Source of photos: Stephen Rivers' Facebook page
What a shame about Stephen Rivers, who died of cancer earlier this week. He was just 55 years old and touched so many people's lives. The comments pouring in to his Facebook page are proof of that.
What's funny is that Rivers told me a few years ago, "I'm not a social networking website kind of guy."
Rivers didn't need Facebook to build a network of friends and colleagues. He did it the old-fashioned way, writing letters, well, e-mails, and meeting people in person.
The LA Times said:
Over the span of his publicity career, Rivers represented some of the most recognizable names in entertainment, including director and actor Kevin Costner, actor Richard Dreyfuss, director Oliver Stone, playwright Anna Deavere Smith, actress Jane Fonda and former super-agent Michael Ovitz.I first met Rivers in 2001 when Costner went to Cuba to preview his film "Thirteen Days."
The LA Times described Rivers' Cuba connection:
The publicist traveled to Cuba more than two dozen times in the last decade, seeking to foster improved U.S.-Cuba relations. He brought filmmakers Costner, Steven Spielberg and Steven Soderbergh to Havana to present their films to audiences there and participated in several congressional and trade delegations to the island. In December 2008, he organized a visit by Benicio Del Toro to the Havana Film Festival for the premiere of "Che."
I was last in touch with Rivers in December. He always sent holiday greetings, like the one above. It occurred to me he'd make a fascinating profile. So I asked if I could interview him for a story. He wrote back:
Thanks, Tracey, but God, no.Rivers explained that he didn't want to attract any more attention from the Office of Foreign Assets Control, or OFAC, which enforces economic sanctions against Cuba and gives licenses to people who are approved for travel to the island.
Rivers said OFAC would not give him permission to go to Cuba for the September 2009 Juanes concert even though he had obtained the license for the Colombian singer. Rivers wrote:
OFAC already hates me and gives me a hard time, unfairly so (they specifically excluded me from the Juanes concert license, which I obtained for him), so I don't want to become a bigger target for them.As for the profile, Rivers wrote, "Maybe sometime in the future."
OFAC has not treated me fairly, and overall they act like Bush is still president and the Reps still control Congress.
Rivers and I have been in touch on and off for many years, but always seemed to miss each other during trips to Havana.
We just missed each other in August 2006, just weeks after Fidel Castro fell ill. Rivers wrote:
wow, bummer, what timing! I was there mem. day weekend. last saw fidel in dec. - a 3 hour visit in gabo's living room.
Rivers with Fidel Castro in April 2001
We missed again during the summer of 2009. Rivers was staying in Room 613 of the Hotel Nacional in Havana. He was in town from July 27 to Aug. 2 and we were supposed to have dinner on July 28.
"Are we on for dinner tonight?" Rivers wrote me that day.
But I screwed up and did not make our dinner, throwing away a last chance to talk to someone who was not only a first-rate publicist, but a powerful force in bringing the U.S. and Cuba closer together.
Here's a sampling of the tributes on Rivers' Facebook page:
- From Daniel Zingale: Stephen, we will be watching for God's approval ratings to go up when he has you as a publicist... loving friendship.
- From Jane Fonda, via Corey Johnson: I am sad anyway because my dear, sweet friend, Stephen Rivers, died last night of cancer. Stephen was my PR person for a long time —as well as my friend–and traveled all over with me, including to Russia...
- From William Schulz: Steve had a bottomless personal warmth and kindness, yet a tough and unyielding political and strategic mind that shone so brightly for so many years. We are all greatly fortunate to have known him, and terribly robbed by his early passing. I'll miss that cynical wit, too.
- From Lara Bergthold: Hope you are finally flying free, dancing some salsa in Cuba, drinking mojitos and laughing. Love you and missing you. And yes, i will mentally send you election results when they come in tonight because I know that, wherever you are, you still fiercely care about that...
- From Tom Rielly: Stephen you have added so much to the world and to my life. Thank you for your enormous contributions to making the world a better place. And, for your wicked sense of humor. I will miss you my friend.
- From Sage Lewis: Stephen Rivers was one of the most important cultural ambassadors between the US and Cuba. A brilliantly fierce media strategist who improved the world for many. He will be missed.