Courteney Cox, Reese Witherspoon, Renee Zellweger Among 200 Team Nanci Supporters at ALS Walk

Nanci Ryder 2 - H 2015
Frazer Harrison/ Getty Images for Team Nanci at the Walk to Defeat ALS

From left: Courteney Cox, Reese Witherspoon, Nanci Ryder and Renée Zellweger in 2015

Supporters of the veteran publicist team up to raise north of $141,000 to benefit the Golden West Chapter of the ALS Association.

Reese Witherspoon arrived with her husband, CAA’s Jim Toth, and her teenage daughter Ava. Courteney Cox brought her daughter, Coco, who walked around barefoot because she forgot her shoes at home. Renee Zellweger’s rocker boyfriend, Doyle Bramhall, gave her quick hugs between media interviews. CAA’s Bryan Lourd and partner Bruce Bozzi caught up with longtime friends while Jeffrey Katzenberg weaved his way through the crowd, shaking hands and smiling. Everyone was dressed casually in T-shirts and spandex workout pants or shorts.

The Oct. 18 Walk to Defeat ALS (held in downtown Los Angeles at Exposition Park) had the feeling of a warm yet complicated family reunion — one where some of the relatives are super famous and have Oscars at home, while the others are among the most influential publicists and power players in Hollywood. The complication comes because the matriarch of sorts at this family get-together is Nanci Ryder, the iconic BWR co-founder and the reason everyone showed up in solidarity.

Ryder is battling ALS, a condition she revealed last October to The Hollywood Reporter. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is an often rapidly progressive neurological disorder that kills the body’s motor neurons, the nerve cells that control voluntary muscle movement such as speaking, walking, breathing and swallowing. It’s invariably terminal.

Sunday’s event proved yet again how beloved 30-year-plus talent publicist Ryder is to those who know her or have worked with her. With nothing to celebrate here, they showed up before 10 a.m. to join Ryder in the fight and to help raise funds to benefit the Golden West Chapter of the ALS Association. BWR staffers came in droves as did publicists who started under Ryder and moved on to other PR companies. When Ryder arrived, she was moved to tears at the mere sight of so many of her friends already on the grounds.

“We love Nanci. She’s been a part of our family for so many years and done so much and touched so many of us,” Katzenberg tells THR.  “ALS is a horrible, horrible disease, but what I always love so much about Hollywood is that we are a family and when one of ours is in need, we come to their rescue.”

And come they did. More than 200 participants walked on behalf of Ryder, decked out in black T-shirts designed and donated by Vera Wang. Team Nanci raced to the top of the fundraising ranks for the second straight year. This year, Ryder’s allies raised north of $141,000. (The second-placed team netted $22,000 by comparison.) Team Nanci’s captains included Cox, Witherspoon, Zellweger, BWR’s Brett Ruttenberg, Brandon Creed, Evelyn O’Neill, Kathy Shawver Maffei, Toth and hair guru Tracey Cunningham, the latter of whom raised the most money with donations totaling north of $33,000.

(Daphne Zuniga poses with Zellweger. Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Team Nanci at the Walk to Defeat ALS on Oct. 18 in Los Angeles)

“We are going to walk the shit out of this today,” Cox laughed to THR. “I’m so happy and proud to be a part of this community, and I’m sure it’s overwhelming for Nanci because a lot has changed since last year’s walk and that’s overwhelming. But she has so much support.”

It’s easy to rally that support, too, offered Zellweger, who flew in from London where she’s filming a new installment in the Bridget Jones franchise. “It makes me really hopeful when you see how many people have shown up to support her at this event and for this organization. Nanci has a lot of good will in the community. It’s not hard to say, ‘Come on out for our friend.’ ” Zellweger noted. “The response that we get when we reach out on behalf of Nanci is overwhelmingly generous and kind and people are really eager to be here to show that they care.”

The visibility and the funds translate to research, a crucial piece of the baffling puzzle that is ALS, she added. “[The ALS Association] directly funds projects for scientists who are getting closer and closer to understanding what the breakdown within the cell is about. It helps to focus the direction of the research and is the key to finding medicine that works and a cure. As we speak, there isn’t one.”

(Thumbs up from Angie Harmon. Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Team Nanci at the Walk to Defeat ALS on Oct. 18 in Los Angeles)

ALS Golden West’s president and CEO Fred Fisher told THR that Ryder and her Team Nanci roster can change that. “The awareness that Nanci and her friends are bringing to this and the money that her friends are bringing to this will change the world for people living with ALS,” he said.

Ryder doesn’t like to be asked to single out the people who have helped make her life better during the difficult times since learning she had ALS. There are too many to name, though the team captains helped rally the support along with others, including Lourd, Richard Lovett, Kevin Huvane, Simon Halls, Miyoko Love, Franklin Latt, Joel Lubin, Andrea Pett Joseph, Leslee Feldman, and Blaine and Crystal Lourd, among others. (Miley Cyrus also made a surprise appearance at Sunday's Walk, showing up to support celebrity Pilates instructor Mari Winsor who is also battling ALS.)

“She’s one of my oldest and closest friends and you can tell by the number of people here that’s she’s got a lot of them,” Bryan Lourd told THR. “We’re doing as much as we can to help her deal with this. Nanci is elegant as she’s always been and as strong as she’s always been.”

(Ryder cuts the race ribbon surrounded by Team Nanci friends including Harmon, Witherspoon, Cox and Zellweger. Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Team Nanci at the Walk to Defeat ALS on Oct. 18 in Los Angeles)

Ryder’s BWR partner Larry Winokur didn’t seem surprised at the turnout. He called Ryder an inspirational “pied piper.” “She will not give up this fight and none of her friends will leave this tent,” he said, referencing the nearby enclosure, a gift from the Walk for being the team that raised the most amount of money. It was stacked with coffee, bagels, snacks and beverages inside and oversize neon signs touting "Team Nanci" outside. “Her purpose now in life is to raise money and galvanize support. With the progression of her support and the progression of the fundraising has come the progression of the disease. And that’s sad. To see her and the disease’s effects, is very distressing. But she will not give up this fight. We will be here next year and the year after and the year after. And days in between to console and help and be there for her.”

When Ryder was early on in her career, she represented Michael J. Fox and several of his castmates on Family Ties, including Justine Bateman. She attended Sunday’s Walk too, bringing along her daughter, Gia. Asked for her first impression of Ryder back in the day, Bateman smiled. “You just knew you were going to get taken care of. It was a different moment in publicity back then, and she took care of things, she was terrific,” she said, adding that she and Ryder recently had lunch. And now that Ryder is living with ALS, Bateman noted that she’s taking care of it the same way her former client Fox has been facing his Parkinson’s disease. “I don’t want to speak for them, but it doesn’t define either one of them. It’s like, ‘So what, I’m dealing with it.’ ”

Then Bateman added her reason for showing up Sunday, one that can be applied to the ties of family whether blood related or not. “We’re here to show the strength of her team. And to say, ‘I love you.’ ”

(Zellweger greets Witherspoon while Katzenberg hugs Ryder in the background. Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Team Nanci at the Walk to Defeat ALS on Oct. 18 in Los Angeles)