For 25 years, Sir Elton John has been at the vanguard of the fight against HIV/AIDS. On Tuesday evening, the singer-songwriter was recognized for his tireless humanitarian efforts with a star-studded party in his honor held by his eponymous foundation in New York.
“We started [in my apartment] in Atlanta with just two people,” recalled John, standing beside husband David Furnish, both in Gucci blazers. “We had great partners when we started off so we’ve been very fortunate and brilliantly supported by everybody.”
These longtime supporters and friends of the Grammy winner came in droves through pelting rain to upper Manhattan’s imposing Cathedral of Saint John the Divine for the nonprofit’s annual gala, which raised more than $4.3 million.
The towering Romanesque and gothic revivalist structure played host 10 years ago to John on the occasion of his 60th birthday. “It’s just amazing — I love this church because it’s all denominations,” he added.
Diane Lane, who sparkled in a custom-made gown by twins Jesus and Antonio Estrada, gazed up in awe at the cathedral’s architecture before entering a candlelit cocktail hour in the nave. “I’m thinking about institutions that are built on love. That humanity toward our fellow man must be the most important thing.”
The actress is filming “The Romanoffs” for Amazon, her foray into streaming television — “I’m the late one to the party,” she remarked. Humbled to be part of the milestone evening, Lane admitted she “will be crying” during special musical guest Aretha Franklin’s performance later in the evening.
Glenn Close floated down the red carpet in an Armani ensemble she pulled from her “remarkable closet,” noting the “wonderful support from designers for many years” enables her to easily pull out older pieces. But there are some wardrobe items she will no longer be able to visit. Earlier in the day, the Emmy winner tearfully parted with a good portion of her impressive costume collection, which she donated to Indiana University’s state-of-the-art archival facility.
“It was very emotional — it’s my whole career,” she explained of the pieces from “Sunset Boulevard” to “101 Dalmatians” that were shipped away in two trucks to the Midwest campus. “It will be beautifully kept and used for educational purposes. They’ll be able to display it and raise money and I’ll go out to have master classes.”
“Hello gorgeous,” exclaimed Donna Karan to Close. The ebullient designer bounded into the venue greeting friends old and new, but mostly gushed about the man of the hour. “Elton is an icon and has a heart larger than anybody could imagine.”
Valentino, who delighted in being at the gala despite a chilly rain, revealed he “just arrived [in New York] two nights ago and Elton is a great friend.”
The entire evening felt like a reunion of old friends. Judith Light, wearing a gold formfitting Marc Bauer gown, summarized the 70-year-old singer as “magical.” The Emmy winner added, “He knows how to create a context where people are loving each other and connected to each other.”
Other supportive pals included Billy Joel, Billie Jean King, Clive Davis, Joseph Abboud, Lynn Wyatt, Sandra Brant and Sting. Neil Patrick Harris, who vacations annually with John and Furnish in the South of France, hosted the emotional dinner program during which the “Rocket Man” singer was presented with the Foundation’s Enduring Vision Award.
“When I got sober [in the early Nineties] I never thought I’d have someone that I would be in a relationship with for 24 years, who I was married to, have two young children [with] and being in a same-sex relationship,” said John in a tearful speech. “See how the world changes?”
Alec Baldwin provided a moment of comic relief as he skillfully imitated both President Clinton and President Trump to the crowd, with the former U.S. leader laughing along from his seat beside John. “I want to thank President William J. Donald Baldwin for his speech earlier tonight,” said Clinton.
“I would do anything for Elton John — now is the greatest chapter of his career,” the former President told WWD between speeches. Now 25 years since his first presidential election, Clinton noted how the world must remain dedicated to working together amidst widespread social and political turmoil.
“The life that Elton John and David have built, the friends they have and the work they do will, in the end, be the most beautiful song they ever wrote,” remarked Clinton to the rapt crowd. “Sometimes I listen to all the bloviating in the government and I think don’t these people know they’re not going to live forever? Don’t they know somebody’s going to have to live with the aftermath of this? Don’t they know the spirit of the child listening will be moved one way or another? We’re all just flickering candles passing through.”
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