Sharon Stone, film star and activist for whom sex appeal has proved a powerful advocacy tool, collects peace award


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The Independent Culture

To those who still remember Sharon Stone best for uncrossing her legs in Basic Instinct, it must sound like an incongruous scene: at a ceremony this week in Warsaw, attended by the likes of Lech Walesa and Mikhail Gorbachev, the 55-year-old actress was presented with the 2013 Nobel Peace Summit Award, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

In being named as the Peace Summit Award Laureate, Ms Stone joins such campaigning celebrity luminaries as Sean Penn, George Clooney, Bob Geldof and Bono. According to the citation, she was chosen for "her activities that brought solidarity and new hope to the millions of people who have fought and are fighting against the tragedy of HIV/Aids."

Not one of Ms Stone's movies has pricked the cultural consciousness since the sex-thriller's sequel Basic Instinct 2 in 2006 - and that did so for all the wrong reasons. Yet while her profile as a film star may have faded, her reputation as an activist has ballooned.

Ms Stone has been the Global Fundraising Chairman for amfAR, the Foundation for Aids Research, since 1995 - two years after the death, from complications due to Aids, of her close friend and acting teacher, Roy London. She has vowed to remain in the role until a working vaccine for the Aids virus is developed.

The actress has also shown support for several other causes, including the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict. She is the Cultural Chair of YaLa, an online advocacy group encouraging various forms of dialogue between people from Israel and across the Middle East. In 2006, she travelled to Israel on a peace mission, where she met with the country's now-president, Shimon Peres, whom she recently described as her "mentor". At a press conference, she claimed that she "would kiss just about anybody for peace in the Middle East."

Ms Stone's sex appeal has proved to be a powerful advocacy tool. At an amfAR fundraising event during the 1998 Cannes Film Festival, she boosted the bids for a performance by Elton John and Ringo Starr - of the rock and roll classic, "Great Balls of Fire" - by offering to dance onstage as they played. The charity auction raised more than $1.2m (£740,000), and made the news worldwide.

Her impulsive approach to campaigning has also drawn criticism, however. At the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2005, Ms Stone was so moved by a speech about the ravages of malaria, by the Tanzanian leader Benjamin Mkapa, that she stood up, offered a donation of $10,000 to pay for mosquito nets, and implored her fellow audience members to do the same.

The impromptu pledge drive raised an estimated $1m in just five minutes, but Ms Stone was only able to collect around a quarter of the promised funds, and Unicef was eventually forced to cover the missing $750,000. Experts criticised the actress for her naivety; large shipments of free mosquito nets often never make it to their intended recipients, ending up instead in the hands of corrupt customs officials, or on the black market, where they are repurposed as fishing nets and even wedding veils.

In 2008, a Chinese interviewer asked the actress for her views on a massive earthquake in Sichuan province that had left almost 70,000 dead. Ms Stone, a convert to Tibetan Buddhism, responded by alluding to the controversial Chinese occupation of Tibet, and to the Beijing government's poor treatment of her "good friend", the Dalai Lama. "This earthquake and all this stuff happened," she said, "and then I thought, is that Karma? When you're not nice then the bad things happen to you?"

Ms Stone was subsequently banned from attending the 2008 Shanghai Film Festival, her image removed from Christian Dior advertisements in China, and her films dropped by one of the country's biggest cinema chains. Even the Dalai Lama distanced himself from his "good friend", saying of Ms Stone merely "Yes, I've met that lady," but refuting her analysis of the disaster. "From a Buddhist viewpoint, every event is karma," the Tibetan leader said. "Tragedy in Tibet, tragedy in Burma (Myanmar), tragedy in China, all this is karmic... but her particular sort of comment - that I don't know."

By this week, though, it appears their friendship was back on track.