Celebs Who Used Their Fame To Help Others
The following article references sexual assault.
Charitable activity is a big deal among the rich and famous, and no gift of time or money draws as much attention as that of celebrities. High-profile individuals are inspired to donate their time and money to charity for a variety of reasons. Some see it as a civic or moral duty. Others use charitable gifts as a way to offset the tax burden on heavy profits. Some even view it as reputation rehab or penance for wrongs they have committed. Whatever the motive and method, and no matter what the cause, the result is usually the same: notoriety brings in the big bucks, which means a celebrity’s involvement can do wonders for nonprofit and NGO fundraising.
Some of the prominent causes drawing celebrity involvement are famine, health crises, human rights violations, economic inequity, gender inequity, and lack of access to fundamentals like clean water, sanitation, healthy food, and education. We looked into some of the most high-profile philanthropists in Hollywood and beyond, who are known to be generous with their time, attention, and money. To whom much is given, much is expected, and these stars seem to take that adage to heart.
Elizabeth Taylor was one of the first celebrity AIDS activists
Elizabeth Taylor is the O.G. of Hollywood AIDS activism. Raising awareness of HIV/AIDS in the 1980s was of the utmost societal importance, with falsehoods and fear-mongering amok. The disease was still very misunderstood at the time, and the government seemed to be ignoring the matter. As History recounts, then-President Ronald Reagan did not publicly address the growing AIDS crisis until September 17, 1985 — long after it had become a full-blown health crisis in America, and the same day Reagan and Taylor’s mutual friend, Rock Hudson, died of the disease. Taylor stepped into the awareness void and regularly lobbied President Reagan and Congress to address the crisis.
While very few high-profile celebrities were initially willing to lend their name to the cause, Taylor signed up to chair the AIDS Project Los Angeles’ Commitment to Life fundraiser in 1985. That same year, Taylor co-founded The Foundation for AIDS Research (amfAR). She established The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF) in 1991 to provide direct care, along with love and moral support, to the most vulnerable patients.
Her famous quote on raising AIDS awareness, “It’s bad enough that people are dying of AIDS, but no one should die of ignorance,” set the tone for her pioneering HIV/AIDS activism that continues posthumously. The work of the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation “continues to advocate, support, and care for those who face some of the highest levels of stigma, marginalization, and discrimination.”
A slew of musicians in 1985 helped out in big ways
It wasn’t just charitable activity surrounding AIDS that saw a meteoric rise in 1985. The recording of USA for Africa’s “We Are the World” in early 1985 kicked off a year of memorable charitable music events. Quincy Jones produced a track written by Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson and enlisted the hottest pop stars of the day to contribute their vocals, with all proceeds going toward famine relief in Africa. Rolling Stone chronicled every last minute of the historic recording session, detailing every participant’s role.
In July, the 16-hour Live Aid concert produced by Bob Geldof and Midge Urea was organized to raise funds for famine relief in Ethiopia. As Britannica recounted, the concert, which brought in millions of dollars, was a simulcast in London’s Wembley Stadium and Philadelphia’s JFK Stadium to 1.5 billion viewers. The list of performers was a veritable who’s who of English-speaking rock and roll. If you have FOMO over Live Aid, fear not. There is a Live Aid YouTube channel with hours of performance videos from the concert.
That same year, as History recalled, Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp announced they would be producing a concert called Farm Aid that September to benefit American farmers. Farm Aid performers included a wide variety of country, folk, rock, and blues artists. Since that first benefit concert in 1985, Farm Aid has passed tens of millions of dollars raised on to small farmers, while promoting sustainability and buying local produce and meat.
Nicki Minaj supports students and villages
When you envision being rewarded for straight A’s in college, do you picture that reward coming from … the Queen of Rap? If not, think again! As CNN reported in 2017, Nicki Minaj offered to reward fans who’d earned (verifiable) straight A’s by paying for their college tuition. She repeated a similar offer the following year in a May 2018 tweet that reads, in part, “Ok just send one tweet w/ hashtag #StudentOfTheGame saying how much $ you need & what it’s for. All $ will b paid directly towards the tuition, books, etc.” Essence reported she doled out over $25,000 in tuition for, according to Billboard, 37 of her fans.
While this #StudentOfTheGame initiative got lots of press, Global Citizen pointed out Minaj has been giving charitably under the radar for years. According to a May 2017 Instagram post, she has been quietly financially supporting villages in India. “This is the kind of thing that makes me feel the most proud. The money I’ve sent to this village in India for the last couple years [via my Pastor Lydia Sloley], has gotten them a Computer Center, a Tailoring Institute, a Reading Program and 2 WATER WELLS,” she wrote. “We complain about the most ridiculous little things when some ppl don’t even have clean water. Blessings to India. Our work is far from done.”
