Liam Neeson needs to vanish after controversial comments, says Hollywood's 'pit bull of PR'
"Race is the cyanide pill of scandal" - that's the grim prognosis facing Liam Neeson, according to Eric Dezenhall, the world's leading PR expert in crisis management.
Nicknamed the 'pit bull of PR', he is the man the rich and famous call in blind panic when scandal breaks.
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Michael Jackson and the former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling turned to him when crisis hit and he has also worked with Tiger Woods's corporate sponsors.
Liam Neeson's racially charged remarks last week sparked outrage and threatened to end his career. And if anyone knows the way out for the global superstar, it's Mr Dezenhall, the PR mastermind and author of Glass Jaw: A Manifesto for Defending Fragile Reputations in an Age of Instant Scandal.
Contacted by the Sunday Independent this weekend, the Washington-based expert said: "In America, race is the cyanide pill of scandals. There's really no way to dig yourself out of it. Once you take it there's no undoing it and it's impossible to survive."
Neeson said in an interview that decades ago after a close friend was raped by a black man, he considered committing violence against black men in revenge (he immediately expressed his shame and regret at such thoughts).
After hearing the interview, Mr Dezenhall said: "I was saddened when I read his comments because I've always liked him, thought he was a decent guy and knew that he was trying to convey the opposite message from the one he did."
Although he had some sympathy for his predicament, Mr Dezenhall was in no doubt that Neeson was solely responsible for his publicity nightmare. "It's his fault. He's the one who said it," he said. "Advisers are limited in what they can accomplish if the original sin is really bad."
The only thing that would have prevented Neeson from tripping up was if hadn't said it in the first place, he said.
"You weigh into race at your peril unless you use the precise words in the precise order that won't blow you up," Mr Dezenhall said.
"Neeson was essentially trying to tell a story about a long road to redemption but he stepped on a series of land mines."
On what Neeson - once one of Hollywood's most bankable action stars - should do to minimise the damage, Mr Dezenhall said: "Apologise and vanish for a while."
He added: "You can't rebuild your house in a hurricane. There is no correlation between how much you explain and the recession of scandal. There may be a time for a thoughtful op-ed in a major American publication, but that time is not now."
Speaking about Neeson's decision to pull out of the premiere of his new movie Cold Pursuit, Mr Dezenhall said: "It's the fastest way to make the crisis 'less bad'. It's all you can do." And when asked if this is the end of Neeson's career he said: "It's too soon to tell."
But on a more hopeful note, Mr Dezenhall says the star's likeability factor should help his recovery prospects. "He has a nice-guy pedigree and I do think many will give him another chance, but his biggest problem right now is with the studios.
"He is an ageing star and they've got lots of options. There are plenty of other people to cast."
With Neeson battling to save his lucrative career (he is reported to earn €20m a movie) and 'nice guy' public image, other big-name stars will be left quaking in their boots at the thought that ill-considered comments could wipe out a life-time of work.
However, Mr Dezenhall said other celebrities can learn from Neeson's plight: "Not every thought is worth expressing. You can confess to many things but with American audiences especially, those innermost thoughts had better not have anything to do with latent racism."