'Homeland' Producers, Patrick Kennedy Honored at Great Minds Gala

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(L-R) Honorees Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon, Gene Block, and Patrick J. Kennedy

Bobby and Maria Shriver remarked on their cousin’s decision to leave Congress.

Political leaders, entertainment executives and medical professionals convened Sunday night for the Great Minds Gala, a fundraiser addressing mental health issues.

The Friends of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior's annual gala, hosted by comedian Paula Poundstone, honored Homeland producers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel.

A video message played from Claire Danes, who congratulated Gordon and Gansa for believing in her ability to play the role of CIA agent Carrie Mathison, a character who struggles with bipolar disorder. Gordon admitted that they wrote the role with Danes in mind.

“Before we even started writing we thought of Claire for this role so much that the character’s name was Claire up until the time we sent her the script,” said Gordon. “Alex and I had seen her on HBO playing in Temple Grandin and she was brilliant, so we wrote the part with her in mind before we knew she was available or interested.”

Gordon said he and Gansa were reluctant to receive the award since they aren’t experienced researchers in mental health but simply storytellers, or what he calls “paid liars.”

“It was certainly an accident, not intentional that we were going to be the poster child for a character with bipolar disorder,” Gordon told The Hollywood Reporter. “We had created Carrie and she had this constellation of behaviors before we actually diagnosed her with bipolar disorder. She was behaving in a way when we created this woman and this character that we didn’t realize suffered from bipolar disorder.”

Bobby and Maria Shriver presented their cousin Patrick Kennedy with the humanitarian award for standing up for mental issues and founding the nonprofit One Mind. Both Bobby and Maria agreed that they admire Kennedy, a recovered addict and alcoholic, for his strength in relinquishing his office.

“He did a thing that no one in the family I think had ever done, which is he relinquished a federal office,” said Bobby Shriver. “We were not encouraged to do that in the family.”

Maria stressed the fact that it's healthy to have more open discussions about mental health issues and congratulated Kennedy on opening up about his own struggles with mental illness and addiction. Kennedy detailed his struggle in a book he penned with Stephen Fried titled A Common Struggle, which will be released later this year.

“As we all know that takes tremendous guts to talk about your own life to talk about struggles of your own life and then to use that as an experience to try to change laws and make other people’s lives better,” added Maria Shriver. “He won this award not for the work of his father or his family but of his own work.”

Kennedy worked on the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which was passed by Congress in 2008.

“It says a lot about the stigma of mental illness and addiction that the youngest member of Congress from the smallest state in the country and in the minority party got to put his name first on the bill that said that the brain was part of the body,” Kennedy stated.

Former CEO of Paramount Pictures Sherry Lansing presented the visionary award to Chancellor Block and recalled being on the search committee for choosing him to lead one of the world’s top research universities.

Musician Judy Collins entertained guests with a special performance. She also spoke on how grateful she was to be heard by the Friends of the Semel Institute when her son committed suicide, and recalled when she herself tried to commit suicide.

“They say I spoke about suicide survival, but I actually don’t know very much about it except my own,” said Collins. “My job is today not to kill myself. Suicide survivors have a great percentage of possibilities to take their own lives and historically have done so.”

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