We admit it. We often make fun of our Hollywood friends for having their priorities out of whack, but the endless string of awful events this year — which reached fever pitch with Hurricane Katrina’s Aug. 29 ravaging of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama — genuinely spurred celebrities into charitable action. What we saw was the worst of times bringing out the best in everyone.
Who can forget NBC’s A Concert for Hurricane Relief, which, though laced with controversy, also managed to raise $40.7 million, thanks to A-listers such as Leonardo DiCaprio? How about Harry Connick Jr. doing live dispatches for the Today show from the streets of New Orleans — before most of FEMA even showed up? Or Sean Penn’s rescuing people using a borrowed motorboat? Since the relief efforts began, we’ve seen performances spanning the spectrum from excellent (Garth Brooks’ ”Who’ll Stop the Rain”) to debatable (Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington dueting with Mötley Crüe on ”Home Sweet Home”) to downright bizarre (Sharon Stone, songwriter?). Even humbled sports icons in the NBA, NFL, NHL, and MLB donated untold millions, with the Houston Texans alone raising $2.5 million.
But let’s face it: By the time Katrina blew in, famous folks already had plenty of practice. First came the George Clooney-sponsored celeb telethon on Jan. 15, which followed last December’s tsunami in Asia. Then in July, Live 8 concerts — featuring performances from Madonna, Pink Floyd, Coldplay, and U2 — marked the 20th anniversary of Live Aid while raising awareness about (but not money for) global debt. Did it work? Possibly: The G8 summit concluded five days later with a promise to increase aid to Africa by $25 billion in the next five years.
That pledge leads us to our cause-celeb winner of the year: U2’s ubiquitous frontman, Bono, one of TIME magazine‘s Persons of the Year. His DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa) organization was a co-sponsor of Live 8. DATA and its star-studded brother, the ONE Campaign, got a serious lift throughout the year thanks to U2’s nonstop stadium tour schedule, and once again, people mentioned Bono’s name for…a Nobel Peace Prize. We so badly want to mock, and yet find ourselves instead applauding. So Bono (and all the rest of you do-gooders), thanks for everything you did this year. Still, for a number of reasons, we hope your services will be far less required in 2006.