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A million apologies for neglecting this blog for over a month. Instead of excuses, I'll just give you an explanation--the entire month of May has been consumed with festivities. But now that Tony's birthday has come and gone--and our suitcases are finally unpacked--I can explain why I wasn't able to focus on the blog the way I'd like to.
In April, I wrote an article for The Palm Beach Post about Annette Funicello’s death from MS, and my own long-term wrestling match with this challenging disease. Then, only three weeks later (thanks to my generous friend Tom Safran) I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the Rolls Royce of fundraising events, the Race to Erase MS gala in Beverly Hills.
Naturally, I was thrilled to "go back home," and have the chance to reconnect with former work colleagues as well as friends from both high school and UCLA. There were happy reunions, fabulous meals and perfect weather (even the traffic seemed good), but the red-letter event was the glamorous MS fundraiser.
This year’s event, “Love to Erase MS,” honored Jack Osbourne—who was diagnosed last year—and his mother, Sharon. I was amazed when multi-platinum singer Taio Cruz gave the kind of performance that is usually reserved for packed stadiums rather than hotel ballrooms, and then Sir Elton John sang his classic hits for close to a full hour. He told the audience that he was at the benefit to support the cause, but also because “Sharon [Osbourne] has so much information on me that I simply couldn’t say no.” He also paid tribute to her strength as a mother with a child who has been given an unwelcome diagnosis by saying, “She’s a fighter, a survivor, a crusader and a great mom.”
When I managed to speak with Jack’s mom (who is one of the stars on “The Talk”) she told me, “I honestly can’t find the words to express how overwhelmed I am by all the support we have received since learning of Jack’s diagnosis. One of the first people I called was Nancy because I knew she would lead us in the right direction—and she did. And when you look around at all the people who are supporting this cause, you just know that a cure is in sight.”
California philanthropist Nancy Mills was diagnosed with MS in 1993, and ever since then she has been working tirelessly to raise research money with the goal of curing, and ultimately eliminating, MS. About 90% of the money she raises from her star-studded events supports research conducted by America’s top MS doctors, and so far, she has raised over $23 million. Thanks to her efforts nine new drugs are now available for MS patients.
The Century Plaza ballroom was overflowing with so many household-name celebrities that I could hardly keep track of them. The red-carpet press corps unleashed a firestorm of flashbulbs at the famous attendees, who included (among others) Catherine Bell (the “Army Wives” star’s stepmother has MS), Daisy Fuentes, Camille Grammer (she told me that this was her 13th Race to Erase event), Anne Heche, Tommy Hilfiger, La Toya Jackson, Kellie Pickler, Lisa Rinna, Ray Romano, Cybill Shepard, Rod Stewart and Bruno Tonioli. Not to mention Kyle Richards and Lisa Vanderpump of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. There were hundreds of attendees at the star-studded event, but I only counted five other wheelchairs.
I was seated at the same table with Oscar-nominated “Tootsie” actress Teri Garr, who was diagnosed with MS 15 years after I was. Side by side in our wheelchairs, at a table with a huge centerpiece of orange roses, we discussed her book “Speedbumps: Flooring It Through Hollywood.” Well known for her lively sense of humor, she told me that she had wanted to title it “Does This Wheelchair Make Me Look Fat?” Her illness-phobic publisher, however, evidently nixed that idea.
Now that I’m back home, the glitz and glamour of a Hollywood MS gala already seems like a page ripped out of a fairytale. But I—like thousands of others—believe that MS will one day be eliminated. It’s the medical dream we just know in our hearts will one day soon come true. And the $1.8 million raised at the May 4th gala brings that dream just a little bit closer to reality.