Bobby Zarem, the famous entertainment industry publicist who represented stars like Cher and Diana Ross, died, according to the New York Times on Sunday in Savannah, Ga. He was 84.
Zarem’s colleague Bill Augustin confirmed to the New York Times that he died of complications related to lung cancer.
Zarem was born in Savannah in 1936. He grew up there and then attended Yale University before moving to New York City. After a brief stint on Wall Street, he moved into the entertainment industry. Zarem was first hired by Columbia Artists Management and discovered his affinity for publicity while working for producer Joseph E. Levine. His PR career flourished at Rogers & Cowan, a company he joined in 1969, where he developed a customer base that included Dustin Hoffman. In 1974, he founded Zarem Inc. Zarem started his career for several now A-lists. Along with Cher, Ross and Hoffman, his clientele included stars such as Alan Alda, Ann-Margaret, Michael Caine, Michael Douglas, Sophia Loren, Jack Nicholson, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone.
In addition to his list of celebrities, Zarem was known for a number of famous projects, most notably the “I Love New York” tourism campaign (although his exact level of commitment to the campaign has been discussed). His other notable work includes advertising for the “Saturday Night Fever” studio had neglected the film and expected it to underperform until Zarem stole the production of still images of John Travolta to generate buzz and “Tommy”, which he hosted for another black-tie gala. at a subway station in Manhattan. His reputation also suited the film “People I Know” from 2002, when Al Pacino’s character Eli Wurman was based on Zarem.
For many in the industry, Zarem was a more complicated figure. He once hired publicist Peggy Siegal, who accused Zarem of throwing a typewriter at her, a claim he denied. He also feuded with late gossip columnist Liz Smith, who he claimed wrote a column that regularly based his clients under the city line Robin Adams Sloan. In return, Zarem sent the news of Smith’s wedding to partner Iris Love.
Zarem never married and preferred his life to work. He spoke publicly about the importance of therapy and was a client of the Czechoslovak psychiatrist Samuel Lowy.
“I think that’s why I did what I did,” he once told the Hamptons magazine, according to the Times. “When I did not feel I had anything to communicate, I felt that if I got the rest of the world to accept Dustin Hoffman and Ann-Margret and Cher, and all these people, then I would be accepted.”
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