Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

So far, celebrities keeping a low profile on oil spill

By Todd Leopold, CNN
Click to play
Ashton Kutcher: 'Think about the world'
  • Few celebrities have spoken about the Gulf oil spill
  • Spill is "unfamiliar" territory to many, and impact just starting to be known, says expert
  • Louisiana Gulf Coast musicians, leaders put together Gulf Aid, fund-raising concert
  • Hollywood likely to get involved: "This town is very good at stepping up," Tom Selleck says

President Obama goes one-on-one with Larry King on Thursday night to talk about the oil spill, economic turmoil and war. Don't miss the president on "Larry King Live," 9 p.m. ET on CNN.

(CNN) -- It's become a tradition.

First, the disaster. Then the concert or telethon; messages to donate money or lend a hand -- all with musicians, actors and other celebrities out front.

But this time things are a little ... quieter.

With some key exceptions, since the Gulf of Mexico oil spill began on April 20 there have been few celebrity calls to arms.

Which is not to say that nobody's been paying attention or that celebrities aren't as frustrated as everybody else.

"One time, go off!" director Spike Lee urged President Obama on CNN's "AC 360°." "If there's any one time to go off, this is it, because this is a disaster."

Video: Ted Danson: No more ocean drilling
Video: Costner demos oil extracting device
How to help
To make a donation to Gulf Aid, go to or mail to:

Gulf Relief Foundation
P.O. Box 61035
New Orleans, LA 70161

"No more ocean drilling," Ted Danson, a board member of the environmental organization Oceana and longtime activist, told CNN's Larry King last week.

"You have the biggest, most horrible example of what happens when something goes wrong. Accidents do happen, period. So, stop this. ... To say we need to drill offshore to create jobs is wrong."

A handful of others have also sounded off. Victoria Principal donated $200,000 to Oceana and the National Resources Defense Council. James Cameron offered his expertise to officials. Leonardo DiCaprio posted on Facebook that he'd taken the "Save My Oceans" pledge.

But, in general, there has been uncomfortable silence. And that's understandable, says Dan Pallotta, a social entrepreneur, charity expert and author of the book "Uncharitable."

"I think it's unfamiliar [territory] to people, and I think the human tragedy has not yet really unfolded," he says. "Most of the impact is still out in the deep ocean, and it's just starting to come ashore. So we're seeing pictures of somebody's hand out on a beach with a little clump of oil in it -- which is a completely different story or image than a family outside of what used to be their home ... where a tornado has destroyed everything they own."

There's also the question of who's to blame, who should help, and how. Fingers are being pointed at BP, the federal government and other authorities, and the impact on local fishermen and the landscape is not as apparent now as it will be.

"The devastation is going to be much more economic than it is physical," he says. "You're not going to have the normal images of catastrophe.

"For all of those reasons, it's different," he says, "and people haven't reacted with the kind of immediacy that they do when they see Haiti."

The Gulf Coast music and business community has been quick to react. Through the quickly established Gulf Relief Foundation, the groups arranged Gulf Aid, a May 16 concert in New Orleans that featured Lenny Kravitz, John Legend, Mos Def, Ani DiFranco and a number of local acts. The show raised more than $300,000.

But then, says David Freedman, general manager of New Orleans community radio station WWOZ-FM and a board member of the foundation, they've seen this movie before.

"From the little bit we know, it sounds like it's Katrina all over again," he says, comparing the engineering mistakes that led to the oil spill to what he called the faulty levees that led to the flooding of New Orleans.

"The thing that we learned in that experience of 2005 was, don't wait. Because you could be waiting a long time for people to help you."

Freedman admits that Gulf Aid is still working out how to distribute its funds -- testament to the difficult nature of the oil spill and questions surrounding who else will pick up the bill. But he says there's no question that help is needed.

"The economic devastation is going to be measured with Bs -- billions," he says. "My feeling, having gone down there [to the Louisiana coast], is there's just palpable terror" among fishermen and local workers. "They don't know what they're going to do. And we're looking at it as how we can make a difference."

Freedman says the foundation is just getting started, and plans are in the works for other events, some with national reach. A DVD of Gulf Aid is due this month and a song by Kravitz and Mos Def, "It Ain't My Fault," recently came out on iTunes.

Indeed, expect this summer to feature a number of awareness-raising events. Bonnaroo, the massive Tennessee festival scheduled for next weekend, always has several environmental initiatives at its Planet Roo area, and promoter Rick Farman says its nonprofit Bonnaroo Works Foundation will also be looking into ways to help.

He also believes the entertainment industry will come to the fore -- as they have for the Haitian earthquake and the floods in Nashville last month.

"The issues that are happening down there are pretty core to what a lot of entertainers believe in," he says.

And actor Tom Selleck, speaking to CNN at a recent movie premiere, agrees.

"The town is very good at stepping up. And I think people will and we should," he says. "The question is, where do we step up and what's needed? It's a different kind of ongoing problem, and I think we need to find out where we can best fit. There's two issues -- there's a leak and there's a cleanup, and I have a hunch we're going to be very needed in the cleanup."

CNN's Megan Clifford, Jack Hannah and Denise Quan contributed to this story.

Oil disaster: Tracking the numbers
Part of complete coverage on
Impact Your World: How to help
A number of organizations are recruiting volunteers to help clean up coastal areas
Depths of the disaster
Get the numbers, see the images and learn how the worst U.S. oil spill has changed lives, ruined economies and more.
iReport: Gulf journals
These stories help us look into the lives of the hardworking people of the Gulf as they watch this disaster take its toll.
Send your photos, videos
Is your area being affected by the spill? Help CNN track the oil slick and its effects on Gulf Coast communities and wildlife
Map: What's been hit
Interactive map locates oil sightings and stories
Daily developments
How big is the slick? What's being affected? What's being done?
Track the major developments of the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico
Berms, booms, blowouts: Glossary
Breaking down the jargon of the disaster