Charity in Tinseltown: Battle for Hollywood hearts

It was once known as the 'darling disease', the focus of star-studded fund-raisers. But now Aids is losing out in the competition for celebrity consciences. John Hiscock reports from Los Angeles
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The Independent US

The Sin City actress's judicious juxtaposition of good causes highlights the problems facing celebrities in the United States, who are increasingly finding themselves torn between different charities. There are so many rallying calls that some stars have given up representing any one cause for fear of offending the others.

And one, in particular, is feeling the effects. Aids, the cause célèbre of the 1980s and Nineties whichsaw supporters all over the world fix red ribbons to their lapels, no longer reigns supreme. It is forced to share the spotlight with a long list of other causes - breast cancer, testicular cancer, African debt relief, the humanitarian crisis in Darfur and, most recently, global warming.

One of the hottest Hollywood issues at the moment is the environment. Leonardo DiCaprio has his own eco-website, Ted Danson and Pierce Brosnan are fighting to clean up the oceans, Woody Harrelson is a crusader for hemp and environmental issues and Daryl Hannah was recently evicted from a tree in Los Angeles, where she was protesting against the demise of an urban farm.

At the recent premiere of former vice-president Al Gore's doomsday documentary on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, several stars, including Hannah, Alba and Sharon Stone, stood in line after the movie to greet Gore and offer their support. Meanwhile, in the shadows, Aids groups are struggling to raise funds and long for the days when they were the central focus of the entertainment industry's activism.

"There are a lot more demands and requests from great causes for people's time and energy," says Craig Thompson, the executive director of Aids Project Los Angeles. "Frankly, for celebrities it's become a bit of a conundrum." The once omnipresent red ribbon worn by celebrities to highlight the Aids problem has now disappeared. "Now there's a ribbon for everything and every colour and every cause," he said. "If they wear a red ribbon they have to turn down the ribbon of four other organisations. It just became too politically difficult."

Of course, the cause still has its stalwarts. Sir Elton John and Elizabeth Taylor remain two of Hollywood's biggest fundraisers for Aids efforts while the Irish singer Bono has been instrumental in raising awareness of global poverty and the Aids epidemic with the One campaign, which has enlisted stars such as George Clooney and Brad Pitt.

The U2 frontman, whose charity work earned him a spot as one of Time magazine's 2005 people of the year, recently, as guest editor devoted the front page of The Independent to Aids issues. Earlier this year he announced he was starting Project Red to raise funds in the global fight against Aids, along with tuberculosis and malaria. He has also recruited others to the cause.

Ashley Judd became the global ambassador for YouthAids and has gone to South-east Asia and Africa to educate young people about the disease. She calls Bono "the godfather of the awareness of extreme global poverty."

But there is no doubt that it is becoming harder to engage many celebrities in the Aids campaign, beset as the US has been in recent years by events such as 11 September and Hurricane Katrina. These events forced attention away from far-away problems. The Boxing Day tsunami brought another, immediate need for funding that detracted from the fight against Aids.

Today's celebrities are following the example set by the late Audrey Hepburn, who campaigned for Unicef; Jerry Lewis, whose Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon is in its 40th year, and the late Bob Hope, who entertained the troops with the USO (United Service Organisations). "You almost expect celebrities to have a cause," says Alan Abramson, director of non-profit studies and philanthropy for the Aspen institute, a research and advocacy organisation.

Additional reporting by Jerome Taylor and Kate Thomas

Environmental issues

Champions: Leonardo Di Caprio, Jack Johnson, Joan Baez, Daryl Hannah, Martin Sheen, Willie Nelson, Al Gore, Hillary Clinton

When Vanity Fair adorned the cover of its first-ever "green" issue with A-list celebrities earlier this year, it sent a message to its sophisticated readers: going green was glam. After joining Tom Ford and Al Gore for the shoot, Leonardo Di Caprio has set up his own eco-website, launched The Leonardo Di Caprio Foundation and released two documentaries; one exploring global warming and the other taking an in-depth look at the issue of drought and water wars. But the award for the most extreme example of environmental campaigning goes to actress Daryl Hannah, who was arrested in a tree while protesting about property development in LA. Hannah lives on eco-friendly land in Colorado and drives a car powered by biodiesel.

Breast cancer

Champions: Hilary Swank, Nicole Kidman, Kate Moss, Nelly Furtado, Jade Jagger, Helena Christensen

No amount of bodyguards or security fences can protect celebrities from cancer - which may explain why numerous actors and models have begun favouring cancer research initiatives. One of the most successful and high-profile cancer movements is the Fashion Targets Breast Cancer campaign. The brainchild of Ralph Lauren, it is supported by supermodels such as Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Giselle, Claudia Schiffer and Helena Christensen who have encouraged millions to buy clothing from which part of the profit goes to cancer research. Oscar winners Hilary Swank and Nicole Kidman have also lent their services to cancer fundraising while the entertainment industry has created its own $9m award to a selection of recognised scientists working in the field of women's cancers.

