Hollywood power publicist and pal to stars Nanci Ryder dies

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FILE - In this Oct. 18, 2015 file photo, celebrity publicist Nanci Ryder, center, appears with actresses Angie Harmon, from left, Reese Witherspoon, Courteney Cox and Renee Zellweger, right, at the 2015 ALS Walk in Los Angeles. Ryder, a powerful Hollywood publicist and co-founder of BWR Public Relations died Thursday, June 11, 2020, of Lou Gehrigs disease in Los Angeles. She was 67. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)

Nanci Ryder, a powerful Hollywood publicist and co-founder of BWR Public Relations who became close to such stars as Renée Zellweger and Courteney Cox, died Thursday of Lou Gehrig’s disease in Los Angeles. She was 67.

Ryder was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — or ALS — in 2014. The neurodegenerative disease gradually claimed her ability to walk, talk, eat and move. Her death was announced by publicist Lynda Dorf.

Ryder's clients — including Michael J. Fox, Reese Witherspoon, Viggo Mortensen and Sarah Michelle Gellar — blossomed into close friends. Zellweger thanked Ryder in her best actress acceptance speech when she won the Academy Award for “Judy” earlier this year. Witherspoon called her a "second mother."

Tributes poured in on social media, including from Emmy Rossum, who called Ryder “a beacon for me in my career,” and Elizabeth Perkins, who wrote “Nancy was always on my side, kind, fierce, loyal, determined & real.”

Ryder was given the 2018 ALS Hero Award and her acceptance speech was read by one of her best friends, Don Diamont from CBS’ “Young and Restless” and “The Bold and the Beautifu,” as she was unable to speak.

“I never intended to be courageous or inspirational, but according to this award apparently I am,” Ryder wrote. “So I ask you all today to promise me that — no matter what — that you will never, ever give up. That is another thing that ALS cannot take away — our will to keep going.”

During her 30-year-plus career behind the scenes, Ryder facilitated thousands of interviews on behalf of her A-list clients and maneuvered many to glory.

Born in Orlando, Florida, she spent her youth on New York's Long Island. She studied psychology and anthropology at C.W. Post College and moved to Los Angeles in 1979, landing a job as a talent agent at David Shapira & Associates. Stints at Goldberg-Ehrlich Public Relations and Management and Michael Levine Public Relations followed, before she formed Nanci Ryder Public Relations in 1984, with Fox as her first client.