2005: While Stars Like Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner Aided Katrina Victims, Kanye Stole the Show
"George Bush doesn't care about black people," said the rapper, going off-script during a telethon segment with Mike Myers. Though he was cut off, the words went live and overshadowed a celeb panel (Bruce Willis, Benicio Del Toro) fielding phone calls, a performance by U2 and $30 million raised.
This story first appeared in the Aug. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
A decade ago, a pair of telethons aimed to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina. NBC aired A Concert for Hurricane Relief on Sept. 2, 2005 (the Category 5 storm hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, killing 1,000, displacing more than 1 million and causing $100 billion in damages), and though those appearing included Leonardo DiCaprio and Richard Gere, it was Kanye West who stole the show. When he went off script in a segment with Mike Myers and said, "George Bush doesn't care about black people," his audio was cut — but the comment went out live. (Five years later, Bush called it "one of the most disgusting moments of my presidency.")
The telethon raised $40 million. Shelter From the Storm: A Concert for the Gulf Coast on Sept. 9 patterned itself after a post-9/11 benefit that had drawn 59 million viewers and raised $150 million. The idea was that the hourlong show would be "roadblocked" — ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, WB, UPN and PBS would air it at the same time. In light of what West (who was performing "Jesus Walks" on the Shelter event) had done the previous week, there was considerable talk about censorship before the broadcast, but THR reported that "editing would only occur if obscenities were uttered." (Indirectly, West was responsible for one of the night's bigger laughs when Chris Rock came out and said: "George Bush hates midgets!")
Meanwhile, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, married just two months at the time, took calls alongside stars like Bruce Willis and Benicio Del Toro. (The couple announced their divorce June 30.) That telethon raised $30 million. "Kanye got the attention, but what I remember most is Randy Newman opening the show with 'Louisiana 1927,' or U2 doing 'One' for the first time with Mary J. Blige and it just blowing me away," says Shelter EP/director Joel Gallen. "What's amazing about doing this type of show is how the entertainment community responds. I've never had anyone say no."