There has been a lot of noise over celebrity involvement in philanthropic activities and what that truly all means. There are some who argue that celebrity philanthropy is just a vehicle for more exposure though we would all like to believe it is done out of altruistic intentions. In March of this year, journalist Robert Friedman brought Lady Gaga’s non-profit the Born This Way Foundation under fire when he revealed that the charity took in $2.5 million in 2012 only to dish out $5,000 in grants. The scandal has many questioning the celebrity’s sincerity about her commitment to philanthropy.
The fast life in Hollywood can possibly distract even the most benevolent celebrities from the myriad of social and political problems around the globe. Even so, there are, among the rich and famous those who put their fortunes into the hands of those less fortunate. Whatever the prerogative of the cash kings involved, celebrity endorsements of any cause can bring attention to issues that often fly beneath the radar.
Meryl Streep- Net Worth: $45 Million
Streep is widely regarded as one of the greatest actresses of all time. Films like “The Deer Hunter,” “Kramer vs. Kramer,” “Sophie’s Choice” and “The Iron Lady” have made her a household name. She has won 3 Academy Awards, 7 Golden Globe Awards, 2 Emmy Awards, and 2 Screen Actors Guild Awards, among many others. When she isn’t shining on the big screen she dedicates time to charitable causes. With her husband, Don Gummer, she started The Silver Mountain Foundation For The Arts in 1983 and has given tirelessly to the arts, education, health care, and human services. Together they donated $1 million to Vassar College, Oxfam America, New York’s Meals on Wheels, the Coalition for the Homeless, and the National Women’s Museum. The Foundation has also donated $1 million to The Public Theater and recently sponsored two separate scholarships for the students of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.
Michael J. Fox- Net Worth: $65 Million
Fox became famous for his role on the highly regarded “Family Ties” sitcom, where he played the young Reagan loving Republican, Alex P. Keaton, which aired from 1983 until the series finale in 1989. During the 80’s his performances in the “Back to the Future” trilogy also gained him much notoriety and wealth. Shortly after the filming of “Doc Hollywood” wrapped in 1991, Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease but he continued to work and was praised for his performance on the sitcom “Spin City” as Mike Flaherty. Since 2000 the Michael J. Fox Foundation has funded more than $450 million to help speed the cure for Parkinson’s disease.
Matt Damon- Net Worth: $75 Million
Since Damon broke into the limelight in 1997 with “Good Will Hunting,” he has been climbing his way up the A-list Hollywood ladder. After he won an Academy Award for best original screenplay, he moved on to a string of successful films: “Saving Private Ryan,” the “Ocean’s Trilogy,” “Bourne Series,” “The Departed,” and the “Good Shepard.” He dedicates much of his free time supporting peace in Darfur with the One Campaign (which helps fight AIDS and poverty in third world countries), and serving as an ambassador for OneXOne, a generous non-profit committed to helping children in the United States, Canada and around the globe.
Taylor Swift- Net Worth: $180 Million
Taylor Alison Swift has become America’s country music sweetheart. The highly celebrated singer, songwriter, and actress became the youngest singer to be signed to Sony/ATV Music Publishing House in 2006 and was ranked the 7th most powerful celebrity by Forbes magazine in 2011. Her singles from her last album, “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” and “I Knew You Were Trouble,” were worldwide hits. With her new-found wealth she has given $4 million to the education center at the Country Music Hall Of Fame in Nashville. In addition, she has given $100,000 to the Nashville Symphony. Swift also has given generously to Hope for Haiti, The Red Cross, and Architecture for Humanity.
Bono- Net Worth: $600 Million
The Dublin born David Paul Hewson (popularly known as Bono), is one of the fathers of celebrity charity. Bono continuously opens his wallet wide for fighting the good fight. In 1986 he helped start the Amnesty International Conspiracy of Hope Tour after World Vision invited him to Ethiopia. The rocker has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and was knighted in 2007. He has dug deep into his fortune on numerous occasions, helping to create Project Red, EDUN, and The One Campaign, all of which have been instrumental charities, giving millions and providing aid to impoverished peoples in Africa.
Mel Gibson- Net Worth: $800 Million
Believe it or not Mel Gibson has carved out a name for himself in the charity world, showing a gentler side. The “Braveheart” star gave $10 million to be split between the UCLA Medical Center and the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He gives generously to the charity, Heal the Children, which offers millions in medical treatment to children in need the world over. In 2007 he gave the El Mirador Basin Project $500,000 to help save the rainforest. Gibson also contributes handsomely to the charity, Angel’s at Risk, an organization which strives to educate teens about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse.
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie- Net Worth: $385 Million
There is more than just striking good looks to this powerhouse Hollywood couple. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt have defined benevolent star power since their relationship began on the set of “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” in 2005. They have used their combined incredible net worth and celebrity as a vehicle for social change. Pitt created the Make It Right Foundation in 2007, donating $5 million, which was responsible for constructing 150 green homes for victims of Hurricane Katrina in the devastated Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Jolie recently gave $200,000 to the Malala Yousafzais Fund, which promotes women’s’ rights to education in Pakistan. After spending time with their daughter Shiloh at a Wildlife lodge in Namibia the couple decided to give $2 million to conservation and protection of wildlife there. The Jolie-Pitt Foundation created in 2006 has given handsomely to Doctors Without Borders and Global Action for Children, among many other humanitarian causes.
Paul McCartney- Net Worth: $1.2 Billion
These days the former member of the Beatles, Sir Paul McCartney’s charity work is as well-known as his work as a musician. McCartney was inducted as a solo artist into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. He has participated in a number of charity recordings and concerts: Live Aid, which is estimated to have generated over $283 million for assistance of famine in Ethiopia and participating in The Concert for New York City post 9-11, among others. As a vegetarian he has fought hard for animal rights for the majority of his career. He has given generously to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and in 2006 traveled to Prince Edward Island to raise awareness on seal hunting in the region. With his second wife Heather Mills, he started campaigning against land mines and became a supporter of Adopt-A-Minefield. He shows no sign of slowing down in his charitable efforts.
Oprah Winfrey- Net Worth: $2.9 Billion
Although the “Queen of All Media” is known primarily for her internationally successful talk show, “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” which aired from 1986 until 2011, she is also an actor, producer, and extremely generous philanthropist. This media mogul was born into poverty in rural Mississippi; she had an exceptionally hard upbringing that helped fuel her desire to make it big. In 2005, Business Week named Winfrey the greatest black philanthropist in the world. Oprah’s Angel Network raised more than $80 million for various causes around the world with Oprah herself donating more than $40 million as of 2010. The Network has contributed to many educational programs, schools for girls in South Africa, and relief for victims of Hurricane Katrina.
George Lucas- Net Worth: $4.9 Billion
The man who brought us “American Graffiti,” “Indiana Jones,” and “Star Wars,” has been nominated for four Academy Awards. He stands as one of the most influential and successful filmmakers of his generation. Lucas has pledged to dedicate at least half of his fortune to charity. He founded the George Lucas Foundation to reform and improve K-12 education in 1991. He belongs to the group Give A Pledge, started by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet which encourages the super rich to give the majority of their fortunes to philanthropic causes. In 2012 he sold Lucasfilm to Disney for $4 billion, as reported in USA Today. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Lucas has pledged to give the majority of his net worth to charity.