Rebel with a cause

For his philanthropic ways, rocker Bono is honored with the Chairman's Award.

Changing the world takes time, but Bono seems in no hurry to pull it off. Unlike some celebrities who arguably join trendy causes for the photo ops and image boost, the frontman of the iconic Irish rock group U2 has proven that he's on a quest to make the world a better place -- and he's in it for the long haul.

Passionately fighting AIDS and poverty in Africa with a crusader's zeal, he's become a humanitarian icon the world over and something of an obvious choice for this year's Chairman's Award, which recognizes members of the entertainment industry who are involved in social justice.

Bono has made helping others appear not only necessary but cool. Embodying the confident charisma of someone who leaves little doubt he's the right man for the job, Bono is doing everything in his power to address a tragedy that finds 8,500 African men, women and children dying each day of AIDS and malaria and that has left 12 million children orphaned by AIDS alone. Millions more children die annually due solely to the effects of diarrhea and dirty water, some of the horrors that Bono works daily to curtail through awareness and unified response.

He wasn't always focused on making a positive difference through activism. When U2 formed in 1976, Bono was just an enigmatic guy hiding behind sunglasses who carried the trademark vocal fury of the emerging punk rock movement. No one could have envisioned the direction in which his maturing outlook and growing concern about global issues would take him.

The change in Bono, 46, is pegged to the 1986 Live Aid concerts for African famine relief in which he and his bandmates participated. Following the show, Bono and his wife Ali Hewson spent a summer working at a feeding camp in Ethiopia, putting him on the activism path on behalf of that continent's most poverty-stricken and vulnerable inhabitants.

Throughout much of the 1980s and the '90s, Bono's charitable work was engineered largely behind the scenes. (It was reflected in U2's music, however, which became increasingly political and socially aware.) But beginning in 1999, he became far more public in his campaign to raise awareness about the plight of Africa's poorest citizens, tackling debt relief and the devastating AIDS pandemic that has ravaged the continent.

During a March 2002 visit to the White House, after President George W. Bush unveiled a $5 billion aid package for Africa, Bono joined the president to speak about the situation, which had lapsed into a grave crisis. That same year, Bono teamed up with Robert Shriver and activists from the U.K.'s Jubilee Debt Campaign to create a new advocacy organization called Debt AIDS Trade Africa.

He also has had a hand in launching three other activist organizations whose joint mission is to work with leaders in government, business and the religious community toaddress chronic issues that keep Africans mired in disease, poverty and abject misery.

In addition to his philanthropic work, of course, Bono continues to make platinum-selling albums with U2, which still sells out arenas as one of the most popular live acts in the world. His band has sold more than 130 million albums and has won 22 Grammys. Indeed, it sometimes seems like there is nothing Bono can't do, as if he's managed to inhabit the personas of both rock star and benevolent philanthropist without either image seeming at odds with the other.

Yet, Bono does his best to play down his importance in the grand humanitarian scheme. As he told journalist and novelist Michka Assayas in the 2005 best-selling book "Bono": "I'm a long way from the kind of people who inspired me. But here I am, and I see the embarrassment -- excruciating at times -- of 'Rich rock star works on behalf of the poorest and most vulnerable.' I mean, it's a very embarrassing photograph. Yet, you can't deny who you are. And if I gave all of my money away, I'd just be a bigger star."

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