Celebrities, by their very nature as characters in the limelight, have a huge influence on popular culture. With this influence, they can set examples and serve as role models for better or for worse (woe is the parent whose child idolised and emulated the behaviours of Lindsay Lohan or Miley Cyrus). Certain celebrities choose to maximise their time in the public eye by promoting philosophies or causes close to their heart – often wielding their considerable influence to make huge money for their favourite charity or to garner support for a political cause. Some of our favourite celebrities choose to become activists because they truly believe in their cause – others, perhaps, for the inevitable extra publicity. Whatever the reason, if there’s support to be won for a noble cause, who are we to question the motivations?
E-poll Market Research has conducted a study on the ‘top 25’ charitable celebrities, with rankings based on factors such as public perception, online promotion, promotion in traditional media and number of charities. There are some you’ll expect who make the list, and some you won’t. They include Matt Damon, Jessica Alba, Morgan Freeman, Willie Nelson, and Betty White…
If you were a celebrity, with limitless wealth and hefty influence over popular culture, would you be a rebellious Justin Bieber type? Or would you be one of those celebrities who generously offer their reputation, time and face to help promote charitable causes, and to encourage fans to care about something that otherwise may have flown under the radar? Could you part with a huge portion of your own money for a cause you care about? Of course, that might be easier if your annual salary ended in several zeros! But let’s hope we’d all be like these generous top ten celebrities: The following celebrities take the time – or make the time – to learn about important issues and highlight them to all of us, and sometimes just quietly give their own money, spending millions on strangers they’ll never meet. Some even travel to far-flung, war torn nations of which most of us would be wary at best, putting their lives at risk. These are ten of the world’s celebrities who – despite, or perhaps because of, their privileged, powerful and wealthy positions – have done huge things for charitable causes across the world.
10. Paul McCartney – Spokesperson for Peace
John Lennon was associated with gurus, flower power and the love sit-in. Paul McCartney has had more time than Lennon did in his much shorter life, but Lennon is more thought of in this feel-good way. Sir Paul has either been very modest or very private in how he has gone about impacting the world, because impact he has! This former Beatle has helped raised billions for charity over several decades, beginning in 1979 with Concerts for the People of Kampuchea. His biggest causes include PETA (his late wife Linda loved animals), and cancer research. He also believes in the Israeli/Palestinian peace cause, giving concerts and being involved in an ongoing way with OneVoice. All You Need Is Love?
9. George Clooney – Humanitarian Missions
For years, there have been running jokes this Hollywood Hunk doesn’t appreciate women his own age. Perhaps he hasn’t found one as dedicated to good. Would a twenty-something want her man gone for weeks somewhere hot, dusty and dangerous? Get arrested with him at a peace protest? More likely than not Clooney has chosen his focus – when he’s not filming or funning, he’s off saving the world, little by little. Cofounder of the organization Not on Our Watch, this celeb believes in helping countries most of the rest of us, including governments, ignore – like the Sudan, Burma and Zimbabwe. Are there women his age up to the challenge? Likelier so than some young thing – just my two cents, Mr. C.
8. Susan Sarandon – Conservation
An ambassador for UNICEF, Sarandon is no newcomer to service. While still in school she was arrested for civil rights protests as well as protests about the war in Vietnam. Since then, the veteran actress has served on committees or boards for FilmAid International and Amazon Conservation Team (ACT), and is a current board member of the Yele Haiti Foundation. She has been to the Amazon with ACT and has donated much of her own money to the cause. Also close to Sarandon’s heart are issues to do with child welfare and world hunger.
7. Brad Pitt – Environmentalism
Along with being cofounder of Not on Our Watch with George Clooney and others, Brad Pitt has taken on projects such as building environmentally sustainable and affordable housing in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, on a massive scale – including a Washington visit to request Federal funding towards making Green housing a new norm. It turns out architecture is a love of his – lucky for those that get the homes! Pitt founded Make it Right a year before Not on Our Watch was founded, so this actor/producer/father really has his hands full! Another offshoot of the post-Katrina work and Make it Right is Pitt’s involvement with the environmental non-profit, Global Green.
