Cerrell's work on behalf of political newcomer Unruh in 1954 led to a long association with state Democrats, who elevated him to lead the party after Pat Brown's successful 1958 gubernatorial campaign.
But Cerrell's modest-paying job stretched his personal resources, as Cerrell recounted in one of his many anecdotes.
He was accompanying Kennedy to Mass during a campaign swing. When the time came, Cerrell put a few dollars in the collection plate, then a few more when Kennedy revealed he was carrying no money. Kennedy protested that he wanted no less than $20 donated on his behalf.
Cerrell reluctantly emptied his wallet and later noted, with a twinkle in his eye, that the wealthy Kennedy never paid him back.
In the late 1960s, Cerrell lost ground in the party as moderates gave way to more liberal, anti- Vietnam War activists. Though he wasn't at the center of the influential local labor/Democratic alliance, he never lacked for prominent corporate clients or political roles.
A 1987 trip to Italy sparked an interest in Italian culture and causes that led him to forge close ties with that country's leaders.
Besides his wife, survivors include daughter Sharon Cerrell Levy of Sherman Oaks; son Joe Cerrell of London; stepson Steve Bullock of Burbank; and seven grandchildren.
Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Monday at Christ the King Roman Catholic Church, 624 N. Rossmore Ave., Los Angeles.
Hal Dash, the chief executive at Cerrell Associates, said modern political operatives could take a lesson from Cerrell.
"He hated partisanship and bickering," Dash said, "because nothing got done."