Staging a rescue

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
January 4, 2005

Say what you will about overpaid celebrities. When tragedy strikes, they are often the first to give of their time and money. Here are some of the best-known celebrity fund-raising events of the past four decades.

Concert for Bangladesh, Aug. 1, 1971

Spearheaded by George Harrison, the Concert for Bangladesh was attended by more than 40,000 fans. The lineup at Madison Square Garden was a who’s who of the era’s most popular rock musicians: Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Badfinger, Leon Russell, Billy Preston and Ravi Shankar. The concert, along with sales from the live album, raised more than $10 million for the nation’s starving refugees.

Live Aid, July 13, 1985

Bob Geldof and fellow organizers were hoping to raise $5 million for humanitarian efforts in Ethiopia with this all-day televised concert set on stages in both London and Philadelphia. Thanks to the participation of superstars such as U2, Queen and Madonna, the event raised more than $250 million. Though their intent was pure, the Live Aid crew — and Geldof in particular — were criticized for failing to utilize the proceeds efficiently. More bad publicity ensued when news cameras showed food rotting because there weren’t enough people to deliver it to the needy.

Farm Aid, Sept. 22, 1985

Geldof criticized Bob Dylan, who announced at Live Aid, “It would be nice if some of this money went to the American farmers.” A few months later, Farm Aid made its debut in Champaign. Organized by Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp, the organization continues to present concerts aimed at making Americans aware of the plight of family-owned farms. Frequent performers include Dylan, Dave Matthews and Neil Young.

Comic Relief, March 29, 1986

Hosted by Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams, the first Comic Relief, broadcast live from Los Angeles on HBO, featured 47 comedians and raised $2.5 million. HBO picked up the administrative and production costs, so all the pledge money was funneled to homeless shelters and projects across the country.

America: A Tribute to Heroes, Sept. 21, 2001

Besides music stars such as Bruce Springsteen, Mariah Carey, Will Smith, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young and Alicia Keys, the two-hour telethon benefitting those affected by the 9/11 attacks also included A-list actors such as Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks. Instead of competing for rights to the telecast, ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox picked up production costs; even outlets such as Showtime and HBO carried the event.

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