 1994.

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, whose husband, Oscar, often clashed with Lamb as a mob attorney, said in a statement that Lamb left a “cowboy legacy.”

“A legend in his own right and the toughest of the tough – done always ‘his way’ though loyal and fair on a handshake!” she said in a statement. “For Oscar, me, and our family, over the years he was a great friend.”

Current Sheriff Joe Lombardo said Lamb will be buried with full police honors.

“Ralph Lamb will be remembered as a great man, an exceptional Sheriff, and a legendary member of our community,” he said in a statement. “His legacy will live on”.

Parts of Lamb’s tenure were dramatized in the 2012 CBS series “Vegas,” which was cancelled after one season. The real-life Lamb gave the show his blessing and got a kick out of watching every episode.

“They flew him down to the set a time or two,” his son said. “He gave Dennis Quaid his real cowboy boots.”

Services haven’t been set. Lamb is also survived by wife, Rae, and son, Cliff.

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