The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation’s fundraising gala raised a record number of funds on Thursday night at The Beverly Hills Hotel. (The organization was unable to disclose the amount by press time, when reached for the sum.)
The news was shared on stage by Christine Chiu, co-chair alongside Elizabeth Taylor’s goddaughter and ETAF ambassador Paris Jackson.
“I am thrilled to announce that this year’s ball is the most successful gala hosted by The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation in its history,” said Chiu, before sharing a series of thank yous — including to Earvin “Magic” Johnson and wife Cookie.
The couple was honored for their work in HIV and AIDS awareness. The NBA star announced his HIV diagnosis to the world in 1991, the same year Taylor established the foundation. Barack Obama, MIA at the dinner, had a message for Johnson. The note was read by Courtney B. Vance, the evening’s cohost with wife Angela Bassett.
“As much as I love Magic today, it didn’t start out that way,” the former president wrote. “As a young man, I remember watching Magic beat the Philadelphia 76ers in game six of the 1980 NBA finals. I was a 6ers fan at the time, and I wasn’t too thrilled watching a rookie end my team’s season. But it wasn’t long before Magic won me over, like he did so many other people, with his combination of unmistakable talent and undeniable charm. And then came 1991. All these years later, it’s hard to explain to young people just how big a deal Magic’s announcement was. At the time, a lot of people didn’t understand HIV and AIDs. We didn’t know if Magic would survive, let along play basketball again. But as the saying goes, adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it. And Magic’s pragmatic, optimistic approach to his diagnosis ended up changing the way the world saw the disease.”
Johnson, alongside Cookie, told the crowd: “God is so good. What a true blessing it is to be here tonight, to receive an award from the woman who Cookie and I cherish and worked so hard with to change the face of the disease, to bring awareness, to raise money, to care for people who were living with HIV and AIDS, to provide housing for them, and last but not least, to stop discrimination against people living with HIV and AIDS.”
Turning to Cookie, he said: “32 years ago, no way I would have made it without you.”
For her part, Cookie told the audience, “Elizabeth meant so much to us. She was one of the first to stand up for the disease. Despite the ridicule she got for it, she just kept pledging ahead and look at what it has done.”
While there has been scientific progress treating and preventing HIV, Bassett said, there is still “stigma, discrimination, criminalization and profound inequities” faced by those living with the virus.
“Over the more than 27 million people living with HIV global, over 10 million still lack access to lifesaving medicine,” she added.
Bulgari returned as diamond sponsor for the fundraiser, now in its fourth year, joining presenting sponsor and biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences. Attendees included Samuel L. Jackson, Dr. Gabriel Chiu, Jennifer Tilly, Wallis Annenberg, and Kathy and Richard Hilton. Guests bid on an auction presented by Christie’s, with Jackson taking home a portrait of Johnson by Herb Ritts for $20,000. The original edition, to be inscribed by Johnson, was printed when Ritts was alive and dated number two of 25.
A performance followed by “Empress of Soul” Gladys Knight, bringing everyone to their feet. The Johnsons were the first on the dance floor, slow dancing to “The Best Thing That Ever Happened.”
Knight pointed to the couple, as Johnson blew her a kiss.
“Oh, I like that for y’all,” she said.