amfAR Honors Ryan Murphy, Raises $3.1M at Star-Studded Inspiration Gala
Lady Gaga closed out the show performing a stunning 10-song set of songs for her 'American Horror Story: Hotel' boss.
Ryan Murphy is a storyteller. And as the night’s sole honoree at amfAR’s 6th annual Inspiration Gala Los Angeles at Milk Studios on Oct. 29, the multi-hyphenate took the opportunity to share a few anecdotes from his past as part of what he called “the speech of my life.” True to Murphy’s typical form, the stories were honest, riveting, peppered with punch lines and, at times, very emotional, all relating back to his experiences of life as a gay man who has faced down the difficult road paved by the HIV/AIDS crisis.
For example, Murphy’s first story in his speech was this: “OK, so this is what happened the first time I ever picked up a guy. I was 16 and working at a shoe store in Indianapolis called Adam’s Shoes. I was previously fired from Florsheim Shoes because I refused to touch feet. So to me, Adam’s Shoes was this amazing place where I could just toss the Candies and the Nine Wests to my girlfriends. It was a dream job and a good looking guy of 25 came in. I was very nervous and he picked me up and we went back to his house and he poured me a Diet Coke, which I swear to god I asked for. I glanced at his coffee table and there was a copy of [now defunct biweekly gay newspaper] New York Native. And there was a horrible story about this new disease called AIDS. And I read that article as he was pouring the beverage and I fled out the door. And in many ways in my life, I can tell you that I have never stopped running.”
But that journey led him to the stage on Thursday night, joined by a parade of Murphy’s closest friends and glamorous collaborators. People like Gwyneth Paltrow, who hosted the gala in a white Ralph & Russo Couture gown, and presenters Julia Roberts, Angela Bassett and Matt Bomer, auction emcee Sharon Stone and the night’s anticipated performer Lady Gaga. She performed a stunning set of 10 songs for Murphy that captivated the capacity crowd.
“I’m very honored to be here tonight as amfAR’s big gay of the year. I have to tell you this right up front if I could go back in time and tell my 18-year-old self that I would be alive in 2015 receiving this award, that young man could not have believed it,” said Murphy, decked out in a Lanvin tuxedo. “I have lost over 10 friends to HIV/AIDS and honestly, I consider me standing here to be some kind of miracle in the world and I think many of us in this room feel the same way.”
There were a lot of emotions swirling about the ever-hot events space — decorated to match the black-and-white theme for the gala, sponsored by Harry Winston, MAC Viva Glam, DSquared2, Fiji Water and Belvedere and produced by Josh Wood’s production company JWP.
Sarah Paulson (in Balmain), Diane Kruger (in Carolina Herrera with a Charlotte Olympia clutch and Harry Winston jewels), Joshua Jackson, Emma Roberts, Chloe Sevigny, Lea Michele (in Zac Posen and Harry Winston), Jamie Lee Curtis, Rachel Zoe (in Rachel Zoe Collection), Rodger Berman, Billie Lourd, Carly Rae Jepsen, Jaime King (in Balmain), Evan Peters, Sarah Hyland (in Jenny Packham), Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Cheyenne Jackson, Alessandra Ambrosio, Lydia Hearst, Kelsey Grammar, Zendaya, Dylan Penn, amfAR chairman of the board Kenneth Cole, amfAR's Kevin Robert Frost and Dean and Dan Caten. It was heavy on industry heavyweights too: Peter Rice, Dana Walden, Gary Newman, Kevin Huvane, Bryan Lourd, Barry Diller, Nina Jacobson, Simon Halls, Diane von Furstenberg, among others.
Matt Bomer, Sarah Paulson and Emma Roberts catch up at the gala. (Photo by Jeff Vespa/Getty Images for amfAR)
Following opening remarks by Huvane, Paltrow welcomed attendees to the event and introduced Bassett and Jackson, who urged guests to record covers of the song “That’s What Friends Are For” using the hashtag #SingforAIDS to mark the 30th anniversary of the song, originally performed by Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, Elton John and Gladys Knight.
Paltrow then brought Stone to the stage with Sotheby’s auctioneer Andrea Fiuczynski. “It’s auction time and you know what that means millionaires and billionaires — they’re going to come hard for you guys,” Paltrow joked. And they did.
Gwyneth Paltrow has some fun at the podium. (Photo credit: Kevin Tachman)
The event raised north of $3.1 million, and Stone, as always, had a lot to do with that on a night like this. “Here’s the thing: 78 million have contracted HIV and we’ve lost 39 million of them," she detailed. "On the way in, people kept saying, ‘You know, why are you still doing this?’ I’m still doing this for the 39 million people that we’ve lost. And we’re still doing this for the people who need us so desperately because we don’t have a cure, we don’t have a vaccine.”
The auction featured winning bids from Gaga and Aileen Getty who threw down $200,000 each for a Timothy White photograph of amfAR’s founding international chairman, Dame Elizabeth Taylor. Meanwhile, Steve Tisch picked up a walk-on role in Murphy’s American Horror Story: Hotel for $150,000, and King helped Stone unload a pair of Harry Winston earrings by handing the mic to Cuba Gooding Jr. who shouted his infamous lines from Jerry Maguire, “Show me the money!”
Following the auction, Roberts had the honor of presenting Murphy with his, but not before Paltrow said kind words about her fellow Oscar-winning friend, describing her as an American icon. “She has the biggest smile that has ever existed on the planet,” Paltrow cooed.
