Cover photo for Ralph Samuel Cohen's Obituary

Ralph Samuel Cohen

December 7, 1953 — October 26, 2023


Ralph Samuel Cohen

Ralph Samuel Cohen

7 December 1953 — 26 October 2023

Ralph Cohen was born to recent Moroccan American immigrants Robert A Cohen, a real estate agent and proprietor of a luncheon in Hicksville, New York and Esther Pilo, a milliner at Tito Mode in Casablanca and personal shopper at Bergdorf Goodman in Manhattan (sometimes for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis). 

The younger brother of the late Linda Miriam, a French teacher and aviation logistics professional, and Henry Cohen, an Air Force veteran and engineer, Ralph showed an early interest in a broad range of pursuits, from playing catcher in Little League Baseball to photography at Bethpage High School in New York. Art Porta, a prominent commercial photographer in Manhattan, offered Ralph a job as his studio assistant while at an open house for the Cohens’ home in Bethpage.

After working as a photo assistant for Art, Ralph found work as a commercial film producer, starting with commercials and music videos — notably including Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” and the infamous Pepsi commercial, where Ralph extinguished Jackson’s hair when it caught fire, potentially saving the pop star’s life. Ralph’s work eventually took him to HBO, where he oversaw live event broadcasts such as Billy Joel’s concert from Moscow in 1987 and several Tyson vs. Holyfield title fights. Ralph then made the move to Los Angeles to work for Disney’s Buena Vista. 

At this time, Ralph met his first wife, Dominique, a jeweler, and was a loving uncle and mentor to his sister’s sons, Philip and David La Spina, on whom he imparted his broad range of passions from photography to remote control planes. Ralph is fondly remembered by Philip and David for cutting the lines with his Disney employee gold card, sipping milkshakes at Johnny Rockets and cruising in his Harley police sidecar when staying at his home in Hollywood Hills.

Dominque and Ralph later moved to the Charleston area, where Ralph had planned to continue film production in the burgeoning Charleston market but instead transitioned to a computer support business, The Computer Guru. It flourished, and he ran it for the rest of his life. Dominque and Ralph divorced in 1999. He then married Kate McClure, a market analyst, and they had their son Benjamin James in 2002. Ralph and Ms. McClure divorced in 2006.

Ben and Ralph were inseparable bosom buddies during their years on Moultrie Street near the Citadel and later on James Island. They were perennial Giants fans, tinkered with drones, launched rockets, bought more motorcycles, and cruised around town in Ralph’s iconic red 1964 Dodge convertible. As Ben grew up in Charleston and attended boarding school, Ralph played a central role in his life. Ben’s mother remarried and had two daughters, Pilar and Natasha.

From riding hogs with the “Piano Man” in his native Long Island to being hit by a roller coaster while photographing in Hershey Park, Ralph’s life was a full tapestry of misadventure, and his know-it-all ego came with it. A man of fastidious taste beyond his means and omnivorous breadth of knowledge, he could fix your email, tune a ’67 Mustang engine, take your fashion headshot or put together a Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton Christmas special (where he had a guest role as the snowman). His brother, Hank, always commented that he was the only person in the family who could run for president. And he did it all while holding a giant brick of a cellphone glued to his head, telling you everything you were doing wrong and still making you feel like everything was all right. 

He was a mensch, a father, a brother who stayed up to the middle of the night chatting about everything and a lover of several women out of his league. Ralph was a true original — and he wasn’t going to let you forget it. 

Ralph is survived by his son Benjamin of Charleston, his brother Henry Cohen of Fairfax, Va., his nephews David La Spina of Brooklyn, N.Y. and Philip La Spina of Jupiter, Florida as well as his half-sisters Cecile Pizanti of Paris and Liliane Bornstein of Châteauneuf-Grasse. Through his nephews, he has two great-nieces, Charlotte and Sidonia La Spina, and a great nephew, James La Spina. 

In lieu of flowers, please make donations to his son’s college fund:

Funeral will be held at Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Cemetery located on Huguenin Ave, Charleston, SC 29403 at 10 a.m. Arrangements by J. Henry Stuhr Downtown Chapel.

There will be a Celebration of life at Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE) Synagogue between 11 a.m. and 1pm at 90 Hasell St, Charleston, SC 29401.

To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of Ralph Samuel Cohen, please visit our flower store.

Past Services

Graveside Service

Monday, October 30, 2023

10:00 - 11:00 am (Eastern time)

Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Cemetery

Huguenin Ave, Charleston, SC 29403

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.

Celebration of Life

Monday, October 30, 2023

11:00am - 1:00 pm (Eastern time)

Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Congregation

90 Hasell St, Charleston, SC 29401

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.


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