Carnegie Hall packed for Steve Ross tribute

Few entertainers could hope to pack Carnegie Hall almost two months after their death, but Steve Ross did just that yesterday. A stellar lineup from the entertainment community — including singer Paul Simon, actors Clint Eastwood and Dustin Hoffman, CBS chairman Laurence Tisch and Paramount Communications chairman Martin Davis — turned out to pay tribute to the man referred to as a visionary and friend.

Natalie Cole opened the memorial service for the late Time Warner chairman, performing the Grammy-award winning “Unforgettable,” a duet with a vocal track of her late father Nat King Cole.

Speakers included two of Ross’ three children; Ross’ lawyer Arthur Liman; former New York governor Hugh Carey; the Rev. Jesse Jackson; Warner Bros. studio chairman and CEO Bob Daly; soccer great Pele; columnist Liz Smith; director Steven Spielberg; Jack Murofushi, president of ITOCHU (one of TW’s Japanese partners); Time Warner Enterprises president Bob Pittman; Caroline Lang, speaking on behalf of her father, French minister of education and culture Jack Lang; Julian Senior, head of publicity for Warner Bros. in Europe; New York Mayor David Dinkins; and Time Warner chairman Gerald M. Levin.

Written condolences from President Clinton, former Presidents Bush and Carter and New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, were read by opera star Beverly Sills, who served as mistress of ceremonies.

Speakers focused on Ross’ generosity, compassion for those less fortunate than himself, love of practical jokes and forward thinking. “The label ‘visionary’ does not do him justice,” Liman said. “Steve Ross was an original, inspired thinker … who was able to look beyond the confines of the present into the future.”

Jackson led the crowd in a standing ovation to Ross, who he said did much for African-American causes by “turning stumblingblocks into stepping stones.” Likewise, Lang praised Ross for not being intimidated by diversity.

Both Spielberg and Pittman said they would miss the “fatherly advice” Ross had given them throughout their careers.

Characterizations of Ross ranged from Pittman’s “patron saint of dreamers” to Senior’s “omnipresent, self-effacing giant.”

Senior related how Ross had gotten personally involved in helping treat his son’s hearing problem.

Others were humorous: Sills recounted a story from TW exec VP/chief financial officer Bert Wasserman about Ross dropping a quarter while waiting for a car in front of the Beverly Hills Hotel. The bellman saw Ross drop the quarter, picked it up and returned it to him. Ross then tipped the bellman $ 5.

Speakers also recounted Ross’ Horatio Alger rise in the world of business and referred to the Time-Warner merger as his “crowning professional achievement.”

The 2 1/2-hour service was produced by Lorne Michaels with Quincy Jones as musical director.

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