Political PR guru Stephen Rivers dies

Publicist for Fonda, Schwarzenegger, others known for grasp of craft

Veteran publicist Stephen Rivers, who worked with politically active bizzers such as Jane Fonda, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver for political causes, died Tuesday in Los Angeles of cancer. He was 55.

Lauded as having great warmth, humor and expertise, Rivers’ list of clients grew to include Queen Rania of Jordan, the Kennedy family, Anna Deavere Smith, the Sundance Institute and Sundance Group and SC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

In a statement, Gov. Schwarzenegger and Shriver said, “What made him so special was his total grasp of his craft, whether it was the entertainment world, the political arena, nonprofits or the private sector. He was the only one who could bring it all together for the benefit of whatever cause he supported.”

Rivers, who was at CAA for four years as communications exec before launching his own PR company, worked with such directors as Michael Moore, Barry Levinson, John Hughes and Herbert Ross.

“He fought for causes and people he believed in,” Maria Shriver said.

Rivers organized Fonda’s public activities, including film and video promotion and political events, including her 1984 visit to the Soviet Union to campaign for the release of Jewish refusenik Ida Nudel, and her 1987 trip to Poland to meet with Lech Walesa and lend support to the then-outlawed Solidarity movement. “Stephen was an important person in my life on a personal as well as on a PR level,” Fonda said.

With connections in Cuba, he took helmers such as Steven Spielberg, Kevin Costner and Steven Soderbergh to the island country to present their films. Rivers also traveled with Benicio del Toro to Havana in 2008 for a screening of “Che.”

Rivers began his career working for United Farm Workers, serving as an organizer of the grape boycott in New England before coming to California as an assistant to the late UFW president Cesar Chavez.

He helped organize events for the Middle East peace organization Seeds of Peace, the Hollywood Women’s Political Committee, the Magic Johnson Foundation and the music industry’s Rock the Vote organization. He also worked on projects with Bono and Bobby Shriver on behalf of global AIDS prevention and helped

Colombian singer-songwriter activist Juanes organize his Paz Sin Fronteras concert in Havana.

Survivors include his mother and three sisters. Funeral services will be held at Mt. Carmel in his hometown of Springfield, Mass. A Los Angeles memorial service will be held at a later date.

Donations may be made to the UFW Foundation or the Sisters of St. Joseph Federation.

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