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2 Entertainment Firms Pledge AIDS Funding

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Leaders of two major Hollywood entertainment companies on Sunday pledged $125,000 to form an AIDS funding and support organization to combat the epidemic that has hit their community especially hard.

The announcement came during a celebrity-studded “Commitment to Life V” benefit that raised more than $1 million for AIDS Project Los Angeles at the Universal Amphitheatre, and in the wake of stinging criticism of the film industry by actor Brad Davis, who died last week of AIDS. In a notebook made public after his death, Davis said he had kept his illness a secret out of fear of discrimination.

The $125,000 contribution was pledged by industry leaders Barry Diller, chairman of Fox Inc. and Sidney Sheinberg, president of MCA Inc. The figure, which includes personal and corporate funds, was announced on stage at the benefit by actor Bruce Davison before an audience of 6,000.

Davison said the money will provide seed funding for a group to be known as Hollywood Supports, made up of industry leaders and corporations. Hollywood Supports--which will join other show business efforts to fight AIDS--plans to solicit more big-ticket contributions in the Hollywood community, to be donated to APLA for programs aimed at members of the industry who have AIDS. The money also will be used for AIDS education in the entertainment community.

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The nonprofit APLA is the largest organization in California serving people infected with the human immunodeficiency virus. Its annual budget is $14 million--70% coming from private donations.

“We are very pleased and excited that Hollywood has taken the initiative to help us start this program for members of their industry,” APLA Chief Executive Officer Stephen Bennett said Sunday. “We hope that other industries in Los Angeles will join Hollywood and work with us to eliminate the fear and prejudice that still haunts people with AIDS.”

In an interview over the weekend, Diller said the idea for Hollywood Supports originated some time ago and was just being finalized at the time of Davis’ death. Diller, who has become increasingly outspoken on AIDS and sexual discrimination issues, said the timing of the announcement was made “all the more dramatic” by Davis’ death. But he added, “It is the obligation of the industry to make it clear that HIV discrimination cannot be tolerated.”

Davis, who died at age 41, starred in the 1978 movie “Midnight Express,” for which he won a Golden Globe award, and in numerous other TV and film roles, including the 1981 Oscar-winning “Chariots of Fire.”

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One of the evening’s emotional high points came as actor Richard Dreyfuss read a letter written by Davis’ widow, Susan Bluestein.

“You in this room have the power to do something about AIDS. I beg you to use your power to send a message of compassion and caring to all people with AIDS and HIV, no matter how they got the disease.”

Actress Bette Midler, who entertained, received APLA’s “Commitment to Life” award along with Sheinberg and AIDS research specialist Joel Weisman, in recognition of their work in battling discrimination and the disease. Personal agent/producer Barry Krost, who has produced “Commitment to Life” benefits three times, and who has been instrumental in generating entertainment industry support for AIDS and for gay rights issues, received the organization’s “Show Business Buddy of the Year” award.

In the 10th year of the AIDS epidemic, Sunday’s fund-raiser was the fifth of the “Commitment to Life” benefits, which have raised more than $5 million for APLA.

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The first in 1985 came in the wake of the announcement that Rock Hudson had AIDS. It was organized by Elizabeth Taylor, a close friend of Hudson who later received a “Commitment to Life” award herself.

Since then, Madonna and Mathilde Krim, chairman of the American Foundation for AIDS Research, have been honored.

The Sunday night lineup included Angela Lansbury, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, an interdenominational choir of children, and the Irish rock group The Commitments.


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