Remembering Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman, dead at age 66
JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:
We want to take some time now to remember one of Hollywood's great publicists, Howard Bragman, who died on Saturday at the age of 66. Throughout his career, Bragman, who was gay, developed a specialty - helping people publicly come out of the closet during a time when doing so had the potential to jeopardize their careers. And he wasn't afraid to court controversy by taking on clients like Anthony Scaramucci, fresh out of a brief employment in the Trump White House. Bragman even represented Isaiah Washington after the actor used a gay slur to describe a co-star. In 2011, reporter Alex Cohen profiled Howard Bragman as part of a series on the communications industry. Here's a part of that report.
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ALEX COHEN: Growing up in the Midwest during the '60s, Howard Bragman was fairly convinced that he was an alien.
HOWARD BRAGMAN: I was fat and Jewish and gay in Flint, Mich. And that makes you a bit of a martian because there's not a lot of peers, there's not a lot of role models to really look to.
COHEN: Bragman says things finally started to come together for him when he moved to Chicago, where he landed a job at a small public relations firm with a huge client - Anheuser-Busch.
BRAGMAN: I'll say, really, from the first week I was in PR, I loved it. And I loved PR because there was a bit of the Wild West. You could write your own rules.
COHEN: In 1989, Bragman decided to launch his own PR company in Los Angeles. One of his first pro-bono clients was a guy named Joseph Steffan, who was kicked out of the U.S. Naval Academy for revealing he was gay. Howard Bragman says helping people come out of the closet has always been a priority. He sees it as a way to create the role models he never had.
BRAGMAN: These people are heroes, because coming out is the single most important act any gay person can do. Because every bit of research that's ever been done says if you know more gay and lesbian people, you are going to support our rights.
COHEN: But coming out isn't always easy, especially for those in the limelight.
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MATT LAUER: She's one of the most beloved TV moms of all time. Meredith Baxter starred as the matriarch of the Keaton family...
COHEN: In 2009, Meredith Baxter went on a lesbian cruise with her girlfriend. Word of it leaked and, the actress said, soon the tabloids came calling. She panicked.
MEREDITH BAXTER: This was just so not fair. And I didn't know what to do, and they were going to run with some of their own story, apparently. And my manager said, well, you need Howard Bragman. This was kind of like, you need the Lone Ranger.
COHEN: Bragman booked Baxter an interview with Matt Lauer on the "Today" show.
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LAUER: I'm interested about your comfort level in talking about this on national television.
BAXTER: Well, I have to admit to a certain level of anxiety.
COHEN: Meredith Baxter says it was terrifying outing herself on national TV, but Howard Bragman gave her the courage to do it.
BAXTER: He said, as soon as it's done, you'll be free. And we walked out that door at NBC studios in December. And it was the most freeing thing I had ever experienced.
COHEN: Over the years, Howard Bragman has worked with actors, athletes and musicians. Meredith Baxter was a case of quick crisis control. But Bragman says he prefers to spend plenty of time with his clients, getting to know them like a therapist would, so he can help them reach their goals.
SUMMERS: That was reporter Alex Cohen's profile of Hollywood publicist Howard Bragman, who helped his famous clients navigate embarrassing, even scandalous moments. Bragman died of leukemia on Saturday. He was 66. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.