Bill and Melinda Gates found purpose and joy in giving
Founded in 1994 as the William H. Gates Foundation, with a phenomenally large gift of $94 million, the charitable machine of Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda Gates, is now known as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The couple writes on their website, “We wake up every day determined to use our resources to create a world where everyone has the opportunity to lead a healthy and productive life. Most importantly, we believe this: All lives have equal value. That’s why we made the decision to donate our wealth from Microsoft to help others.”
The foundation’s Strategic Investment Fund provides grants to organizations that provide direct support to the myriad of causes championed by the foundation, which has to date invested billions of dollars in charities around the globe. Global health initiatives, with a particular focus on finding an effective vaccine for AIDS and other methods of AIDS prevention, lead the charge of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the foundation jumped into action, offering resources for vaccine development and distribution to help the vaccine reach the remote corners of the world. The foundation also focuses on global gender equality as both an economic and health issue.
While widespread, the foundation’s work is not solely global; they also do a lot of work to eradicate poverty and social/educational barriers right here in the United States.
Kim Kardashian leads with smarts and kindness
Speaking to TIME about prison reform in 2020, Kim Kardashian said, “I really do believe that, if people do a crime, they need to do the time. But it’s a matter of, what is that fair [amount of] time?” And Kardashian has chosen this fairness as her crusade in criminal justice reform. To date, her activism has largely been advocating for individual inmates, which was documented in Kim Kardashian West: The Justice Project on Oxygen. She even met with then-President Donald Trump and returned to speak at the White House about criminal justice reform.
In April 2019, Kardashian told Vogue, “It’s never one person who gets things done; it’s always a collective of people, and I’ve always known my role, but I just felt like I wanted to be able to fight for people who have paid their dues to society. I just felt like the system could be so different, and I wanted to fight to fix it, and if I knew more, I could do more.” She revealed during that interview that she’s studying to become a lawyer.
When Vogue asked Kardashian her most important parenting goal, she said, “I want my kids to be kind and to treat everybody the same way.” She said the three words most commonly used to describe her are “sweet and smart…and kind.” Kardashian hopes to put these three qualities to the best use possible.
Matt Damon knows the importance of clean water
As noted on the Water.org site, Matt Damon has made it his mission to try to solve water supply issues around the world. While spending time in a Zambian village while filming a movie, he witnessed the perils of lack of access to clean and safe water firsthand. As Damon said at the Clinton Global Initiative in 2014 (via LiveScience), “You cannot solve poverty without solving water and sanitation.”
Damon started the organization H20 Africa for this purpose, but when he met Water Partners International’s founder Gary White, they realized they could do much more together than apart. Thus, Water.org was born of a merger between the two organizations. In addition to collecting/allocating donations and facilitating financial investments from banks, Water.org started a sister organization: an investment program called Water Equity, whereby investors provide capital to institutions that increase access to water and sanitation.
Damon also co-founded Not On Our Watch, an organization raising awareness of the human rights violations and atrocities occurring around the world, with George Clooney. The organization’s website states its missions as, “Drawing on the powerful voice of citizen artists, activists, and cultural leaders, our mission is to generate lifesaving humanitarian assistance and protection for the vulnerable, marginalized, and displaced.” Damon told AskMen that it is important for his children to see and understand the economic struggles around the world, adding, “The experience of walking through it and being in it, and seeing that, it’s really profound for American kids of all stripes.”
Oprah Winfrey wants to help every child receive education
Believing education is the ticket to a person’s freedom, Oprah Winfrey champions the cause of youth education in her work with the Oprah Winfrey Charitable Foundation, which also addresses food insecurity, lack of shelter, and health care. The foundation’s mission is “To lead, to educate, to uplift, to inspire and to empower women and children throughout the world, opening doors so that each person can begin to define what it would mean to lead their best life and fulfill their own possibility for greatness. It is a lasting commitment to teaching, learning and growing.”
During a 2002 visit with Nelson Mandela, Winfrey pledged to build a South African school for girls, which she did. The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy Foundation in South Africa helps support communities, with a focus on the education of young women. And when she joined forces with Starbucks and Teavana for the Oprah Chai drink, she raised millions of dollars for initiatives including National CARES Mentoring Movement, Pathways to College, Girls Inc., and U.S. Dream Academy.
Morgan Fairchild is an unlikely Twitter hero
Morgan Fairchild has become a well-known source of news on Twitter and a frequent dabbler in online activism. While her online presence has taken center stage over the last few years, Fairchild is no mere “slacktivist.” Her charitable involvement and activism began in the 1980s, when she was gracing television screens on Falcon Crest. In 1988, she told the Los Angeles Times, “Before I got involved, I never thought anyone would give a damn about what I thought. I’m a television actor — who would care? Then I found out that I could help focus attention to an issue in a positive way. That was something I was blind to before.”
