Cheryle Thompson moved to Las Vegas at the age of 18 to pursue a singing career. Instead she found a job as a showgirl at the Sahara Hotel and parlayed her beauty into the Miss Nevada title in 1963.
The following year she was on prime time TV, among the five finalists at the Miss America pageant.
Cheryle Thompson Kaye, who later landed a recording contract and married entertainer Norman Kaye, died Wednesday at Desert Springs Hospital. She was 59.
The Miss America finish set Kaye on a path that looked like it would lead to the singing career she came to Las Vegas to find, her husband said.
But her singing career was short-lived after Decca Records came calling, he recalled.
"She wrote a Grammy-nominated song called 'The Third Person,' and when she got to the Top 20, the chairman of Decca called me one day to say he was going to send her on tour with six men," he said.
Norman Kaye said he was fine with the idea until he heard that the male performers would include such rebels as Waylon Jennings.
"I said, 'If he's going, my wife's not going,' " he said. "We had just had our baby Richard."
The choice not to go on tour effectively ended Kaye's singing career, though she did cut six records for Decca.
"She was 100 percent with me (on the decision) ... but I think she would have conquered the world if I had let her go on that tour," her husband said.
He remembered his wife as a "marvelous lady" whose talent and beauty were exceeded only by her charity and concern for her family.
Born April 3, 1944, in Jacksonville, Fla., Kaye moved to Las Vegas in 1962 to become a singer. The Sahara didn't have a singing job, so she took a position as a showgirl.
One night she snuck with a friend into the showroom to see headliners the Mary Kaye Trio, and met her future husband, her son, Richard, said.
"Because of the underage drinking ban, she couldn't go into the showroom during the performance," he said. "So she would sneak in with her girlfriend, who was dating my dad's music conductor, and she introduced them."
"She saw me sing and, well, I heard her sing ... " Norman Kaye said. It was love and a permanent partnership.
After settling into family life, Kaye went on to become a caring homemaker and a successful businesswoman, her husband said, while being involved in numerous charitable groups, including March of Dimes and the American Lung Association.
When Norman Kaye left show business to take up real estate, Cheryle Kaye ran the office, he said.
"I had the largest real estate company in the whole state of Nevada, and she ran the whole thing," said Norman Kaye, who also became the state's poet laureate. "She was a masterful businesswoman."
While she never achieved the fame she sought, Cheryle Kaye did make the cover of several Las Vegas publications, including the Sun, during her run as Miss Las Vegas, Miss Nevada and finally a semifinalist in the 1964 Miss America pageant.
She also attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to study foreign languages, though she never graduated, her son said.
Richard Kaye said the greatest pleasures in his mother's later life came from her husband, her children, and especially her grandchildren.
In addition to her husband and her son Richard, Kaye is survived by another son Donald and daughter-in-law Lynay, of Las Vegas; mother Mary G. Thompson of Las Vegas; brothers James Thompson of San Jose, Calif., and Terry Thompson of Jacksonville, Fla.; and four grandchildren. The family requests donations be made in her memory to the American Lung Association.
No services were listed. Arrangements were handled by Palm Mortuary Eastern.