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Madonna Accepts Award, Attacks Rumor

TIMES SOCIETY WRITER

Madonna spent part of her time at the American Foundation for AIDS Research benefit in denial--that is, denying rampant rumors she has tested positive for the AIDS virus.

Although she and her handlers have spent quantity time denying the rumors for the past week, Madonna said this after accepting an award from AmFAR:

“When the rumors surfaced that I was HIV-positive, I thought, well, someone’s really bored today . . . let’s make up a real juicy story. I tried to ignore it but it wouldn’t go away. . . .

“Instead of pointing the finger at people and having witch hunts and ostracizing each other for lifestyles and sexual preferences,” she continued, “we should all be uniting to fight this disease . . . but we’re not. Because we’re afraid. We’re scared out of our skins to face the truth that AIDS is not a gay disease, it’s a human disease.

“Now I’m not HIV-positive, but what if I were? I would be more afraid of how society would treat me for having the disease than the actual disease itself. If this is what I have to deal with for my involvement in fighting this epidemic, then so be it.

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“I’m not afraid to be associated with people who are HIV-positive, and I am not afraid to love people who are HIV-positive. Because their ordeal is more important than mine, because their courage is larger than mine, because what they’re facing is real. And if we can learn to deal with real, and our fears, then I’m hopeful that we can conquer this disease.”

The Material Girl, dressed in a long, slinky black gown, clunky black boots and a rhinestone-studded black leather jacket, was the star attraction at the black-tie “Glitter and Be Giving” gala and jewelry auction Tuesday night.

The event drew 850 guests to the Regent Beverly Wilshire, marking one of AmFAR’s few mega-fund-raisers in Los Angeles since its inception in 1985.

The New York-based organization is a nonprofit group engaged in AIDS research, education and public policy.

Absent was honorary chairwoman Elizabeth Taylor, bedridden with the flu; she sent an audiotape saying, “Tonight’s memory of those lost must not immobilize us. Their voices may be still, but the echo of their words inspires us. The legacy of their lives moves us to action, not despair. They did not die in vain. I will not lose heart, I will not give up, and I will not be ignored.”

Making strong, emotional bids for more funding and greater compassion and awareness of the disease were chairman Joel Weisman and board member Peter Staley, who said, “In the next fiscal year our government will spend just over $800 million on AIDS research . . . $800 million couldn’t even buy one B-2 stealth bomber.”

Although the $250 and $500 tickets sold quickly (chairman Jane Nathanson said planning for the event “coincided with Magic Johnson’s announcement (of testing HIV-positive), so I think we got a lot of people who weren’t aware before and wanted to participate”), there were bargains.

Some of the jewelry donated for the silent and live auctions conducted by Christie’s went for a fraction of the estimated value; a “Prince Gombi the Chimp” necklace (dedicated to Michael Jackson) valued at $10,000 sold for $3,200, and an 18-karat gold eagle motif bracelet valued at $11,300 sold for $6,600.

Still, the event raised $750,000 for AmFAR. Performers included singers Patti Austin, k.d. lang, Barry Manilow, Michael McDonald and David Pack and comedian Rosie O’Donnell (Madonna’s co-star in the upcoming movie “A League of Their Own”), who did a hilarious send-up of the Madonna recording of “Vogue.”

Also making speeches or presentations were Fred Savage, Martin Short and current teen obsession Luke Perry from “Beverly Hills, 90210,” who presented Madonna’s award (he got a big smack on the lips from her for his efforts). Sally Kellerman emceed the event.

Those watching from the audience included AmFAR co-founder Mathilde Krim, Sandra Bernhard, Patti LaBelle, Herb Ritts, Melanie Mayron, Kenny G., Barry Krost and Elizabeth Montgomery, Peter Allen, Christopher Ciccone (a.k.a. Madonna’s brother), “Truth or Dare” director Alek Keshishian and Arsenio Hall.


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