Mystery surrounds killing of Hollywood publicist
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – It was a scene befitting a Hollywood true crime drama: A prominent Beverly Hills publicist was gunned down in her Mercedes-Benz after attending a movie premiere, sending the luxury car careening into a light post near Sunset Boulevard.
Police said Ronni Chasen was shot in the chest several times and killed early Tuesday in an attack that stunned Hollywood, where she was a revered figure after promoting the Oscar-winning film "Driving Miss Daisy" and other major movies and stars over the years.
Police had no motive or suspects and said no threats had been reported against the 64-year-old Chasen. The mystery deepened later in the day when police seized computers from her firm, Chasen and Co.
Fellow publicist Howard Bragman called the killing bizarre.
"She wasn't a shady character," he said. "It's a small community and she was one of the fixtures in it."
Witnesses said they heard gunshots in the serene Beverly Hills neighborhood and called 911 before going outside to help.
"I heard the 'Boom! Boom! Boom!' of gunshots, ran up to the window, and there was the back of the car," Nahid Schekarchian, who lives in an apartment above the crash site, told The Associated Press.
She said her daughter-in-law called 911 and her son and a neighbor ran down to the car and found Chasen, who was struggling to breathe and bleeding from her nose and chest.
The front passenger's window was shattered.
The killing took place after Chasen attended the premiere of the movie "Burlesque," which the trade publication Variety said she was promoting for Screen Gems to position the soundtrack for an Oscar nomination.
Chasen "was at our premiere last night and so full of her trademark energy and love of life," said Amy Pascal, co-chair of Screen Gems owner Sony Pictures. "We are heartbroken, shocked and completely devastated."
Chasen was struck down in the midst of her busiest time of year — Hollywood's award season, when the movie studios mount expensive campaigns to promote their better films for awards consideration using spin-specialists like Chasen.
She also was working with 20th Century Fox on a supporting actor Oscar campaign for Michael Douglas in "Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps," according to Allen Berry, a publicist for the actor.
Chasen's other clients included movie producers Irwin Winkler and Richard D. Zanuck.
Morgan Freeman said he had the "extreme pleasure" of working with Chasen on "Driving Miss Daisy."
"We've been friends ever since," the actor said. "She is someone I greatly admired, and she will be remembered."
The crime scene was marked with yellow police tape stretched between two trees on a grassy parkway among stately homes south of Sunset. An orange cone marked the spot where the light post had stood, and a small bouquet of yellow and red flowers was next to the curb.
Bradley Turell, a longtime colleague of Chasen, came to the site to mourn his friend.
"Ronni was a positive force of nature," he said during an interview by The Associated Press and KNBC. "She was just great at what she did, a supreme sales person and a great lady."
Chasen was involved in Hollywood publicity since the 1970s. She also promoted "On Golden Pond," which won Academy Awards for best actor, actress and screenplay in 1981.
In recent years, she worked with a number of music clients, including Janet Jackson, composer Hans Zimmer, producer Glen Ballard and Diane Warren, who wrote the song "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me," which Cher sings in "Burlesque."
Stephen Jaffe, a crisis management consultant, said he and his wife, actress Susan Blakely, knew Chasen for at least 25 years. The Hollywood awards season was always a busy time for her, Jaffe said.
"She would always call us this time of year to come to really incredible events," he said, explaining Chasen would often arrange screenings followed by intimate gatherings of filmmakers and guests.
"This was an absolutely shocking and inexplicable event that has hurt us," Jaffe said of the shooting.
Bragman said Chasen had a unique way of doing business.
"She was not a woman who was a slave to the fashion of the day," he said. She played to her own vision and integrity. She was very bright, very successful."