A Record $5 Million for AIDS : Benefit: The First Lady is lauded at the somber and emotional Commitment to Life VII.
If anyone doubts how the AIDS epidemic has decimated the ranks of the arts and entertainment fields, the point was relentlessly made at Thursday’s starry and somber Commitment to Life VII at the Universal Amphitheatre, where the entertainment industry raised a record $5 million for the community outreach organization AIDS Project Los Angeles.
Where previous APLA benefits have tended to reach for a mix of entertainment and purpose, this one kept the audience teary-eyed nearly all the way through. A show that begins with Bruce Springsteen singing his ballad “Streets of Philadelphia” from Hollywood’s first and only mainstream movie about AIDS--”Philadelphia”--needs somewhere to go. This one did, emotionally, all the way to Whitney Houston’s final song. In between, were no less than Elizabeth Taylor, Barbra Streisand and the evening’s two honorees, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Jeffrey Katzenberg.
In a prayer-like statement, Taylor set the evening’s tone: “I never dreamed when I conceived this award, that eight years later we’d still have no cure. But here we are, coming together once again, to honor, to remember, to mourn our losses and to pray that, maybe this year, heaven can wait. . . .”
Disney Studios Chairman Katzenberg, a longtime APLA supporter, spoke of his friendship with the late lyricist Howard Ashman (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin”), whose death he said is a lasting memory.
“Who here doesn’t dread opening up the trades and turning to the obituary pages,” Katzenberg said. “As an industry we have lost so much. But as an industry we can bring so much more to the fight. The entertainment community is like no other . . . no other group possesses such creativity and influence. We are dreamers with the power to inspire and educate. And until science finds a cure . . . we have the ability and the responsibility to shine the spotlight brightly on this plague and on the brave efforts to eradicate it.”
Streisand introduced Clinton with remarks pointed at her husband’s predecessors: “For more than a decade, the reliance of our Presidents on selfish individualism led us into the wasteland of official indifference to the suffering of many. One stark result of that politics for contempt and neglect, driven by homophobia, is that millions are now afflicted by the AIDS epidemic which might have been contained if only our high officials had cared. Let me now introduce someone who clearly does care.”
Mrs. Clinton, who chaired the President’s effort for health-care reform, said: “We are aware that people with HIV and AIDS need comprehensive health-care services and that these are too often too difficult to obtain. We have worked very hard this year to develop a national approach to health care that will guarantee health security to every American.”
She added, “In order to achieve that, we have to pass legislation that will, once and for all, make it illegal to deny insurance to people who need it most.”
In an environment of anger and frustration, in a fight against an unexplainable and ravaging disease, no deeds and no amount of money can ever be enough for some: A few hecklers greeted Clinton, shouting that “you’ve done nothing,” but they failed to interrupt her remarks. And some cynics earlier this week sent out prank faxes on phony APLA stationery. It read that the awards part of Thursday’s show had been canceled due to a lack of action on the part of the recipients.
Industry executive Barry Diller, who chaired the event with industry mogul David Geffen, Creative Artists Agency partner Ron Meyer and Walt Disney Co. Chairman Michael Eisner, credited the industry with its support for AIDS groups. Critics, he said, say the industry “is cowardly, has remained silent and ungiving, that it pays only lip service. . . . Well, you Hollywood scoundrels, tonight you’ve given $4,924,009--and it will be over $5 million in a flash.”
The amount was a record, topping 1992’s $3.9 million.
The program included tributes to many artists who have died of AIDS, from Liberace to Ashman and from Keith Haring to Michael Bennett to some names less known outside the film community.
Among those performing were Angela Lansbury, Jennifer Holliday, Sarah Brightman, Patti LuPone and Melissa Manchester.
Liza Minnelli and a chorus sang what she introduced as an anthem for AIDS: “The Day After That,” from the musical “The Kiss of the Spider Woman.”
Halfway through the program, Tom Cruise noted the thousands of the names of the dead that had been flashing on overhead screens and, in one of the more remarkably touching moments, asked the audience to stand and shout out the names of the friends, lovers, relatives they have lost.
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