Open Mic

The Ronni Chasen Tragedy: Why Did It Happen?

Hillary Atkin Posted November 18, 2010 at 12:07 PM

It's still difficult to shake off the shock of seeing the headline "Ronni Chasen Gunned Down in Beverly Hills." Images of mobster Bugsy Siegel as portrayed by Warren Beatty in the film "Bugsy” come to mind when you think of someone being gunned down in Beverly Hills. And it is unthinkable. Unthinkable that there are no leads that are being revealed in the case, a murder that from all indications looks like a hit, but that the heart--and logic--says could have been a senseless case of random violence.

Ronni Chasen was a high-powered publicist, with heavyweight clients including not only A-list talent in film, music and television, but also behind-the-scenes players like Richard Zanuck, Arnold Kopelson and Irwin Winkler who remained loyal to her for decades, practically considering her a member of their family. She specialized in awards campaigns, particularly soundtracks and scores, and was representing acclaimed songwriter Diane Warren for “Burlesque” in her bid this season.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ronni at several industry events and working with her colleagues at Chasen & Company in the past. A publicist of her caliber--and there are not many them left--to be sure rubbed a few feathers the wrong way and made a few enemies over the years, but you can't imagine any so-called enemies actually wanting to murder her in cold blood, her body left slumped over the steering wheel of her new black Mercedes on a quiet residential street.

Even if you did not know her personally, as so many in the industry did, the horror of how she died strikes a dissonant chord because the circumstances were incredibly typical for so many people in this town--going to an event on a weeknight, driving home alone late at night in a late-model luxury vehicle. Aside from an occasional traffic stop, or, God forbid, a DUI, nothing eventful ever happens.

Sunset Boulevard at Whittier is not exactly a high-crime area, populated as it is with manicured, multimillion-dollar homes on the far western edge of Beverly Hills. Thugs don't hang out on the street corners there. People are not out walking the streets after midnight, when this horrific incident occurred.

One neighbor said Beverly Hills police told her the assailant could have been on foot, which makes absolutely no sense. Unless there was an orchestrated plot, in which Chasen was followed from the time she left the W Hotel in Hollywood, where she was attending the "Burlesque" afterparty, working the crowd and in a great mood, according to people who interacted with her at the bash.

It seems highly unlikely that she would not have noticed something amiss, driving all those miles down Sunset Boulevard before she made her turn onto Whittier to head to her home on the Wilshire corridor in Westwood. It's been reported that she called her office and left a voicemail six minutes before she was shot, surely a sign of someone who did not think she was in any danger. She did not call 911.

Yet strange things happen on the streets of Los Angeles. Could she have cut someone off, or have been driving too slowly on a curvy stretch of Sunset known for dragging, and thus setting off a sick, murderous rampage? Police say in the majority of road rage shootings, most of the bullets miss their mark because the vehicles are moving. In this case, there were apparently five shots to her chest, leading to the belief that she was shot at very close range through the passenger window, which was shattered.

One night last summer, I experienced an incident of road rage, driving south on Westwood Boulevard toward Olympic. A vehicle was about to pull out in front of me from a parking space, so I tapped on my horn. A little while later, heading westbound in the left lane on Olympic, I noticed, with blood pressure rising, that someone was tailgating me. So I pulled a swift maneuver across four lanes of traffic to the right-hand curb and sure enough, the car followed right behind me. I turned around and looked, with disbelief, to see who it was--their headlights had been blinding me and I couldn’t see the driver or the type of vehicle until that point. It was a middle-aged woman, a grandmother-type, in a sedan. I took off again, calling 911 with her hot on my tail, and was told to drive to the Santa Monica police station. I was able to lose the woman right before I hit the cop shop, but found it unbelievable that she would follow me for miles in a threatening manner--just because I had honked at her. Crazy. And duly noted that she probably wouldn’t have done it to a guy in a pickup truck, or an Escalade.

Which is why I think it must've been some bizarre situation on the road that led to Ronni's murder. Something that happened on Sunset Boulevard heading westbound in Beverly Hills. I just can't buy into the theory that someone who knew her would have her killed. But any scenario is terrifying, and the end result is tragic. The industry lost one of its best and brightest, but one whose legacy will live on in the level of professionalism she brought to her career and the lives she touched.