Assessing our celebrities' gutsy moves

By Beth Pinsker
Updated December 30, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

Courage rang from Tom Hanks’ quavering voice on Oscar night as he saluted those with AIDS. And pundit Andy Rooney laid an egg when, on April 17’s 60 Minutes, he chided Generation Xers grieving over Kurt Cobain’s suicide. ”What would all these young people be doing if they had real problems?” he asked. But other gutsy moves by public personalities aren’t as easy to place on the moral scale. Sometimes there’s just no telling whether a celeb’s a hero or a zero.

Fangs, But No Fangs? Novelist Anne Rice was out for blood last August after Warner Bros. cast Tom Cruise in the film adaptation of her Interview With the Vampire. ”(He) is no more Lestat than Edward G. Robinson is Rhett Butler,” she said. But after viewing the movie in September, she bought an ad in Daily Variety lauding Cruise’s ”courageous performance” and urging, ”SEE THIS FILM, GUYS. SEE IT!”

Public Self-Service Announcements? As the Libertarian candidate for governor of New York, radio talk jockey Howard Stern cozied up to the death penalty, but in December he saved a life when — on air — he talked a potential jumper down from the George Washington Bridge. ”I’m a hero. Call the newspapers!” Stern shouted when the man was safe, turning the incident into more Stern und Drang — like all those mobbed appearances the schlockmeister made on behalf of his autobiography, Private Parts.

Cheapsters for Your Love? Was it a blow for freedom or an attempt to cut out the middleman? Grungesters Pearl Jam canceled concerts in April to protest ticket broker Ticketmaster’s surcharges, then filed a memo with the Justice Department, charging Ticketmaster with holding an unfair monopoly over ticket distribution. ”(We) remember what it’s like not to have a lot of money,” guitarist Stone Gossard told a House subcommittee in June; Ticketmaster cried ”publicity stunt.”

Sparking a Laugh? Maybe he was burning down the fourth wall, maybe he was a jerk, but Bobcat Goldthwait didn’t please producers when he trashed Arsenio Hall’s set in April. And The Tonight Show wasn’t humored last May when the frenzied comic set fire to Jay Leno’s guest chair: In September Goldthwait was assessed a $3,900 fine by a Burbank municipal court and sentenced to promote fire safety.

A Reno Divorce? Musician-actor-singer Michael Moriarty followed his criticism of Attorney General Janet Reno’s campaign against TV violence with a resignation from NBC’s Law & Order last January. He claimed that NBC was trying to censor him and that his character, Assistant DA Ben Stone, was being written out of the show. Moriarty, who briefly weighed a presidential run, has vowed not to be silenced: ”I am not going to give up my personal freedom and self-respect for a career,” he said.