Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Celebrity cheapskates lacking sincerity

You probably missed it because Saturday is the least watched night on television, but the NBC-Universal family of networks recently broadcast "Tsunami Aid: A Concert of Hope."

The star-studded celebrity telethon was designed to raise money for the Asian tsunami victims. The show was broadcast Saturday, Jan. 15, live on the East Coast from 8 to 10 p.m. (tape-delayed on the West Coast) on NBC, USA, Bravo, Trio, SCI FI, PAX, Telemundo, MSNBC and CNBC.

It was shown commercial-free, but that’s not saying much since NBC has trouble selling commercials for any of the shows in its floundering lineup. I think the network shows reruns of "Law and Order" on Saturday night.

The telethon featured a variety of big-name musical performers including Madonna, Sheryl Crow, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Norah Jones, Lenny Kravitz, Eric Clapton, Kenny Chesney, Gloria Estefan, Elton John and Nelly.

In between the music, various other "artists" and "celebrities" begged the American public for money. Staffing the phones were such stars as Halle Berry, Usher, George Clooney, Uma Thurman, Matt Damon, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Michael Douglas, Bruce Willis, Danny DeVito, Tim Robbins, Jay Leno and Drew Barrymore.

I caught part of the telethon as I was flipping through the channels. That tells you a lot about how exciting my Saturday nights are. After a few minutes of watching celebrities waiting for the phone to ring, I turned to my wife and said something about this telethon isn’t right.

Why would the average person — who in one year takes home one-tenth of one-percent of what most of these celebrities get paid in one week — give up his or her hard-earned money because an actor or a musician asked for it? Don’t get me wrong. The cause was noble. And like millions of other Americans, I gave money to help the tsunami victims in the days after the disaster.

But why go through all the trouble of putting on a telethon to raise a measly $18 million? That’s what the two-hour extravaganza brought in for the American Red Cross. The George Clooneys and Matt Damons of the world earn $18 million for just one movie. Madonna made 10 times that much on her last tour. Elton John probably has a wardrobe worth more than $18 million. That’s how much Roger Clemens will get paid to pitch for the Houston Astros for six months this year.

If celebrities want to help, let them open their checkbooks. If every one of the "stars" who donated their time on Jan. 15 to answer phones had written a check for $1 million, the tsunami victims would have been much better off. But I guess they couldn’t be charitable in private. They had to show their faces on TV, pretending they were concerned.

The whole concept of a telethon and a follow-up concert this past weekend in England (which brought in another $2 million) just doesn’t feel right. There’s something phony about the way celebrities express concern for the plight of average people.

I did read somewhere that Steven Spielberg donated $1.5 million and Sandra Bullock kicked in $1 million to the tsunami relief effort. And Leonardo DiCaprio made an unspecified "large" donation to the cause, according to his people. But where is Oprah, the richest woman in America? How about that Bill Gates? Couldn’t he spare a billion or two?

I get the feeling celebrities give more for the publicity value than for a pure act of charity. Why would you have your publicist issue a press release that you gave money? The rest of us don’t do that. We sent checks to various organizations or dropped cash in the collection basket at church to help the tsunami victims, but we didn’t pat ourselves on the back.

This idea of millionaires waiting for Joe Public to write checks leaves a bad taste in my mouth. And let’s not forget that many of these same Left Coast celebrities spent most of 2004 badmouthing this country and its president. When the election didn’t go their way, they made scornful remarks about the intelligence of the American people after they rejected John Forbes Kerry.

So let’s put an end to celebrity telethons and benefit concerts. I have a lot more respect for children who emptied their piggy-banks and sent the money to the Red Cross or for schools and church groups that held fund-raisers for the tsunami victims.

E-mail Tony Phyrillas at

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