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Renowned publicist behind the ‘I Love New York’ campaign dies of lung cancer aged 84

Renowned publicist Robert Zarem, the man behind the ‘I Love New York’ campaign, has died at the age of 84. 

Zarem died in his childhood home in Savannah surrounded by close friends and family, according to The Hollywood Reporter

The Georgia native was highly regarded in New York for being the mastermind behind the careers of A-list celebrities such as Cher, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Michael Douglas and Michael Jackson.

The press agent, who succumbed to lung cancer, was just five shy of turning 85. 

Renowned publicist Robert Zarem has died at the age of 84 in his Savannah childhood home 

Zarem left New York City in 2010 after a five decade career as a publicist in the Big Apple

Zarem worked for A-list celebrities such as Cher, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Michael Douglas and Michael Jackson

Zarem left New York City in 2010 after a five decade career as a publicist in the Big Apple. Zarem worked for A-list celebrities such as Cher, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Michael Douglas and Michael Jackson

The proudest moment in his career, Zaram said, was the ‘I Love New York’ campaign, which he spent three and a half years working on and he credited for saving the city.

He said he was walking around the streets in an introspective mood and thinking about the city’s decline as it was plagued with crime and violence in the 70s. 

‘I was walking home from Elaine’s on a Saturday night in 1975 and realized that you could throw a quarter down Second Avenue and there wasn’t a person or car that would stop it,’ he said during an interview with The Hollywood Report. 

‘The city was in great disrepair, tourists weren’t coming because the crime scene had been grossly exaggerated, and the city was slipping into the East River. Walking home that night, I decided somebody had to do something. And the slogan was there that night,’ he added. 

Critic Rex Reed, Sue Mengers and Bobby Zarem attend Danny Kaye Conducts The Philharmonic on September 23, 1981 at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City

Critic Rex Reed, Sue Mengers and Bobby Zarem attend Danny Kaye Conducts The Philharmonic on September 23, 1981 at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City

Bobby Zarem and Diane Passage attend Diane Passage Moulin Rouge Birthday Party at Angel Orensanz Center in 2006

The press agent, who succumbed to lung cancer, was just five days away from turning 85

Bobby Zarem and Diane Passage attend Diane Passage Moulin Rouge Birthday Party at Angel Orensanz Center in 2006 

Bobby Zarem sighted on July 25, 1983 at Elaine's Restaurant in New York City. The proudest moment in his career, Zaram said, was the 'I Love New York' campaign, which he spent three and a half years working on and he credited for saving the city

Bobby Zarem sighted on July 25, 1983 at Elaine’s Restaurant in New York City. The proudest moment in his career, Zaram said, was the ‘I Love New York’ campaign, which he spent three and a half years working on and he credited for saving the city

Bobby Zarem during Andy Warhol Memorial Dinner at Diamond Horshoe Restaurant in New York City

Bobby Zarem during Andy Warhol Memorial Dinner at Diamond Horshoe Restaurant in New York City

Zaram then called every contact he had and started building a campaign to clean the city’s reputation. 

With $16million funding from the governors office, TV commercials and merchandise followed through, as the city’s spirit was lifted and tourism returned. 

Zarem acquired his love for the entertainment world at a young age, watching every movie and devouring every magazine he could get his hands on. 

His father, who also suffered lung cancer, had to travel often to New York City to receive treatment. 

Zarem accompanied his father in the frequent trips, and the pair stayed at the Waldorf Astoria. Zarem would wait in the front entrance and collect autographs from famous guests.

His father died when he was 13, leaving a huge void in Zarem, as his older brother took over the family business.  His two brothers – fashion retailer Jack and plastic surgeon Harvey-  have also died.   

Zarem impressively graduated from Yale in 1958 with a degree in Political science, while having a severe case of Attentive Deficient Disorder.

Iman and Bobby Zarem during Peter Beard's Photo Opening at Blum Hobnoon Gallery in New York City

Iman and Bobby Zarem during Peter Beard’s Photo Opening at Blum Hobnoon Gallery in New York City

Polly Bergen and Bobby Zarem attend Woody Allen New Year's Eve Party on December 31, 1979 at Harkness House in New York City

Polly Bergen and Bobby Zarem attend Woody Allen New Year’s Eve Party on December 31, 1979 at Harkness House in New York City

Bobby Zarem at his birthday party at The Cutting Room on September 29, 2014 in New York City.

Bobby Zarem at his birthday party at The Cutting Room on September 29, 2014 in New York City.

He worked at a bank for five years after he graduated until he could find a position in the industry. Zarem was hired by talent agency Columbia Artists Management, where he managed the Macy’s Theater Club account.

The renowned publicist, who was known for drinking heavily, briefly worked for marketing agency Rogers & Cowan but went on to adventured with his own firm in 1979. The same year Zarem played matchmaker after introducing Woody Allen to Mia Farrow.  

Zarem was also responsible for the promotion of Oscar-wining movie such as Dancing with Wolves and Shakespeare in love and was in charge of major fundraisers in the city.    

In the late 70s, Zarem was nicknamed ‘Superflack’ after calling out Stevie Wonder at his own party for being late. 

But eventually Zarem craved the tranquility of his childhood in Savannah. In 2010, he returned to his home town and gave his service to the Savannah College of Art until 2014. 

Zarem is regarded as one of the most beloved and successful publicist in New York City.

‘I learned probably the single most important thing for a publicist to know. Not only can people be guided, but people have to be guided,’ he once said. 


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