Police Probe Slaying Of Hollywood Publicist

Police in California are investigating the slaying of showbiz publicist Ronni Chasen. She was found shot to death in her wrecked Mercedes Benz early Tuesday in Beverly Hills.

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In Los Angeles, the entertainment community is reeling after the murder of a well-known publicist. Ronni Chasen was shot to death last night in her car.

As NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports, the circumstances of the murder remain a mystery.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: Ronni Chasen could have been part of a classic Raymond Chandler novel: Glamorous blonde mingles with Hollywood elite...

Unidentified Woman: Beautiful...

BATES: ...at red carpet premiere for "Burlesque," starring Cher and Christina Aguilera. She schmoozes with more industry types at the after party. Then, she slips into her late model Mercedes-Benz and heads for home. But she never arrives there. In this real-life case, we know why. The 64-year-old movie and music publicist was found barely alive shortly after midnight in a posh Beverly Hills neighborhood just south of Sunset Boulevard.

Chasen was slumped behind the wheel of her car, her chest pierced by several bullets from an unknown assailant.

(Soundbite of siren)

BATES: TV footage showed her being taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital where she was pronounced dead.

Lieutenant TONY LEE (Beverly Hills Police Department): We don't have crimes like this in the city of Beverly Hills, so it is a surprise to us.

BATES: That's Lieutenant Tony Lee of the Beverly Hills Police Department facing reporters early Tuesday morning. Lee admitted there wasn't a lot to go on.

Lt. LEE: We've got numerous investigators at the scene that are trying to piece this thing together. We don't have a motive at this time. We don't have any suspect information.

BATES: And, apparently, frustratingly little evidence. The passenger side of Chasen's window was shattered, but police can't say whether anything was taken from the car. They've collected Chasen's computers from both her home and office and will survey security camera footage from homes on the street where the shooting occurred.

There has been other speculation that Chasen may have been followed as she left the premiere's after-party at the W Hotel, or that perhaps the shooting was the result of road rage.

Producer Richard Zanuck was a client and friend for decades, and he says the road rage theory is ridiculous. The Ronni Chasen he knew was unfailingly courteous.

Mr. RICHARD ZANUCK (Producer): Totally non-confrontational. She was always well-mannered and pleasant and not one that would fly off the handle. So it couldn't be that she angered anybody. It just wasn't in her DNA.

BATES: Chasen was described as universally well-liked. Film was her passion. As one friend said, her work was her playground. She loved what she did.

She was known for successful Oscar campaigns for films that ranged from "Driving Miss Daisy"...

(Soundbite of movie, "Driving Miss Daisy")

Ms. JESSICA TANDY (Actor): (as Daisy Werthan) What are you doing?

Mr. MORGAN FREEMAN (Actor): (as Hoke Colburn) I'm trying to drive you to the store.

BATES: ...to more recent Oscar winners such as "The Hurt Locker" and "Slumdog Millionaire."

(Soundbite of movie, "Slumdog Millionaire")

Unidentified Man (Actor): (as Character) Welcome to "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?"

(Soundbite of cheering)

BATES: One friend, New York publicist Kathie Berlin, told member station KPCC how she's been dealing with the shock of Chasen's grim death.

Ms. KATHIE BERLIN (Publicist): Let's believe that she didn't know, that she saw a white light, and her mother's hand came out, and all of her clients that have gone before her are all waiting.

BATES: Chasen's family will gather in Los Angeles on Sunday to mourn her as the police continue to try to solve the mystery of her murder. Several friends and colleagues are contributing to a reward fund to facilitate the investigation.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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