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Obituaries

July 31, 1999

Robert Kovoloff; Founded Product Placement Firm

Robert Kovoloff, 63, who founded Associated Film Promotions, one of the country's largest film product placement firms. Kovoloff had served a stint in the Army's psychological warfare division, an experience that taught him that the most effective messages are delivered subtly. After leaving the Army, he entered the advertising industry, working in his native Chicago as a radio advertising executive before moving to Hollywood in 1977. Initially working out of his apartment, Kovoloff started Associated Film Promotions, lining up clients who wanted their brand-name merchandise displayed in motion pictures. Within two years, he had a Century City office and $2 million in revenue a year. By 1983 he was charging $50,000 to place a firm's products in at least five movies a year. Among his successes: He placed Tony Lama boots in the 1980 John Travolta-Debra Winger hit "Urban Cowboy," got Jerry Lewis to eat his way through a box of Dunkin Donuts in the 1981 comedy "Hardly Working," had Nick Nolte toss a salad with Bertolli Olive Oil in the 1979 gridiron classic "North Dallas 40" and enticed Sylvester Stallone to munch on Wheaties in the 1982 film "Rocky III." By the early 1990s, however, the pioneering product pitchman was being sued by many former clients, including Nikon and Panasonic, who said that expensive merchandise loaned to Kovoloff was never returned or that promises of film placements were unfulfilled. Several of Hollywood's top stars issued indignant denials that they had received expensive gifts in exchange for appearing on screen with products of the Brown & Williamson Tobacco Co. The maker of Kool and Carlton cigarettes and other brands had paid Kovoloff's firm nearly $1 million to place its product line in movies but terminated the contract after an internal investigation raised questions about how the pitchman had spent the funds. Kovoloff declared bankruptcy in 1992. On Wednesday of heart failure at West Hills Hospital.

Ling Siew May; First Lady of Singapore

Ling Siew May, 62, first lady of Singapore. Ling was diagnosed with colon cancer 2 1/2 years ago, a discovery that was a factor in President Ong Teng Cheong's decision not to seek reelection. Ong, 63, is Singapore's first elected president and was diagnosed in 1992 as suffering from lymphoma; he has been receiving chemotherapy. Both Ling and Ong were trained as architects at Adelaide University in Australia. They were married in 1963. On Friday at Singapore's National University Hospital.

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