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The impact of celebrity fund raising

Actor Michael J. Fox recently testified before three Senate subcommittees to request more funding for Parkinson's disease research

September 29, 1999
Web posted at: 3:14 p.m. EDT (1914 GMT)

By Wolf Blitzer
CNN Senior White House Correspondent

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Actor Michael J. Fox is taking part in a long-standing tradition: celebrities using their time, energy and names to raise money to fight various diseases. The star of "Spin City" testified Tuesday before three United States Senate subcommittees and asked for more federal money in the search for a cure for Parkinson's -- a disease from which he suffers.

"What celebrity has given me," Fox says, "is the opportunity to raise the visibility of Parkinson's disease and focus attention on the desperate need for more research dollars."

The National Institutes of Health says it will spend more than $80 million on Parkinson's research next year. Fox's high-profile involvement probably will generate even more money. That's usually what happens when celebrities get involved.

Entertainer Jerry Lewis knows that well. He's worked for the Muscular Dystrophy Association since the 1940s, running an annual Labor Day telethon. This year's event raised $53 million.

Actress Sharon Stone works for the American Foundation for AIDS Research. Its star-studded event at last year's Cannes Film Festival raised more than $1 million.

And when Christopher Reeve launched a foundation for paralysis research after his horse-riding accident in 1995, he quickly attracted more than $5 million. That's more than the American Paralysis Association had raised in its first 13 years.


"It was very difficult to get celebrities to talk about their disabilities. Even though some do have the disability, getting them to reveal that is often the greatest challenge that a nonprofit (organization) has."
--Paulette Maehara, National Society of Fundraising Executives

"What celebrities do is they help you break through the sound barrier," says Kate Carr, a fundraiser for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Glaser, who died with AIDS in 1994, was the wife of "Starsky and Hutch" actor Paul Michael Glaser.

Jerry Lewis' famous telethon for muscular dystrophy raised over $53 million this year alone

"They help you capture the attention of the press and the public," Carr says, "and so in capturing that attention perhaps it's the first threshold that you cross."

But it's not always easy getting celebrities involved, according to Paulette Maehara, of the National Society of Fundraising Executives. "It was very difficult to get celebrities to talk about their disabilities," she says. "Even though some do have the disability, getting them to reveal that is often the greatest challenge that a nonprofit (organization) has."

That certainly was the case with Fox, who was diagnosed as having Parkinson's in 1991. "While the changes in my life were profound and progressive," he says, "I kept them to myself for a number of reasons. Fear, denial for sure -- but I also felt that it was important for me to quietly just soldier on."

But as his testimony before Congress underscores, that's now changed. Fox told the subcommittee, "What I understood very clearly is that the time for quietly soldiering on is through."


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RELATED SITES:
American Foundation for AIDS Research
American Paralysis Association
Muscular Dystrophy Association
National Institutes of Health
National Parkinson Foundation
Parkinson's Disease Foundation
U.S. Senate
  •Appropriations Committee
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