The actor’s website highlights some of her charitable work, including animal welfare causes, AIDS charity, work to fight poverty, the Make a Wish Foundation, LGBT causes, aid for at-risk youth, natural disaster relief, Doctors without Borders, and other domestic and international humanitarian causes.
The Daily Beast deemed Fairchild a “badass foreign policy wonk, and Town and Country called her an “unlikely Twitter hero” thanks to her frequent sharing of political news, adding, “Considering the breadth of her interests—you can’t visit her feed without learning about Syria as well as cats available for adoption—it might not be long before some fans know her as the news junkie who just so happened to work as an actress on the side.”
Michael Jordan stepped up to help fight the good fight
Michael Jordan, in conjunction with Jordan Brand, pledged in 2020 to donate $100 million to causes supporting the fight against racial injustice. A statement announcing the donation read, “We represent a proud family that has overcome obstacles, fought against discrimination in communities worldwide and that works every day to erase the stain of racism and the damage of injustice. It’s 2020, and our family now includes anyone who aspires to our way of life. Yet as much as things have changed, the worst remains the same.”
Jordan Brand President Craig Williams said in a statement, “We must join forces with the community, government and civic leaders to create a lasting impact together. There is still more work for us to do to drive real impact for the Black Community. We embrace the responsibility.”
Jordan has always been philanthropic, with a focus on helping underserved communities. According to the NBA website, Jordan has donated millions in relief funds following natural disasters, as well as in support of health initiatives, Make-a-Wish campaigns, and programs increasing access to education.
Bono works hard to eradicate AIDS and extreme poverty
Bono is the cofounder of ONE and (RED), a pair of organizations created to fight poverty and AIDS. As Bono said at a TED Conference in 2013, the ONE campaign hopes to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030, a goal the organization is working toward through lobbying, grassroots efforts, and charitable funding. (RED)’s function is raising awareness using public and corporate partnerships to fight AIDS and other preventable diseases in Africa.
The U2 singer also founded The Rise Fund, and as noted on the ONE website, this organization invests in companies that drive “measurable, positive social change and environmental change in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals.” According to Look to the Stars, Bono’s charitable inspiration dates all the way back to when he saw The Secret Policeman’s Ball in 1979. He was involved in the planning of Live Aid in 1985, recruiting other artists to participate, and continued active charitable involvement from that point forward. Along with Bill and Melinda Gates, Bono was named TIME’s person of the year in 2005 for his philanthropic efforts.
Angelina Jolie is a diplomat for the United Nations
After a decade of serving as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations, frequently visiting political refugees and countries hit hard by natural disasters, Angelina Jolie was appointed a Special Envoy for the organization in 2012, making her a legitimate diplomat representing UNHCR.
In 2020, Jolie told Vogue, “I have learned more from [refugees] about family, resilience, dignity and survival than I can express,” later adding, “I saw people at their most human, who’ve been through unimaginable violence or hardship, and who are just trying to take care of their families. Any of us would do the same in their situation. Like all of us, they want to be safe, they want to have a home, and they want to be free. The realities for refugees or displaced people are extremely hard. They are often victims of rape and sexual abuse. They are struggling with the same kinds of illnesses you find in any community during peacetime, but without access to the healthcare you or I would be able to rely on.”
Jolie opened up about a moment when a grandmother in Sierra Leone saw her crying upon hearing some of the horror stories of refugees “[The woman] pulled me up and told me not to cry but to help,” she recalled to Vogue. “That has always stayed with me.”
If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN’s National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
Miley Cyrus wants us all to be happy hippies
Miley Cyrus founded the Happy Hippie Foundation in 2014 “to fight injustice facing LGBT youth, homeless youth, and other vulnerable populations,” according to the organization’s site. The foundation provides support, education, and employment opportunities to these often-rejected populations, and their manifesto points toward stopping judgment of others. “We know that the people sleeping on the sidewalk could have been us or our closest friends if our lives were just a little bit different,” it reads. “And the people we see sleeping on the sidewalk COULD be our friends if we gave them the chance.”
In a 2008 TIME piece, Cyrus urged people to get involved with helping their communities early. “If you pick up a guitar when you’re 8, you’re really good at it by the time you’re 20. It’s the same with giving back,” she said. “My family has been visiting Kentucky coal-mine towns since I was little. We take clothes, gifts and school supplies. It’s an eye opener for me, seeing families here in America living in Third World conditions. And it makes me want to make a difference … The truth is, it’s never too early to get involved. Someday today’s kids will be running for President. Now is our prep time. We need to get some practice in before we save the world.”
Sounds like a good plan to us! Let’s all get out there and practice being the best humans we can be.
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