Hollywood stars and other nationally known figures have lent their names and support to a mammoth fundraiser, scheduled for next month in Los Angeles, to help combat AIDS.
Elizabeth Taylor, Shirley MacLaine, Diahann Carroll, Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley, Dr. Armand Hammer, Sybil Brand, Wallis Annenberg and Andy Warhol are honorary cochairs of a benefit dinner planned at the Century Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles. Tickets will sell for $500 to $1,000 a person, and proceeds will go to the AIDS Project Los Angeles, an organization that helps AIDS victims and supplies information on the illness.
Over the last few days, the benefit has attracted substantial media attention in the wake of the disclosure that one of Hollywood's biggest stars, Rock Hudson, has contracted the deadly acquired immune deficiency syndrome. However, according to Suzanne Neff of the publicity agency, Chen Sam and Associates, the benefit was announced at the end of June and has been in the works for several months.
"Never has a disease left so many so helpless," said Elizabeth Taylor in a statement released by Chen Sam (which also handles Taylor's publicity), "leaving loved ones and family reaching out only to frustration and fear." Hudson starred with Taylor in the Oscar-winning film "Giant."
Yesterday, Hudson's Los Angeles publicist Dale Olson expressed skepticism about a report on a Los Angeles TV station that Hudson, now hospitalized at the UCLA Medical Center, had only two months to live. "It certainly did not come from the doctors at UCLA," Olson said. "I've never been told that."
UCLA spokeswoman Cathy Leichliter added,"That was not anything that the doctors said; that was not said in any official capacity." Leichliter reported yesterday that Hudson's condition had been upgraded from "serious but stable" to "fair." Hudson returned to Los Angeles early Tuesday morning from Paris, where he had gone to seek treatment.
Neff called the fundraiser "the brainchild of Bill Misenheimer director of the AIDS Project Los Angeles " and said that Sam's agency had been instrumental in "pulling all the people together."
Other celebrities, according to Neff, who have lent their names to the event include Yoko Ono, Melba Moore, Brooke Shields, Roddy McDowall, Liza Minnelli, Bette Midler, Richard Pryor, Burt Reynolds and Dack Rambo.
"Before Rock Hudson we got a tremendous response, and since Rock Hudson we're getting an overwhelming response," said Misenheimer, who said they approached Chen Sam "because we wanted to know if Elizabeth Taylor would be willing to help. We knew of her concern for the issue."
Said Neff, "The list just keeps growing. People call and say they want their names involved. We sent out hundreds and hundreds of letters asking people for support and the response has been overwhelming."
Neff said the object of the event was to "raise $1 million for support and educational services . . .but it is also trying to raise the consciousness of America that AIDS is not only the concern of the homosexual community but of the heterosexual community -- men, women and children. This is not a stereotypical disease. It can affect anyone."
As of last week, the disease had struck 11,871 in the United States, and there have been 5,917 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Most of the victims are homosexuals, intravenous drug users and recipients of blood and blood products.
Sam Harris, the singer who rose to fame on the television show "Star Search," is slated to perform at the dinner. "And I'm sure there will be quite a few others involved," said Neff. Andy Warhol has offered to design the programs and the invitations, according to Neff. "Bernardo Puccio, a Los Angeles interior decorator, is decorating the entire ballroom of the Century Plaza Hotel and I couldn't even put a dollar figure to that," she added.
At the dinner, Taylor will give a Commitment to Life Award to former first lady Betty Ford. "She's basically being recognized as a major force in health delivery and educational programs," said Neff of Ford, who started a rehabilitation center for alcohol and drug abusers that bears her name at the Eisenhower Medical Center outside Palm Springs, Calif.