Asian tsunami

Champions: Catherine Zeta Jones & Michael Douglas, Sheryl Crow, Sandra Bullock, Leonardo Di Caprio

The astonishing level of destruction caused by the 2005 Boxing Day tsunami prompted an unprecedented outpouring of donations from members of the public worldwide. Tinseltown's rich and famous also dug deep. As ex-Presidents Bill Clinton and George H Bush toured the affected regions, Hollywood swung into action back home. Numerous celebrities including Robert De Niro, Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas manned the telephone lines during a television appeal which raised an estimated $23m in one evening. Sandra Bullock led the way by personally donating $1m. " I hope it can make a difference," she said. Leonardo di Caprio, who filmed The Beach (1999) on the now devastated Thai island of Kho Phi Phi, donated a "sizeable" undisclosed sum direct to Unicef.


Champions: Angelina Jolie, Mia Farrow, Sharon Stone

Hollywood celebs have a long history of leaving the luxury of Beverly Hills behind - albeit temporarily - and travelling to far-flung corners of Africa during periods of political or humanitarian crisis. A new generation of Hollywood stars such as Sharon Stone and Angelina Jolie is following in the footsteps of Unicef ambassadors Audrey Hepburn and Roger Moore. During the World Economic Forum 18 months ago, Sharon Stone spontaneously donated $10,000 to help Tanzania buy mosquito nets and urged prominent businessmen to do the same. Tomb Raider star Jolie, a prominent humanitarian activist, used the recent birth of her child with Brad Pitt in Namibia to raise awareness of the African continent's plight and donated the profits from exclusive first pictures of the couple's child to Unicef.

Hurricane Katrina

Champions: Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise, Kanye West, Ben Harper, Matthew McConaughey, Jamie Foxx, Dizzy Gillespie, Jay Z, Faith Hill

The Katrina disaster hit the A-list hard. Actor Matthew McConaughey, whose family are from Louisiana, was one of the first to visit a makeshift shelter. "There's so much work to do. [You have to] share what you have," he said. While Julia Roberts and Jack Nicholson worked long shifts manning the phones in fundraising call centres, Oscar winner Jamie Foxx arrived at a shelter in Texas to whoops of applause. "He was so fine" said a 72-year-old woman made homeless by the hurricane. "I forgot all about what had happened when he walked in."

Sean Penn went a step further, turning up in New Orleans with a rubber dinghy and an entourage of helpers. Penn, known for his political activism, was seen bailing water when the dinghy developed a leak.

The catastrophe united celebrity black America. Singers Jay Z, Kanye West and Dizzy Gillespie performed at fundraising concerts across the States. Rapper Kanye West also took to the global platform, famously announcing that "George Bush doesn't care about black people."

September 11

Champions: George Clooney, Jack Nicholson, Clint Eastwood, Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen, Sarah Jessica Parker, Alicia Keys, Neil Young, Tom Hanks, Robert De Niro, Jackie Chan, Whoopi Goldberg, Brad Pitt, Jim Carrey, Meg Ryan, Al Pacino, Tom Cruise

While Neil Young, Jack Nicholson, Brad Pitt and dozens of other A-listerswere working the phones taking donations, 21 artists took to a dark stage lit by candlelight to belt out songs in honour of the victims of the attacks on the Twin Towers. America: A Tribute to Heroes featured Bruce Springsteen singing "My City of Ruins", Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, Wyclef Jean singing Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" and Willie Nelson's rousing "America the Beautiful". Speakers included Clint Eastwood, Tom Hanks, Sarah Jessica Parker and Robert de Niro. Neil Young's performance of John Lennon's "Imagine" had the crowd in tears. But perhaps the most significant words came from Muhammed Ali, who ended his speech with the line: "Islam is peace."

Debt relief

Champions: Bono, Bob Geldof, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Susan Sarandon, Al Pacino, P Diddy, Antonio Banderas

The Make Poverty History campaign in 2005 encouraged Hollywood to join America's own version of the debt relief movement, the ONE Campaign. Bono launched the Stateside campaign alongside Brad Pitt who had begun to get involved in charitable causes, particularly in Africa. Commenting on his visits to Ethiopia, Pitt said: "I've been there. I've seen it. To turn my back on it would make me culpable." Within days a bizarre alliance of Hollywood A-listers and Christian conservatives were campaigning to commit George Bush to donating 1 per cent of the national budget ($30m) to humanitarian aid and cancelling the debts of the world's poorest nations. The leading political voice in Hollywood, George Clooney, also lobbied the World Bank. "I'm an old-time liberal and I don't apologise for it," he said.

Animal rights

Champions: Pierce Brosnan, Pamela Anderson, Paul and Stella Mccartney, Alicia Silverstone, Tyra Banks

Hollywood's elite are taking a more active role than ever in the protection of all things furry. Animal rights group Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has continued to sign numerous A-listers for their campaigns, the most recent of which involved Pamela Anderson stripping naked in the window of Stella McCartney's store in protest against the use of fur in fashion. Other celebrities, such as Pierce Brosnan, have taken a more conservative approach. Brosnan campaigned with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to save the world's endangered whales. Long-term activist Paul McCartney returned to the fray after the Canadian government increased the number of seals allowed to be killed in the country's highly controversial annual culling season.