Right out of the gate, Roberts relayed the difficulty of standing on stage presenting words she had to put on paper herself. “Ordinarily in a situation where I need a speech — one that is clever and touching and personal and on all levels fabulous — I would call my brilliant writer friend, Ryan Murphy, to write it for me. And then I would take al the credit. However, tonight, there is no such luck.”
Julia Roberts presents the amfAR honor to Ryan Murphy. (Photo credit: Kevin Tachman)
As if she needed any. Roberts did better than fine with words like these: “Ryan is a uniquely sensitive person," she explained. "As a friend, he is just the most incredible. … He is a lovely blend of a good listener, excellent counsel, as well as being very free with any and all manner of fashion advice. He is the kind of person who lives as he works — feverishly and unapologetically. He’s a force of nature, infinitely curious about others. Yes. Wildly funny, intensely smart and compassionate. He’s devoted not only to entertaining audiences but educating them.”
Sincere for sure, but then Roberts lightened the mood by faking offense that Paltrow is the godmother to his two sons with partner David Miller. “I wrote a bunch of really insightful fascinating things and then I got distracted that Gwyneth Paltrow is the godmother to his son and I then I lost the pages I was writing about how brilliant and fabulous he is. Honestly, he does have two sons.”
She closed her mini tribute by looping in the cause. “amfAR and Ryan Murphy are a perfect because Ryan is as a person very much like this organization — tireless in the pursuit of learning, healing, of correctness, connection and equality. Ryan Murphy is an inspiration.”
On the red carpet prior to the gala star, Paulson also praised her American Horror Story boss by joking, “Is there any recognition Ryan is not deserving of? You could give him an orange cone in the middle of the road for best parking, in my opinion.”
Murphy’s husband, wearing Tom Ford, also told The Hollywood Reporter on the carpet how nice it was to see his partner honored in this way. He dished that he also favors the off-duty storyteller. “I get to see a side of Ryan that most people don’t get to see. When we’re playing with the kids, he’s like a little kid himself. To see somebody as hard-working as he is to be able to hang out and be silly and have fun, most people don’t recognize that. That’s the coolest thing about him,” he said.
Ryan Murphy poses with husband David Miller on the carpet at amfAR's Inspiration Gala. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images for amfAR)
Cool is fine, just don't call Murphy prolific. “Recently in the media whenever articles are written about me in my career, there are words that are used over and over to define me, to describe me and the work that I do and that word is prolific. And the content is always kind of negative. I do too much. I attempt too much,” he explained during his acceptance speech. “I was thinking about that word prolific as I prepared for tonight which in many ways is the speech of my life. And I have to tell you that I love creating things. I love making things. I love putting together groups of people … and that’s one of the triumphs of my life that I can get these groups of people that shouldn’t be together, together. And my plate does overflow sometimes and I do this largely now I realized because of the HIV/AIDS crisis. When it is engrained in you as a young person that you don’t think you have a tomorrow. You wring every last drop out of today because you may not get another one.”
There were many days when Murphy thought he wouldn’t live to see another. He then detailed how many times he drove himself to the emergency room, convinced he had contracted the disease. “I’m here to tell you in the 10-year span — until I went to psychological counseling, which many in this room will testify did not work — I did over 60 of these tests, these blood draws," said Murphy, who also praised Roberts, Paltrow and Gaga as the "bravest, boldest hearts in the biz" and "amazing champions of equal rights." "With these tests, which young people today don’t know, came two weeks of waiting. Well, I would waste away from nerves, I would not eat. I would break into tears at odd times. And I would wait for the eventual death that I knew was coming my way.”
It didn’t come, but success in the entertainment business did. Although, Murphy wasn't always so sure that he would find his place as a gay man. "I can remember first getting involved in the entertainment industry in 1996 and asking myself, 'Is it OK to be me? Can I be out of the closet and still get work?' As if I would ever pass as anything else. I remember saying and asking friends, 'Can I wear a bracelet to a meeting at a studio or is that too much?'
"My friend Nina Jacobson is here tonight and in 1997, she and around five of us, all gay, we started an organization called Out There. We would meet in living rooms and patios and we would talk about the agent who was fired for being gay because that was allowed at the time. We would wonder, 'Should we be out? Should we dare pitch stories about HIV/AIDS or gay characters?' Or should we remain neutral? Neutral was a big word then. ... For myself and for so many others who have been to countless funerals, the answer was clear, to me at least, and that was, 'F--- it.' You only get one life, you only get one chance to tell your story."
Murphy wrapped up his amfAR story by offering to continue to use his platform to find a happy ending, aligning with amfAR's intent of finding a cure by 2020. “We all need to get involved and spread the word that the crisis continues, and that the cure is still on the horizon,” he said, also mentioning how close his HBO film The Normal Heart is to his heart and his own story, just like it is for HBO's Michael Lombardo. “We need to continue, as Sharon Stone, who I love, (said) we need to keep storming up that hill. amfAR leads the charge, and I just want to tell the room that I’m so honored to be one of their soldiers.”
Murphy looked honored (and thrilled) to watch Gaga fete him with a long list of songs, backed by a full band. She dedicated "Call Me Irresponsible" to her AHS: Hotel boss, adding, "Since I have met Ryan, I have discovered something in myself. And that is my favorite part of me, so thank you."
Lady Gaga performs at the gala. (Photo credit: Kevin Tachman)
JWP's Josh Wood poses with Lady Gaga. (Photo credit: Kevin Tachman)
Diane von Furstenberg and Sharon Stone get close. (Photo by Jeff Vespa/Getty Images for amfAR)