6. Michael J. Fox – Parkinson’s Research
This well-loved actor’s most known charitable work is through The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. Founded in 2000, his organization provides the world’s most not-for-profit funding for Parkinson’s drug development. The always positive actor is spokesperson and poster-boy for this cause close to his heart. He was diagnosed with the disease when he was only 30, though he did not make it public for almost a decade. Fox’s difficulty has turned into a gain for science and for the individuals who have or will have this debilitating disease. “What does the Fox say?” It’s bound to be something positive.
5. Ellen DeGeneres – Animal Rights, Poverty, and Cancer Research
Kind-hearted actress and TV talk-show host, Ellen is apt to have you on her show for paying it forward – and then she’ll pay you right back. Ellen, like Oprah before her, loves to give, whether on camera or off. When Paul Walker died she gave $10K to his favourite charity. When a waitress and single-mom picked up two service-women’s tabs, she gave her $10,000, too – and a 50” TV. On a more daily basis this Good Samaritan and funny woman supports a multitude of charities, personally and through her TV show. These include: The Gentle Barn (for abused animals), Feeding America, the American Red Cross and Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
4. Oprah Winfrey – The Angel Network
At the beginning of her 1997 season the Oprah Winfrey Show launched the Angel Network. In its thirteen years, this organization gave college scholarships, built homes with Habitat for Humanity, fundraised for communities across America, and then went global – building scores of schools in over 13 countries, bringing Christmas to 50,000 South African children – the list goes on. Since then The Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls was created and continues. Winfrey is a big supporter of the Clinton Foundation (HIV, AIDS, and climate change). She also gives extensively to Project Cuddle (rescuing infants from abandonment or abuse) and Free the Children. The child who knew what it was like having nothing has grown into a woman who gives back, and then some.
3. Bono – World Poverty
This Irishman has not gotten too mixed up in the politics of his homeland. Bono, born Paul David Hewson, is largely involved with African causes. He cofounded DATA (Debts, AIDS, Trade, Africa), EDUN (“nude” spelled backwards; a fashion brand about fair-trade, with production in Africa), the ONE Campaign (to fight extreme poverty and preventable disease) and Product Red. Product Red created a logo it licenses to companies such as Nike, Gap, Hallmark, Armani and so on, which then kick back a percentage to the company. This money is mainly used towards finding cures for HIV, TB and malaria. Any criticism leveled at Bono? That some of the money from Product Red is profit.
2. Angelina Jolie – Humanitarian Missions
A humanitarian ambassador, Jolie has been part of more than forty field missions with UNHCR (the U.N.’s refugee agency), traveling to some of the world’s most remote regions as advocate. This half of “Brangelina” brings huge amounts of publicity to the cause of displaced peoples. She has been suspected for her motivation. Because she’s famous? Oprah is famous. Because she’s a woman? Susan Sarandon, Oprah and Ellen all attest this is not the reason. Jolie’s main “crime” seems to be that she is a sex symbol who came later in life to good works than, say, Ms. Sarandon. For that, she is the target of doubt. Whether or not her motivation is selfish (how long would a selfish person put up with the travel conditions of those U.N. trips?), it is undeniable that few do as much.
1. Elton John – AIDs Foundation
The Elton John AIDS Foundation was formed in 1992 after the world-renowned singer had lost many dear friends to the horrible disease. Since its inception it has raised more than $125 million supporting programs in fifty-five of our world’s nations. John also donates hefty amounts of his personal riches to charity, and has been the person in the music industry to give the most each year since 2004, when he gave over $43 million to various international organizations. In 1997 John donated more than $40 million to charity with his profits from the version of Candle in the Wind honoring Lady Di after her death. Can You Feel the Love Tonight?