The Nov. 16 death of Ronni Chasen was shocking to Hollywood folk for many reasons. The ever-energetic publicist seemed to be at every industry event and hangout over the past 30 years, and it was hard to grasp her absence going forward. The circumstances of her death were troubling, too, as she was shot in the chest five times in her Mercedes on a quiet residential street of Beverly Hills.
It seemed a classic case of Hollywood miscasting: The wacky and lovable best friend from a romantic comedy had somehow ended up in an urban thriller.
The violent and mysterious ending seemed at odds with most folks’ image of Chasen. With her teased blonde hairdo, distinctive fast delivery in her N.Y. accent, and her worldweary-but-upbeat attitude, she was a petite woman with the energy of someone half her age (though you’d have to guess what that would be, because she was adamant about keeping her age a secret).
She was a publicist who seemed to never sleep, to know everyone and to steer every conversation sooner or later back to her work and her clients.
One of her longtime clients, composer Hans Zimmer, recalled spending time with Chasen during the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ Governors Awards ceremony Nov. 13. “She knew everybody in the room,” Zimmer said. “She took Chris Nolan over to the next table and introduced him to George Lucas … and I thought, ‘There’s my friend Ronni, introducing two great directors to each other. She’s on top of her game.’?”
She was also a link between the PR past and its future. She was among the last of the old-school Hollywood press agents who politely but persistently refused to take “no” for an answer. And she fostered the next generation, hiring and tutoring PR newcomers, while mentoring the next generation of young artists and execs.
While she would occasionally express exhaustion or discouragement, the moment would quickly pass and she would start talking about the business. One of the ironies of her death was that it came just as awards season was picking up steam, because she was a fixture during the four-month period, working on campaigns for her clients.
The day after her death, Daily Variety printed a rare full page of remembrances from studio execs (Rich Ross, Amy Pascal), longtime clients (Richard Zanuck, Joe Roth, Irwin Winkler), colleagues and business rivals. Reading them, she would have rolled her eyes and made a self-deprecatory wisecrack, but she would have loved it.
In a town fueled by gossip and schadenfreude, speculation was surprisingly muted about the circumstances of her death. The guesswork may be fodder for cable news and bloggers, but Hollywood is basically a small town, and people have circled the wagons; they have been more interested in mourning than in conjecture. The general message was clearly that respect must be paid. She was relentless, which made her effective, and she loved the industry: She may have been a pushy broad, but she was our pushy broad.