Ronni Chasen was remembered as a brilliant publicist, as well as a loyal and funny friend, at a memorial service Sunday morning at Hillside Memorial Park in Culver City. The attendees easily numbered more than 550.
The mood was predictably somber as the overflow crowd of actors, directors, producers, composers, journalists and fellow publicists entered the chapel. TV news crews and photo-graphers were not permitted on Hillside grounds (they were crowded outside the gates), and reporters were discouraged from note-taking inside.
Among the attendees were executives Amy Pascal, Sue Kroll, Jeff Blake, Mike Medavoy and Nancy Utley; producers Bruce Cohen, Donald De Line, Mace Neufeld, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Joe Roth and Richard Zanuck; composers Hans Zimmer, Diane Warren and Elliot Goldenthal; directors John Landis and Norman Jewison; actors Robert Forster and Eva Marie Saint; plus retired astronaut Buzz Aldrin.
The tragic circumstances of Chasen’s death — she was killed early Tuesday while driving home from the “Burlesque” premiere — were not ignored, but the emphasis was on her life and work. The result was an hourlong collection of anecdotes and reminiscences that often provoked both laughter and tears.
Producer Lili Fini Zanuck confirmed what many were already thinking — that Chasen’s death “literally stopped the show … the industry came to a standstill,” something she said she hadn’t seen in Hollywood in the past 30 years. She said she thought Chasen would be shocked at the turnout but that she would be much angrier about the number of media outlets reporting her age.
Longtime friend Vivian Mayer-Siskind called her the definition of grace and elegance and cited the strength and tenacity that made her the best publicist in Hollywood. She knew a good film from a bad one but she could sell them both, Mayer-Siskind said.
Chasen also rewrote publicity history, she added, by putting composers on the map, a reference to her niche market of representing composers and songwriters including Zimmer, Warren and Goldenthal, often helping them win Oscars, Golden Globes and Grammys over the past 20 years.
Chasen’s brother, director Larry Cohen, regaled the crowd with stories from her childhood, including engineering her first celebrity encounter with Dale Evans at Madison Square Garden in the early 1950s. He thanked those present for their support during what he called the terrible ordeal of the previous week.
Fellow publicist Kathie Berlin, who started at Rogers & Cowan about the same time as Chasen, attempted to debunk tabloid rumors about her death and added that her friend was now upstairs, changing the seating arrangements.
Jeff Sanderson, who had worked with Chasen for the past 16 years, praised her as “generous, loyal and tenacious” but also cited her “soft, vulnerable and tender side.”
Composer Zimmer, at the end of the service, said simply, “My heart is broken.”
Members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale sang an a capella arrangement of “Path to Heaven,” from Chasen client Harry Gregson-Williams’ score for “Kingdom of Heaven.” Rabbi David Baron presided over the services with Cantor Ilysia Pierce. A reception followed at Sony Pictures Studios.