The Washington Post

Debra Winger and John Mayer: Quiet stars step back into spotlight for causes

Debra Winger at the Tahirih Justice Center gala at the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown on Wednesday. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)

Let us now praise underexposed celebrities: Debra Winger and John Mayer.

(Okay, bear with us on the John Mayer part — we’ll explain later.)

Winger was in town Wednesday for the annual gala of the Tahirih Justice Center, and she is, refreshingly, one of those stars you don’t see turning up in Washington again and again for one cause or another. Why this one? The actress, 56, told us she was invited to one of its events years ago and found that its mission — providing legal and social services to immigrant women fleeing oppression — just resonated with her.

“When you connect with a cause, it’s like falling in love,” she said.

She liked that Tahirih was apolitical: “We don’t take a stand on head scarves. We support whatever it is” that a woman wants for herself. “I don’t care so much about my own opinion as letting women live their lives.”

Winger famously pulled back from the spotlight after rocketing to stardom and acclaim in 1980s hits such as “Terms of Endearment.” Is it a challenge for a fame-shy person to decide how to apply her celebrity capital for causes? She seemed to find the question kind of ironic, given her lower profile in recent years.

John Mayer with National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences President Neil Portnow. ( for the Recording Academy)

John Mayer, the singer-songwriter, was one of our most overexposed celebrities two years ago — red-carpet girlfriends, mouthy interviews, etc. But have you noticed? He pulled a Winger. Abandoned Twitter and his 3.7 million followers. Evacuated the gossip columns. Said he needed to focus on music. On Wednesday, it was a subdued Mayer who was honored at the recording industry’s “Grammys on the Hill” event, and sheepishly apologized for using a teleprompter: “Tonight is not the night for crazy make-’em-ups.” [Read also: Russert’s role at Grammys event questioned]

He gave a relatively sober talk about keeping music in schools, about helping veterans, about cultivating young performers. (“I accept ‘American Idol,’ but I don’t accept social media as a substitute to developing a craft.”)

“I’ll now go back to my seat,” he concluded, “and be uncomfortable about being honored.”

Mayer, left, performs at Grammys on the Hill with blues legend Buddy Guy, at the Liaison Hotel Wednesday. ( for The Recording Academy)



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