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A fitting send-off for slain publicist

An overflow crowd attends the funeral of Ronni Chasen. 'We are all hurting.'

November 22, 2010|Nicole Sperling

It was a fitting burial for Ronni Chasen, the doyenne of Hollywood publicists who was slain early Tuesday while driving home from a movie premiere. Nearly 1,000 mourners on a crisp and windy Sunday overflowed from the chapel at Hillside Memorial Park to remember the celebrated movie promoter.

Chasen, 64, would have been honored and perhaps embarrassed by the publicity, attendees said. The New York native who never lost traces of her accent spent the past four decades promoting the lives of others, preferring to keep her perfectly coiffed and impeccably dressed self out of the picture.

Lili Fini Zanuck, who knew Chasen from the time her husband, the producer Richard Zanuck, began working with her in the early 1980s, recounted to the crowd how she went rummaging through boxes of pictures of recent events Chasen attended, looking for photos of the diminutive blond whose stature belied a fierce, often guileless tenacity. Alas, none were to be found.

"Ronni took great pains staying in the shadows while pushing her clients into the light," said Zanuck in a eulogy.

But Sunday, the spotlight was turned to the memory of Chasen by a Hollywood crowd that packed into the chapel and spilled into an adjacent white tent.

"All of us here today need this service, need this ritual. Need the solace of knowing we are all hurting," Zanuck added.

While Chasen's murder remains unsolved, she was remembered for her vitality, a turbocharged drive in a segment of the business never known for the faint of heart. Much of the service was somber as people broke into tears, but at other moments eulogists managed to lighten the mood by describing Chasen's forceful personality.

Said Vivian Mayer-Siskind, a close friend, to the mourners, "Ronni came to me last night and was pissed as hell. 'Now you get me a free Armani suit.' " True to form, Mayer-Siskind assured people privately, the publicist was laid to rest wearing a black and white Armani suit, Ferragamo shoes and her signature soft green eye shadow.

Photographs of Chasen and her life, both in and out of Hollywood, flashed on a slideshow as attendees such as musician T Bone Burnett, director John Landis, producers Donald DeLine, Karen Rosenfelt and studio chiefs Amy Pascal and Rob Friedman, among many others, found their seats. Scores of publicists who were given their first break by Chasen also filed into the chapel. Marketing executives from all the studios who had worked with the tireless Chasen over the years were also on hand.

Flower arrangements made of white and champagne roses, orchids and hydrangeas -- picked to echo the soft palette of Chasen's apartment -- lined the walls.

Chasen's brother, filmmaker Larry Cohen, recounted his earliest memories of his sister, from taking her to the movies to introducing her to her first movie star, Dale Evans. "The whole way home on the subway, to everyone she saw, she'd say, 'I touched the Queen of the West.' That was her first celebrity encounter," Cohen said. He also revealed other secrets of his baby sister, from her yo-yo skills to her sewing prowess.

After the public service, Chasen was buried in a private ceremony. She will be placed in the crypt just below her mother, who died 15 years ago.

A short while later, mourners gathered at a reception at Sony Pictures a few minutes from Hillside in Culver City. A string quartet played in the studio's commissary while the guests ate from a spread catered by Wolfgang Puck. Actor Peter Fonda was on hand to remember an old friend. Although Fonda wasn't a client, that didn't stop Chasen from inviting him to countless parties or helping him with his career.

Indeed, that was Chasen's style, friends said. She networked furiously, introducing people she thought needed to know each other -- regardless of whether there was anything in it for her. Composer Hans Zimmer, a client of Chasen's for more than 20 years, spoke of his last encounter with her during his eulogy. "I saw her Saturday at the Governors Awards. She was taking her friend, director Chris Nolan, to meet one of his heroes, George Lucas ... and she was glowing," Zimmer said.

"And we had a great talk. Had I known what would have happened, I never would have let her go."

nicole.sperling@latimes.com

Staff writer Claudia Eller contributed to this report.

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